Q&A with our PGDip BMA head on how to kickstart your business
Many people are looking for ways to develop their skills and improve their business careers, or enhance the growth of their businesses. Whatever your role is in an organisation, there are two ways you can achieve these goals. The first is through years of experience. The second is by studying towards a PGDip BMA.
We chatted to Tasneem Motala, Senior Lecturer and Head of the PGDip BMA at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), to learn more about how the programme can help you achieve the above goals.
Hi Tasneem. Can you give us a bit of background on your career and relationship with USB?
In terms of my background, I’m a chemical engineer by qualification. I worked for a number of years in petrochemical engineering in the petroleum industry. In 2012, I decided to do my MBA.
Once I completed my MBA, my research supervisor convinced me to come back and lecture. So I was working full-time and doing a bit of part-time lecturing. That was a lot of work, so when a full-time position came up in 2016, I applied for it. I got the job, and as they say, the rest is history.
So academia wasn’t something you originally planned?
It wasn’t something I actively pursued, but rather I embraced the opportunities as they came along. I think it was the research exposure during my own MBA, and enjoying being in the academic environment that led me there.
Getting into the meat of this discussion, can you unpack the PGDip BMA for us?
It’s a one year programme, and it’s available to students in both blended learning and modular formats.
The Blended Learning format allows you to take part in the class via the internet (in real-time), or in person on campus. Since the class is live streamed online, students can actively take part in classroom discussions. However, there are also two compulsory, on-campus blocks. The first takes place in January, and the second in November. The November elective block runs from Saturday to Saturday and is attended by both the blended and modular students.
The Modular format is made up of five blocks spread out over the year. The first four blocks take place between Monday and Saturday. The last block is slightly longer and runs from Saturday to Saturday. These two formats are offered to ensure that individuals with demanding personal and/or professional schedules can still pursue postgraduate studies.
In terms of content, the PGDip basically teaches critical foundational skills, especially for someone who hasn’t been in higher education for a while. The modules include functional business modules, like Economics for Managers, Entrepreneurship, Managerial Statistics and Principles of Operations. Then we have some modules that are unique to us such as Digital Quotient, Systems Methods, and Sustainable Enterprises.
At the end of the day, the most important thing about the PGDip is that it offers business management skills that are relevant to what the market requires.
What is the key difference between the PGDip and the other certifications in this programme (MBA and PhD)?
The first difference is that the PGDip, MBA and PhD are at different NQF levels. The National Qualifications Framework (NQF) is a framework of learning achievements. There are 10 levels with which programmes can be associated, depending on the content of the course. Generally speaking, the higher the NQF level, the more intellectual ability is required to complete it.
The PGDip is pitched at an Honours level, and was introduced for two reasons. A couple of years ago the South African legislation changed and students are no longer able to go from a three year bachelor’s degree straight into an MBA. Most business schools introduced this PGDip BMA, which allows those who don’t have a four year bachelor’s degree or an Honours to gain access to an MBA.
The second reason, which is equally important, is that it is a stand-alone qualification. Particularly for people who are entrepreneurs and are interested in the theory of entrepreneurship. Other than managing the business just by gut, or by instinct, the PGDip gives you the grounding that you need and, even if you have no intention of going on with an MBA, is sufficient for someone to either start or grow a business. After all, an MBA is not something that everyone wants to do or that everyone should do.
Someone might want to start or grow a business and they ask us “Should I do my MBA?” Depending on the student’s situation, we might say, “At this point, it may be better to use your money as seed capital to grow your business rather than doing an MBA. Start it off, see how it goes. Then in two to three years’ time come back and do the MBA, because the knowledge you’ll gain combined with your experience will elevate your business that much more.”
How does the PGDip connect to the MBA?
When we talk about how the PGDip connects to the MBA, we’ve designed it so that there is a clear learning path. There are four modules that are identical across the PGDip and MBA. These are Managerial Accounting, Managerial Statistics, Economics for Managers and Organisational Behaviour. If a student does a PGDip with us and then goes on to do their MBA, they get academic and financial credit for those four modules.
Each module on the PGDip is also aligned with a relevant module on the MBA, so the MBA builds on what is covered in the PGDip. For example, the MBA Accounting for Decision Making module will build on the knowledge that they received in Managerial Accounting. In Principles of Operations, what we do in the MBA is called Operational Excellence and it’s simply building on those skills that the students have acquired in the PGDip.
We have students that come in, even with an Honours degree, but they choose to do the PGDip first because they want that grounding. It can be the theory, or getting to grips with things they might have experienced but need more knowledge about.
If they decide to do an MBA, you will generally see that students who did the PGDip will perform a bit better. This is because they have a year where they are able to develop their understanding of the critical concepts.
And in what ways is the theory you learn in the PGDip applicable in the real world?
Let’s look at Sustainable Enterprises in terms of real-world application. With Sustainable Enterprises, the focus is not only on teaching students about shareholder value. The “business of business” is not only about making money but also on the triple bottom line (profit, people and planet). This teaches us to ask ourselves how we take environmental and social sustainability into account when making managerial decisions?
Another important factor is that our modules are not just facilitated or run by an academic who is only focused on research. We have consultants or practitioners who lecture specific modules, such as a successful entrepreneur who lectures Entrepreneurship. We have thought leaders and high profile practitioners that come in and explain how concepts are applied in the real world.
Again, referring back to Sustainable Enterprises, the faculty usually gets the sustainability manager of a high profile organisation to come in and chat to the students, to really give them deep insight into how decisions need to be made on a day to day basis. This allows us to ensure that the world we are leaving tomorrow is either the same or better, for future generations.
We also use a lot of case study-based learning. When discussing case studies, it’s important to note that we’re proud of being an African business school of global repute. As a result, the case studies we use aren’t just the latest case studies from Europe or the US. It’s important to us that, where possible, that we use case studies from an emerging economy context.
Finally, all of our full-time academics are also quite highly involved in industry. All of us either consult, or have spent many years in industry, so that we don’t lose touch with what is going on.
When it comes to assessments, what can students expect?
With assessments, some of the modules are moving away from exams and tests and don’t have exams or tests at all. We understand that this isn’t the only form of assessment and are shifting many modules towards continuous assessment, such as class exercises, or group presentations.
Again linking back to real-world application, the way we set assignments is they’re all based on challenges or problems that students face in the work environment and aren’t purely theoretical. We also recommend that students find challenges within their companies and then apply what they’ve learned to that issue. Try and solve the problem, or at least provide recommendations on how to deal with it. The students therefore have the opportunity to act like a mini-management consulting team in different functional areas of the business.
These assessments can sometimes involve a manager at the student’s workplace to provide comment on the recommendations. It’s difficult for us to assess the feasibility of every single recommendation for every single industry and every single sector. In these situations, the people working in the organisation are the best ones to tell us what they think. That works well because the student can’t get away with making impractical or unreasonable proposals.
In Entrepreneurship, the students use the business model canvas to come up with a business model for either an existing business, or one that they want to start. We have had students use that as a springboard to start a company that they’ve been thinking about for a while, and just needed a structure to bring all of the elements together.
You really don’t get more practical than that. On a different subject, can you tell me a bit about the experience some of the students have had?
We had a participant in the Small Business Academy (SBA) in 2016. She started off and she had a small swimming school. She really enjoyed the learning process and after she completed the SBA programme, decided to do the PGDip. She completed the PGDip last year and this year has joined us as a full-time MBA student. She basically only has her PhD left, but she’s gone all the way from the SBA through to the MBA.
We also have two other students that have done the PGDip and MBA, who have now both registered for their PhDs. They’re in for the long haul, which they wouldn’t be unless they found the learning environment valuable and enjoyable.
Thank you for your time, Tasneem.
Give your business career the kickstart it needs with a PGDip BMA
If you’re interested in finding out more about our PGDip BMA and how you can use it to enhance your business or grow you skills, please head over to our website. If you have any queries about the programme or anything else, you can also get in contact with our team today.
We also have a range of online postgraduate diplomas, including a postgraduate diploma in Nigeria or a postgraduate diploma in Kenya, offered through the University of Stellenbosch Business School. Other options include: