Namibia Business School of the University of Namibia has scored a first in the country by becoming the leader in extending its degree programmes to its international branch in eSwatini, a southern African country formerly known as Swaziland. The establishment of international branches is one of the most effective ways universities use in the internationalisation of higher education. Therefore, the University of Namibia, through its innovative business school, joins the league of world-class universities that have thriving international branches in other countries throughout the world.
The secret that has worked miracles for the business school that was recently in doldrums was its new culture that focuses on customer service. Prior to this practice, the business school was being constantly bailed out financially by the University of Namibia. This dependency syndrome has ceased, as the school is now a self-sufficient, self-financing and profit-making entity. This change started in 2018 when the new management of the School realised that in order to survive and thrive in this knowledge-based economy, they needed to overhaul the old system, which was failing to yield tangible results. Therefore, making the school totally customer centric paid dividends in the end.
The benefits of this new customer centric approach became evident in the relationship with eSwatini. Previously, the model that had been used had almost failed as NBS struggled to make eSwatini students conform to its internal regulations and procedures. The approach was typical of the frustrating bureaucracy employed by most state-owned enterprises, where they drip-feed information to the customers and keep sending them back until they get it right. This type of treatment alienated the students from the School; it was self-defeating. But soon, transformation did the trick. Energised by their new customer service focus, the school re-engaged with the eSwatini customers and graduated 15 MBA students. Subsequently, the school enrolled
18 MBA students, and quite amazingly, registered 24 candidates for the doctor of business administration degree (DBA) in the last two years. Because of this phenomenal success, Namibia Business School has become one of the most popular business schools in eSwatini. I have personally overheard conversations from people praising NBS during my tour of duty in higher education institutions in that country.
With the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, Namibia Business School had to act fast. The pandemic crashed in upon collective realties, threatening to severely undermine the progress NBS had made to date. The response of the school was to double-down on customer service delivery, understanding that both students and lecturers are very important customers in the process. Change management theory suggests that emergent or unplanned change initiated by the Change Agent Manager is often more important in its impact than planned change.
NBS was about to leverage the opportunity brought about by the coronavirus to implement two new strategic initiatives. First, change in the mode of programme delivery. Second, change in the content of the academic programmes.
It is remarkable to note that within a week of the national lockdown, the NBS strategy had enabled its administrative staff and academics to communicate with customers and stakeholders both locally and in eSwatini. The unplanned change forced on the School by the coronavirus, made the staff work tirelessly to reassure, train and support both students and lecturers every step of the way. Both parties had to be reassured that both parties would not be unfairly penalised or disadvantaged by working in the new online mode. There was constant encouragement to everyone to give the new approach a chance and see how it would work. Parties were informed about the new strategy via Zoom sessions, about the transition from face-to-face, to online, and blended learning (a mix of face to face and online). There was also awareness that customer engagement would be even more important during this transition period. Locally and in eSwatini, online learning progressed without major hitches. It is highly commendable that in the end, only less than three percent of NBS students cancelled classes, and many reported that for them the new way of learning was actually better than the face-to-face mode of delivery.
The change in the content of the programmes was a planned change which, because of coronavirus, and was opportunistically initiated so that the disruption would happen only once. The NBS leadership understood they had an important role to play in preparing business and management graduates to become employers rather than employees, in other words, entrepreneurs and this is a key objective of government. The leadership also recognised that some of their programmes, though popular, had become out-of-date, disjointed and not really fit for a 21st century entrepreneurial class. This led to a complete redesign of their MBA curriculum.
The MBAs in Management Strategy, Finance, Entrepreneurship and Public Sector Management are still there but with a different balance.
Now NBS has introduced three new exciting programmes: MBA in Information and Digital Intelligence, MBA in Health Management and a totally revamped MBA in Natural Resources Management. Students enrolled for these programmes can choose from the following specializations: Managing Emerging Technologies; Business Analytics; Data Visualisation and Decision Making; Cybersecurity Management. Or Health compliance and Governance; Hospitality Management; Community Health Management; Pharmaceutical Management. Or Sustainable Natural Resources Management; Natural Resources Economics; Sustainable Conservation Management; and Sustainable Management of Mining and Energy Resources. These MBAs are designed to bring higher-level management skills, innovative and entrepreneurial thinking to these key areas of the Namibian economy and elsewhere.
If Namibia is to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic ready to compete on the vastly disfigured global stage, then it needs its best and brightest graduates to be properly equipped to make a difference. To all intents and purposes, NBS is positioning itself to help make this happen!