Strong focus on African development

African solutions to African problems lie at the heart of the master’s in development finance (MDevF) course at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) — the only university in Africa that offers such a degree.

Typically, says programme head Professor Meshach Aziakpono, “other universities in South Africa offer programmes in financial markets, financial mathematics or finance”. But development finance is relatively new in academia, he told the Mail & Guardian: few institutions offer it — even internationally.

The course attracts students from across Africa — about 80% of the current course intake comes from outside South Africa.

The USB even has a representative in West Africa — based in Lagos, Nigeria — who actively promotes the programme.

Glenda Jacobs is a graduate of the MDevF and says the course was an eye-opener for her not only on development issues but also on how other Africans view the continent and on different challenges countries face.

This is also a strength of the programme for another graduate, Jodi Allemeier, who says her MDevF alumni helped her make “great contacts with practitioners from around the world, most especially other African states”.

The programme exposes all students to development finance initiatives around the continent, “bringing about convergence of knowledge among students”, says Aziakpono.

“The challenges of development in Africa call on an alternative financing model different from the traditional approaches used by banks. For instance, there are the special problems of weak legal systems and ill-defined property rights that make it difficult for small to medium-scale enterprises and smallholder farmers to secure loans from banks due to lack of collateral and the risky nature of such business,” says Aziakpono.

One of the aims of the MDevF is “to expose participants to alternative development finance options that may be suitable for the African environment”, he says.

Unusually for any programme at a business school, more than a third of those enrolled at USB are women. According to the school, this is a reflection of a society where women play an increasingly bigger role in organisations across Africa and so also wish to develop their skills as well as work towards the improvement of Africa.

“I think this course appeals to women because it is not profit driven, it is developmental. It appeals to them because what we teach can be adapted into programmes that empower women,” says Aziakpono.

Jacobs agrees: “As a woman you are concerned about development issues. My focus was on poverty issues, which for me come from the caring nature of being a woman.”

The MDevF aims to equip students with a thorough understanding of the special problems of finance in the emerging-market economies and with the functional knowledge and skills to operate successfully.

Aziakpono says that a new dynamic is apparent on the development-finance horizon.

“With more integration we will gradually no longer be able to use the traditional approach of country-specific interventions.

“Instead, more regional and continent-wide approaches will become necessary for Africa. The issue will no longer be a South African issue but a Southern African Development Community issue.”

The MDevF is a modular programme with four study blocks spread over two years and it accommodates both full-time and part-time students.

Aziakpono says admission requirements were initially liberal in that any honours qualification was accepted. But as of next year students must have qualifications in economics, finance, development studies or related fields and evidence of research capacity.

“Students are accepted on merit and preference is given to those who have 60% and above-average marks at their honours degree,” says Aziakpono.

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