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Business school rankings can uplift, but sustainable success lies in unique strengths



Business school rankings can uplift, but sustainable success lies in unique strengths

Reproduced with permission of Professor Frank Horwitz and the GSB UCT 

Author: Professor Frank Horwitz, GSB UCT
Copyright © GSB UCT 2007
Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town (GSB UCT)
11 December 2007 

There is much debate, locally and around the globe, about rankings for business schools and their programmes. The debate again hit the headlines in the US recently when two highly respected business schools opted out of one of the best known rankings in the US market. Perhaps it is an opportunity for the South African market to take stock of exactly what rankings offer local schools and consumers, and what their limitations are.

For South African business schools there is indeed value in holding our institutions up for scrutiny. 

Firstly, it makes a statement about the quality of the programme and institution. This is particularly true when the rankings are global in nature as it raises the profile of the overall university internationally. 

It signals to the international market that Africa has business schools of high quality and which produce graduates who can hold their own in any organisation globally.

For business schools, this can help open doors to new research collaborations, teaching and student exchanges, as well as lead to the generation of exciting new courses as leading educators take an interest in visiting the school. In addition, graduates of an internationally ranked business school may also benefit when they take their careers into international waters.

Secondly, it is often said that South Africans have a collective inferiority complex in the way we perceive ourselves in relation to foreign counterparts – for many the perception is that if it’s from Europe and America it must be better.

Rankings can aid in demonstrating to all South Africans that we have what the high standards and academic talent right here at home to match any business school in the world.

From the experience of the UCT Graduate School of Business, which recently obtained a ranking of 66 in the Financial Times Global MBA Top 100 and a top ten rating by the Economist Intelligence Unit for its short courses, there has been positive feedback that supports both cases for rankings.

For the prospective student, rankings play a limited role as an educational aid when it comes to selecting the right school. It is critical that the consumer is aware of a lot more than what rankings show them if they are to choose wisely.

Firstly, while rankings can raise a school's profile, prospective students should bear in mind that a ranking is a relative assessment and that there is very little that differentiates the top schools – this is something that most consumers may not easily be aware of as much attention is focussed on the one “winner”.

Secondly, business schools locally and abroad have also raised concerns that rankings can compare very different programmes as if they were alike, downplaying their areas of specialisation and excellence. The methodology used is often changed from year-to-year, which also makes it difficult to draw long-term conclusions.

Business schools have different strengths and capabilities and each offers an unique value proposition and experience to students. Although statistical comparisons can be helpful, prospective students need to be thorough in their investigation of a school. Simply put - even the best rankings can't tell you which institution suits your needs best.

Indeed, this applies to business schools too – we should strive to show the market what these distinctive competencies and strengths are and help consumers form a well-rounded opinion to match their personal choices and aspirations with the right academic ethos. 

It would also be more constructive to see the business media begin to recognise these attributes, particularly the unique value each school offers in South Africa, and play an important educative role in the local business community in informing the public of these strengths.

Thirdly, when looking at rankings, prospective students must also recognise that South African business schools are smaller than their US and European counterparts and some prefer not to allocate resources for international ranking assessments.

Finally, while it is the case that competition is inevitable for students and corporate clients, rankings can also tend to underplay the cooperation that is taking place between business schools. This is occurring increasingly. In South Africa for example, business schools are in constant communication and are setting collective goals under the banner of the South African Business School Association (SABSA). This holds out rich potential for developing better programmes and stronger initiatives to meet the skills development challenges of our country.

There is therefore much to consider beyond the statistics that rankings present. Rankings offer benefits, but need to be considered carefully as an educational aid for consumers – the guiding principle should be the more information the consumer has about a school and its ethos, the better equipped they will be to make the decision that leads to the right choice of business school for them.

Frank M Horwitz is Professor of Business Administration and Director of the Graduate School of Business (GSB) University of Cape Town, and Vice President of the South African Business School Association (SABSA). He specialises in human resources management, organisation change and industrial relations. The areas of his expertise include high-performance work practices; Industrial Relations; employment discrimination and diversity; mergers and acquisitions; strategic human resource management; workplace flexibility and organisational restructuring. He has been visiting Professor at the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) Erasmus University in Holland, Nanyang Business School in Singapore (2001-2002), the Faculty of Management, at the University of Calgary, Canada, and research associate of the Industrial Relations Centre, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia. He is a former Faculty member of Wits Business School, University of the Witwatersrand. He has some ten years executive experience in these fields with ICI in England and AECI. He has acted as a consultant in organisational change and human capital strategies for companies in Canada, Namibia and South Africa. He has consulted to the governments of Namibia,  Singapore and South Africa. Frank Horwitz was in 2000, Chair of the Commission investigating the effects of sub-contracting on the collective bargaining system in the building industry. He was on the national Council of the Industrial Relations Association (IRASA). He was a (part-time) commissioner on the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), and on Clothing Industry Bargaining Council Dispute Resolution Panel. He is active in community service organisations. Among these, he has served on the executive committee of the South African Institute of Race Relations. He is a past executive committee member and national treasurer of the South African Association for Conflict Intervention (SAACI). He is a regular contributor on radio including Cape Talk radio and SAFM has written for business newspapers such as Business Day and the Financial Times and has appeared on television. He can be contacted at ">">"> and 021 406 1418 / 9 and runs the short course Building Strategic Readiness through People. Email for details.

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