On May 22-25 I will participate in the Association of African Business Schools’ “AABS Connect” conference in Nigeria at Lagos Business School. As AABS celebrates its first decade, it seems like an opportune moment to look at a telling trend in the perception of management education on the Continent, and worldwide.
Each year the World Economic Forum conducts Executive Opinion Surveys, the results of which are published in their annual Global Competitiveness Reports. Last year over 14,000 business leaders around the world rated a broad range of economic and social conditions in each of some 140 countries. Each country’s scores reflect the opinions of 30 to over 450 executives.
On of the questions is an interesting barometer for the management education market: “In your country, how do you assess the quality of business schools? ” Respondents rate that quality between 1 (extremely poor) to 7 (excellent). 
What do these numbers show?
The perceived quality of business schools varies greatly by region, as pictured in the following chart based on the 2015 survey.
2015 Survey of Quality of Business Schools by Region Secondly, the entire world’s average score for perceived quality of business schools has not changed over the last decade, averaging 4.2 in 2006 and 4.3 in 2015. Some country ratings improved, others declined. In Africa over the past decade Zambia, Cameroon, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire gained against the world average, while Kenya, Uganda, Mauritius, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Senegal, Botswana, Mali and Madagascar maintained their rankings. Business schools in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Algeria lost ground in the eyes of local executives.
Elsewhere, while business leaders’ perception of China’s business schools plateaued after improving through 2011, India’s ratings worsened steadily.
Chinese Business Schools and Indian Business School Ratings from 2006-2015
High and steady ratings, such as those for OECD country schools, are a clear indication of perceived quality excellence. However, the numbers in Africa and other developing regions tells a different story. Unlike in high-income countries, the number of business schools in developing countries is growing rapidly. Typically in these countries a handful of business schools offer first-rate education (and those have shown substantial improvements over the decade), but the national perception is weighed down by many other, often newer, business schools of lesser quality.
International accreditation data corroborate the World Economic Forum’s regional ratings. Out of nearly 800 AACSB-accredited schools worldwide and 160 accredited by EQUIS, only three are in Africa: the American University in Cairo, the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business and Stellenbosch Business School Ð all GBSN members. In China, fourteen schools have EQUIS accreditation and four are AACSB accredited. In India there are only four of each EQUIS and AACSB, the most recent addition being the AACSB accreditation of the Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad Ð also a GBSN member school.
The WEF report question speaks to the importance of confidence in local business schools to develop the knowledge and talent necessary for business to thrive in a region. It is rooted in the premise on which GBSN was founded: Without quality educational institutions that are embedded in the cultural, economic, political and social infrastructure of a country, efforts to develop sustainable economic and social improvements will fall flat.
The answers to that question, corroborated by accreditation data, reveal (once again) a demand for increased capacity in local business schools. As economies develop and aid organizations look more closely at the importance of systems to achieve their goals, the need for people with leadership, management and entrepreneurial skills will continue to grow. This is especially true of Africa. While a few excellent institutions in Africa stand out, overall there is extremely limited supply of management education programs that are effective and sustainable.
This data urges a call for governments, aid agencies and other funders to invest in improving access to quality, locally relevant management education, GBSN’s raisond’tre and a powerful driver toward achievement of the United Nation’s new Sustainable Development Goals.
All of this analysis and information is fueling my excitement for the upcoming GBSN – EFMD Joint Conference in Africa, being held in Ghana this November 2 Ð 4. We will look at how changing markets are shaping management education in Africa, and beyond. In addition to welcoming management educators from across Africa and around the world as we usually do, we are also inviting executives, entrepreneurs and students into a dialogue about what they are looking for and need from business schools.
I look forward to that conversation and to working with our network and broader community to react to the changing demands of local markets. Together we will shape the perception of business schools for the next generation of executives.
Guy Pfeffermann is the Founder and CEO of the Global Business School Network