Dr Ahmed Shaikh, the managing director of the Durban-based Regent Business School.
Durban - A Durban academic has been appointed as an adviser to the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Bulelani Magwanishe.

Dr Ahmed Shaikh, 47, who has a PhD in business administration and leadership, will be providing his expertise and research capability to assist the Department of Trade and Industry(DTI), and the deputy minister in particular, on a range of strategic issues that affect the ministry.

In his career Shaikh has made a significant contribution to the private higher education sector, most recently as the managing director of the Durban-based Regent Business School.

Regent Business School offers a range of higher-education qualifications in a number of countries by way of distance and supported learning, from certificate courses to Master’s degrees.

Speaking about the advisory role, Shaikh said: “The role as a research adviser to the deputy minister is essentially about providing a strategic voice on policies and frameworks that the DTI uses for economic and industrial policies in South Africa.

“More particularly, it will involve conducting research and formulating inputs on matters affecting the global trade dynamics and economic trends, and advancing the portfolio mandate of the DTI.”

Shaikh said there was an “interesting phenomenon” occurring in South Africa since the election of President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier this year - dubbed “Ramaphoria” by some analysts - where the growth of the economy had been thrown into sharp focus.

“There’s a moment and there’s a mood where business confidence is up and international rating agencies are positively predisposed to South Africa,” he said.

“Many senior members of government and business leaders have been to many parts of the world, seeking opportunities for investment in the country.”

Shaikh said his private sector career in education coupled with his extensive NGO experience would be beneficial in his advisory role. “I spent 10 years in a leadership position with a large NGO that worked across Southern Africa and had the opportunity to work at the grass-roots level with communities, understanding the impact of poverty, unemployment, the lack of access to education and services,” he said.

“And for the past 16 years I’ve been in the private sector. So I am hopefully able to meaningfully leverage my experiences from those two different worlds in order to play a small role in shaping and guiding how the public and private sectors may be able to collaboratively engage in order to meet the needs of communities across our country.”

He said business was still faced with the “perennial challenges” around sustainability, ethics and good governance and sustainable business practices.

“How do you ensure that the private sector remains effective and profitable, while it serves society in a balanced and sustainable way which doesn’t destroy the environment?”

In striving for this sensitive balance, Regent tries to integrate these principles into its teaching and learning philosophy while instilling in students a mindset of responsible personal and corporate citizenship.

Last year, the business school joined international group Honoris United Universities, which is the first pan-African platform of private universities, with close to 35000 students across the continent.

Shaikh said the idea behind the development of the pan-African platform was to include high quality private universities across the African continent and bring them together under one umbrella for the purpose of “education with impact” for the large numbers of students on the continent who continue to struggle with access to quality and affordable higher education.

“To give some sense of scale and quantum, the vast majority of young people in Africa don’t have the opportunity or the finance to access higher education,” he said. “We have half-a-billion young people under the age of 25 years, a significant number of whom could be in secondary and higher education, who could start enterprises, who could build the economies of their countries, and importantly, who could pull their families out of the cycle of poverty.”

But Shaikh said he remained hopeful and confident that there were solutions to the problem of access to education with institutions like Regent and its partner universities within Honoris United Universities, where quality education is affordable and accessible.

“I have an interesting story of a student who came to register with us. He was brought here by his granny. He was a school-leaver who wanted to do a Bachelor’s degree.

“His granny brought a pile of cash in small denominations, like R20 notes. She brought her grandson’s entire first-year fees and left it with us.”

Shaikh said her words were an important reminder for him. “She said, ‘This is my life savings and this is my grandson, make him into a great man’. This example is instructive in that it gives us a real sense of our role in education.

“While our students’ success and graduation rates are extremely important, we must see ourselves as being in the business of ‘trust’. We are here to meet the dreams and aspirations of that grandmother, and thousands of others like her.”

The Mercury