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BW Businessworld

'Indian B-Schools Are Keen To Partner African Institutes'

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Dr Enase Okonedo, dean of the Lagos Business School (LBS), is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria.  She is a member of the senate of the Pan-African University, and the chairperson of the  board of the Association of African Business Schools (AABS). Okonedo also serves in the academic advisory board of Global Business School Network (GBSN) as well as on the board of several indigenous companies. Recently in India, to develop partnerships between African and India Business Schools, Dr Okonedo spoke to Pranjal Sharma about new initiatives that will allow faculty and students from Africa and India to work together. 

Should management education be common to all countries?
Business management education is contextual. Students must understand the social , political and economic context of business. Good leadership has to understand that. The knowledge imparter has to be world class. Making contextual does not mean that it has to compromise on quality to suit the standards of a country or a region.

The best practices have to be maintained. For example, the just-in-time programme works well in Japan. But in Africa or Nigeria, the ground realities of low infrastructure and systems have to be accounted for. Therefore it is important to have a context to adapt and then innovate for local needs without compromising on the basic tenets.

We have to be innovative in our thinking and practice.

Faculty talent and supply is a global problem and it's the same for us in LBS and AABS. But the professors have to go beyond their own academic fields. The economics professor can't just focus on theory. He or she has to be aware of the market realities.

We have mentor dean programmes for faculty to prepare them for future. The case study method is the main pedagogy for us. Now the new cases are from specific countries. They are not generic any more. So that's an innovation we have done.

Is the demand for management education in African countries growing? How does AABS manage its membership?
At AABS, there are 25 member schools with 3 in the pipeline. There is a set criteria to be a member. The fees  has to be of a mimimum level. The school must have executive education programmes and degree courses. They must have a minimum number of PHDs and should have an active research work.

Very few schools are private. Most are government run schools. There are only about 80 business schools in Africa for a population of 1.2 billion.  It's a pretty dismal situation. We need more high quality schools. LBS is a private school.

We are hoping the more private business schools will come up and our members will grow. University education is subsidised by the govt. In most countries there isn't enough funds for business schools. Therefore the management schools find it tough to invest more to improve the delivery of courses.  We are trying to pull up the quality of business schools and increase AABS membership to 30 by 2015.

What is your priority for the Lagos Business School?
Over the last three years, the research agenda has been expanded. Two new centres are being  launched. One is a competitiveness and strategy centre. The other is leadership and ethics centre.  LBS has always taught ethics in its programmes. In some ways, it was ahead of the US institutions from day one. There are 250 graduates in the MBA programme every year. While the executive education programme has about 3,000 students.

In executive education, students come once a week or once a month. The market for programmes for senior management is big. We have launched a modular executive MBA programme.

We are also working on a faculty development programme in partnerships with other B schools.  The vision of the LBS is to prepare students to work not just in Nigeria but in entire Africa.

What kind of partnership do you foresee with Indian business schools?
There are many similarities with India in terms of economic development. This is the second study trip of AABS to India. It has been very instructive.

We are looking at launching several new initiatives with Indian business schools. These include student exchange programmes, faculty collaboration and developing joint courses. We may not have a joint venture to launch campuses but will have a strong academic linkage and engagement.

The response from Indian B schools has been very good. Most professors have a strong affinity with Africa. There is a common heritage. They are willing to go out of their way to give their time and effort for our schools. There is a lot of passion to work together. Currently there is no exchange programme but we hope to launch some soon.  The institutional framework is being created now for future .

Can business schools help Indian companies in Africa?
Indian nationals are now working in Africa. They must understand the importance of studying the market where they are doing business.  So executive education for them is important. We can help provide these in AABS schools.

The corporations are now realising the importance of education. We are working to create institutional collaboration with Indian corporations. I think companies should now drive the partnership and tell us what can be done to help them do business in Africa.

Indian corporations are perceived differently from earlier. Previously they were seen as traders and small exploitative operations that did not invest in the country.  Now Indian companies have invested so the perception has improved dramatically. They realise the Indian companies want to create wealth and value.

The IndiAfrica campus outreach programme is holding several events in universities and business schools in Africa. What has been the impact?
The IndiaAfrica campus outreach programme is a great beginning made by the Public Diplomacy Divison of India's Ministry of External Affairs and TheIdeaWorks agency. It is helping the students to think of the options beyond their country and the continent. It is opening new possibilities for them. They are eager to work and embrace the world beyond their environment. The business plan competition is a great way to sow the seed of excitement and entrepreneurship. Students realise that they start young as entrepreneurs.

I think the next step is to track the impact of the entrepreneurship. To see how many students actually took the plunge. To see what is helping them and what is holding them back.

We need to create more awareness about these programmes. IndiaAfrica effort is a great beginning.

There is a lot of interest about India in the B schools of Africa. The graduate students understand less about India.

Many young MBA students are now keen to work in Indian MNCS. They realise that such companies can offer them a good career.

(Pranjal Sharma can be contacted at [email protected])