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The South African MBA – to be or not to be a Master’s?


You may have seen the recent article entitled “Honors Even” in Financial Mail about South African MBA degrees potentially being lowered to Honours level. (If not, take a look at the article on MBAconnect.net)

According to the article, Government’s Council on Higher Education (CHE), which accredits SA MBA programmes, has recommended that the MBA be considered no better than an honours degree or postgraduate diploma.

This has major implications for MBA grads with South African MBA degrees trying to compete in the global market. Downgrading the academic status of the South African MBA has potentially negative consequences for the international credibility of SA MBAs and our career prospects as MBA alumni.

The CHE and a number of university academics feel that entry to a traditional Master’s programme requires an honours degree at minimum, and so too should the MBA. However, Nick Binedell, director of GIBS, feels this is unrealistic. “No school in the world demands an honours for its MBA … not Harvard, not Oxford, not Cambridge. You don’t need an undergraduate or honours degree to learn management.”

Can you judge an MBA by the same measure as a traditional academic Master’s degree? Business schools contend that to judge the MBA against other Master’s degrees is to misinterpret its purpose. Sharon Bamford, CEO of the UK-based Association of MBAs (AMBA), says that the MBA is a post-experience qualification, rather than an academic one. The value of the MBA also lies in its ability to unspecialise MBA students and prepare them for general management.  A traditional Master’s degree does the opposite.

Some feel it doesn’t really matter whether our MBA is judged as a Master’s or as an Honors, as long as it is consistently judged this way by all employers. This may be true for employers in SA. However the problem arises when an overseas employer compares a South African MBA degree at Honors level with a non-South African MBA at Master’s level. All other things being equal, if an MBA degree is an important entry criterion (for example in management consulting firms), as the employer which would you prefer?

Based on all these arguments, I strongly believe the MBA is a business qualification that should have its own category of accreditation. It should not be lumped together with traditional academic qualifications.

What’s your view? Share your thoughts on this contentious issue



Author: Colette Symanowitz

Director of FraudCracker. Passionate about entrepreneurship, personal branding and networking. I also tweet under @FraudCracker

6 thoughts on “The South African MBA – to be or not to be a Master’s?

  1. Simple strategy to put a plug in the brain drain, and imprison its citizens. Pessimistic, negative, cynical or realistic, pragmatic and rational? I don’t know, but I was taught to keep a watchful eye on developing macro environmental trends.

  2. Good point, thanks Etienne

  3. This is truly dissapointing.let is support our business schools in their efforts to motive the stature of our masters degree. No reason for the counter argument to succeed.

  4. If overseas aquired MBA degrees too are regarded by the CHE as honours degrees then the concern is not as serious. It then merely means that they are applying a stricter hand as one sees when some of our SA masters programmes are regarded in a similar standing to overseas PhD programmes for example.

  5. Hi Phil

    Thanks for your feedback, interesting point. However I can’t comment on how the CHE will regard overseas-acquired MBA degrees as this doesn’t seem to have been discussed in the media articles about this issue. I’ll let you know if I hear anything further about this issue ….


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