Factors in black candidates' choice of MBA identified

18 October 2004

With the pressure on for South African business schools to transform their student bodies, new research has revealed why, for many black students, an MBA is not a first option.

The research, commissioned by UCT's Graduate School of Business (GSB) and carried out by The Monitor Group, a global-strategy consulting firm, looked at the key process steps for black candidates planning to sign up for an MBA, in order to identify what factors influence both their decision to study an MBA and where they choose to study.

The research found that at the top of the list of factors standing in the way of studying an MBA was the total cost (cost of tuition and of living without a salary), and the practicality of doing so. In addition, 60% of these candidates identified a lack of adequate financial support as a major factor affecting their choice.

These factors are barriers to black South Africans in particular because these candidates are more likely than their white counterparts to have existing financial obligations in the form of family commitments.

Around 80% of the black South African respondents in the target market were married and/or had one or more dependents, compared with 52% of white South African candidates surveyed.

Given these hurdles, the research found that the location of a business school plays a very important role in the decision-making process for black candidates. According to the study, 69% agreed that they preferred to study in the vicinity of their homes.

The study involved conducting qualitative interviews across a wide range of the target market (including unsuccessful applicants, current MBA students and MBA alumni) and then rigorously testing emerging hypotheses through wider quantitative research.

According to Dr Evan Gilbert, GSB senior lecturer and a member of the school's Transformation Forum, the study was commissioned primarily to assist the school with its transformation objectives.

"The study is giving direction to the GSB's transformation initiatives. We now have the vital information we need to help us attract and support talented black business leaders," he said. As a result of the study the school has already implemented a number of changes, including the introduction of a modular version of its MBA programme that will run for the first time in 2005.

Gilbert says a modular MBA will enable black students living outside Cape Town to study at the GSB without having to leave their jobs or stop supporting their families.

"We are also beginning innovative fundraising initiatives aimed at reducing the impact of the funding barriers for black applicants," said Gilbert.

The study also identified the three top reasons motivating black candidates to do an MBA. These were to facilitate a career change, improve their management and financial skills, and increase their knowledge of business. In addition, the research confirmed that word of mouth plays a vital role in influencing choice of school.

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