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Durban - Once ranked as one of the top five business schools in the country, the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Graduate School of Business and Leadership has dropped several places in a prominent national survey of employers of MBA graduates and students.

An external review report revealed that the Graduate School of Business and Leadership, which faces fierce competition from rival institutions in and outside the province, is battling infighting.

The 2013 Professional Management Review (PMR) argued that a decision be made about whether the school should operate more independently, as many top South African business schools do, or continue to be treated like any other university department.

The review also found that if management and interpersonal problems at the school were not resolved, much of its potential would go unrealised.

In the latest annual PMR rankings of accredited business schools offering MBA degrees, UKZN slid to 12th position out of 16. In 2011 they were ranked fifth, and were eighth in 2012.

The directors and human resources managers of large companies, government departments and state-owned enterprises were asked to score the MBA graduates and students in their employ across 19 criteria.

The University of Stellenbosch Business School ranked first, followed by the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science, and the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business.

Neren Rau, chief executive of the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the PMR rankings reflected the quality of the MBA that a business school offered and were a reliable barometer of which ones were held in high esteem.

A good business school was aligned with the needs of business, he said.

“This is supported by a number of factors: experience and stature of lecturers, relevance and credibility of research, (and) interface with real business.”

Andrew Layman, head of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said there was concern that UKZN’s Graduate School of Business and Leadership was not always the school of choice for employers.

“The competition in the sphere of executive and graduate education is fierce and many companies prefer to support the schools which have more favourable reputations.”

The PMR rankings were to be taken seriously, Layman said. Successful business schools enjoyed considerable independence in the way they were run and were not bound to tight university policies.

“Unfortunately, interaction between business and (UKZN’s business school), despite some efforts by the school and its head (Professor Stephen Migiro), is not sufficient… to ensure that the institution is an integral part of the business community.”

In addition to this challenge, the school had to wrestle with merging three units.

“This is work in progress and the business community would hope that progress will be made from what seems to be a low point. The province and its business community need a strong business school to keep talented young aspirant business people in (KZN),” Layman said.

The Mercury spoke to

former and current business school faculty members. They were of the opinion that the leadership of a business school must understand the need for valuing customer or stakeholder feedback, rather than focusing internally. They argued that flexibility, adaptability, innovation and competitive salaries were key.

The PMR review commended UKZN’s school on its research record, quality of academic programmes and its committed and qualified staff. However, there was a lack of common purpose among the school’s senior leadership.

The review panel also expressed concern about low throughput rates. Between 2006 and 2010, 50 percent of the 364 MBA students graduated. The three postgraduate diplomas offered each had enrolments of 45 students. Of the 147 students enrolled between 2006 and 2010, 76 graduated.

For the Master of Commerce in Leadership, 104 students enrolled last year, but the throughput rate was the lowest. Only 26 percent of the students enrolled since 2006 graduated.

The review panel questioned if this was because of overly generous admissions criteria, or simply part of the reality of students studying part-time.

UKZN spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said applications for places at the business school had increased by 80 percent. The university featured well in four global rankings.

Acceptance for the MBA programme was in line with other business schools. However, delays by students in registering for and completing research projects affected throughput rates.

The Mercury