This week, Henley Business School, the only international business school that is also accredited in South Africa, celebrated the graduation of 2,500 managers and leaders.
Speaking at the culmination of the school's end-of-year graduation ceremonies – the first in-person graduation in three years – Jon Foster-Pedley, dean and director of the business school, said that the numbers are testament to the tremendous spirit of South Africans, who are hungry to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others.
"Despite the enormous difficulties facing South Africans over the past few years, we've continued to be dazzled by the energy and passion of our students who come to us because they are inspired – as we are – to build the Africa we want. In the words of the praise singer at the graduations, 'this is a special day where we honour and celebrate the sons and daughters of this land who have stood up to be counted, made their presence felt and cemented their place among the elite!'"
Joy and pride were tangible among graduates and their families. "Mom, I made it, this one's for you!" said Advanced Diploma in Management Practice (ADMP) graduate Makoma Eneah Mphafudi. "This was a very long-awaited achievement and I made it," agrees fellow ADMP graduate Tau Vincent Seoketsa. Seoketsa, who works in retail said he fell in love with Henley when studying for his first qualification at the business school, "because they are with you every step of the way." And now he can't stop advocating for others to do the same. "If we all have the education that is required, we can as a collective take this country forward and change the world."
"It was life changing – I am a different person, I think differently now," said MBA graduate 'KG' Mangwale, who dedicated her achievement to her late father. Mangwale works at SARS in e-compliance and says she is already using the personal development and time-management frameworks gained during the programme to change her workplace and family for the better.
Henley Business school is one of the oldest business schools in Europe with a 76-year track record and has campuses in the UK, Europe and Asia in addition to its African campus in Johannesburg.
While it has been active in South Africa for more than 30 years, the school has grown dramatically over the past decade from a full-time staff of just five to over 110 and from a single academic qualification, the MBA, graduating just 30 people in 2011.
Today, Henley Africa offers a well-articulated pathway of management development programmes from NQF level 5 right up to the MBA level. And in 2023, it will formally open a campus in Cape Town and also plans to admit its first PhD students as it starts to expand its research agenda.
Linda Buckley, director of Executive Education and head of learning experience at Henley Africa says that much of this growth is being fuelled by the school's abiding commitment to giving people who have never had the opportunity to study a chance to advance their formal learning and thereby to create a movement of capable and professional managers who are equipped to lead and grow African organisations.
"There is a massive skills and education gap in South Africa, the education system has really failed thousands of working people, but Henley is determined not to fail them," she says.
Rashika Padarath, head of Henley's degree-level management development qualification programmes adds that many companies are already using the school's unique ladder of accredited management practice programmes to fast-track their talent development – from school leavers' level through to MBA – while there are many individuals and entrepreneurs who are choosing to use the Henley ladder of learning to study while working, rather than taking a more traditional full-time undergraduate route through the university system.
18-year old entrepreneur Marko Stavrou, who graduated with a Higher Certificate in Management Practice, the first of Henley's certified management programmes offered at NQF level 5, is a case in point. He plans to go on to study all three programmes en route to an MBA, and says he values the flexibility Henley offers.
"I've been a dedicated entrepreneur since I was 14, and I know that building a business is a full-time occupation. With Henley I've been able to advance my studies and my business ventures at the same time!"
Foster-Pedley says that Henley's own research indicates that only around 30% of managers and entrepreneurs working across all sectors in the country have a formal management qualification and that this needs to change. "We are working on creating a revolution in learning – every year adding thousands of skilled, confident and motivated managers into the mainstream of management. We are making it as easy and accessible as we can for as many people as possible to rise to lead and build good businesses, gaining management skills and academic qualifications as they do."
To further increase access, Henley Africa also runs one of the largest and most comprehensive self-funded scholarship programmes on the continent. Henley scholarships are focused in particular on supporting entrepreneurs, on the music, creative and media industries, on women, on climate and anti-corruption activists, on people speaking truth to power, and on people working in all sectors that have a powerful vision and plan to help transform the economy and the country.
"South Africa needs an army of skilled and passionate people, who build the businesses, that build Africa. Our thousands of graduates are already making a difference and getting noticed. But we need more to reach critical mass and we are determined to get there," says Foster-Pedley. "Our collective future as a country and a continent will depend on this."
Henley Africa's 2022 graduation celebrations also included 13 members of Henley Africa's own team. All Henley staff are given free access to the school's programmes. And a special in-person graduation celebration was also organised for graduates who had been unable to celebrate face-to-face in the past three years due to COVID-19.