There has been a real buzz about Africa in the last two decades in the global media. It is the fastest growing but least understood continent due to the complexity of data gathering in the region, amongst several other reasons. The graduate management education (GME) industry also struggles with inadequate insights on the continent. Schools are at a loss on how to recruit from the region, where to focus, how to analyze the risks, and how to select smartly and cost-effectively.
As a Nigerian who only 5 years ago was an MBA applicant, I understand the journey of the current applicants you are trying to attract to your programs. I am also an admissions professional at IESE Business School in Spain, recruiting and admitting candidates from Africa. In other words, I have been on both sides of the process, and I wear the hats of both the GME applicant and the admissions officer comfortably. Thus, allow me to offer a few tips—some very obvious and others not—that will be helpful in increasing your recruiting success on the continent.
1. Define your set of criteria in selecting the countries and markets to focus your recruitment efforts on.
Africa is very heterogenous. We may conversationally toss around the word “Africa” to represent everyone from the region, but it is crucial to understand that the markets are very different economically, socially, politically, and culturally from one another, and a one-size-fits-all strategy will not work for the whole continent of 54 countries. Even more so, you cannot target all the countries at once.
A common set of criteria to use could be selecting the countries with the highest economic development, multicultural awareness, and strong educational landscape. These are candidate-rich regions where you will find candidates who can more easily adapt to the international environment your program is located in.
One easy clue is to follow the large multinational companies—where are they operating? The technological advancement their operations demand—and therefore, require them to develop in the locals they hire—and the financial remuneration they offer (usually above market rate) are good primers for top-caliber professionals who are ripe for your programs three to five years into their careers. You will readily find professionals with higher earning power who can cover some of the costs of an international GME program. Most of them have gotten some international experience and multicultural exposure and, therefore, have fewer cultural integration barriers to overcome.
In the African tech startup scene, a new acronym—the big four—has emerged to identify the four countries that have attracted more than 70% of the venture capital funding in Africa. These are Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa—collectively with a population of about 433 million. Following the organizations that are investing in these countries and also industries where they are investing could be another clue on where to look.
Language could also be a major selection criterion. Focus on markets where you have language and cultural similarities. Francophone candidates are more willing to consider GME education in French-speaking countries; likewise, their anglophone counterparts will usually look towards North America or the United Kingdom. If your program is not in these areas, then it is crucial in your marketing campaign to emphasize that your program is in English—a point usually lost on the candidates as they make their selection. Additionally, offer them the opportunity to learn a new language, which is an increasingly essential skill in the current global business landscape. This is an advantage that programs in non-English speaking countries can utilize well.
Another important criterion is to look for countries where there is a historical immigration trend to your program´s country. Which Africans have historically moved to the country where your program is located? Those are the countries to target because knowing they have brothers or sisters gives a certain level of comfort to the African GME candidates that they will not stick out like a sore thumb in a strange foreign land.
2. Understand the market dynamics and the motivations and interests of the GME candidates, and craft your message to address them.
Even in the big four mentioned above, the GME applicants have very different motivations and interests. South Africa currently leads the pack of eligible GME applicants, but they might be relatively less willing to do an international program than their Nigerian counterparts, who are leaving in droves to study abroad. South Africa has a proliferation of good business schools at affordable rates, supported by the government, so you need to give candidates compelling reasons why they should leave home by emphasizing the value of an international program and the prospective careers they can unlock both at home and abroad. On the other hand, Nigeria's "japa" phenomenon is sweeping the country dry of good professionals across all industries. You might have noticed an uptick in the number of applications from Nigeria to your program. If you are not seeing this in your program, then it is an opportunity to tap into it. Ghana is also experiencing similar immigration issues.
A crucial question most candidates from these regions will have, much more than the program curriculum, is the international career opportunities for them after graduation. They are mostly not eager to come home (at least in the short term), so don't focus on local opportunities they can unlock post-MBA.
A second crucial question will be about ease of settlement and migration. Countries with fewer visa hassles and residence/work sponsorships will attract a lot of these candidates, so understand what your immigration policies are in detail and work with your embassies to smooth the process for the admitted candidates.
This is where leveraging success stories from your program will be very helpful. If you have successful African alumni who have settled nicely in other parts of the world, engage them. Those are the ones with strong ties and connections back home and will be your biggest ambassadors. Africans are very communal. The "ubuntu" principle is still very much alive and active and is a huge driving factor to where people choose to study. So, hearing success stories from fellow Africans, and that they will not be treated differently living and working in the country, will help tremendously in driving traction.
Funding is always going to be a huge concern for many of the candidates applying to your program due to currency devaluations across the continent, so being creative in your offering—like offering flexible payment plans or engaging with loan institutions that understand the market or even sourcing additional scholarships for them—will go a long way in easing this major concern.
These tips originally appeared in GMAC's Membership Matters, a bimonthly newsletter for GMAC member schools.