/ 30 May 2024

The price of ambition 


Funding your MBA dream is costly, but it pays off in the long term 

For ambitious professionals seeking to take their careers to new heights, an MBA degree from a top business school can seem like the ultimate golden ticket. However, the prestige and potential gains of this qualification often come with a hefty price tag that can make even the most determined students baulk.  

In South Africa, the total cost of an MBA programme at a leading institution ranges from R150 000 to a staggering R500 000 — and that is without accounting for additional expenses like accommodation, living costs, international study trips and lost income from taking time off work. 

So why does an MBA demand such a premium price? A major factor is the substantial investment required to deliver a truly world-class learning experience. Top-ranked programmes recruit expert faculty members — “pracademics” with extensive real-world experience complementing strong academic credentials. They spare no expense in providing state-of-the-art facilities, cutting-edge technology and opportunities for global exposure through exchange programmes and overseas study tours.  

The pursuit of international accreditation and high rankings is also a costly endeavour, as business schools must continually demonstrate their ability to meet rigorous standards for curriculum, faculty, research and institutional resources. This relentless drive for excellence adds significantly to the bottom line.

Funding options for returning students

The financial burden can seem daunting, but funding options exist to help ease the strain. Scholarships, grants and bursaries — some based on academic merit, others on financial need — can cover full or partial tuition costs. These, however, are often limited to first degrees. Older students and postgraduate qualifications are more commonly funded by special interest groups such as associations, foundations, religious groups or niche industry players. These bursaries and scholarships are often more focused and specific in their requirements and criteria.  

Many companies also offer bursary or funding programmes to support employees seeking further education. Some organisations have recognised the value of investing in internal talent, especially those earmarked for leadership positions. In these cases, however, students may be required to pass all modules or risk forfeiting the bursary and having to repay the money. 

Bank loans and dedicated student financing present another avenue. Many South African banks offer study loans with flexible repayment terms, with no age restrictions for those returning to academics after establishing their careers. These loans also make provisions, not only for tuition but also for study materials and living expenses. 

Preparation is key 

Careful financial planning is essential. Prospective MBA candidates should conduct a thorough lifestyle audit to identify areas for cost-cutting and develop a detailed budget that accounts for both the new educational expenses and potential loss of income during full-time studies.

While the upfront investment is substantial, an MBA from a top-ranked programme is often viewed as a long-term career accelerator, promising enhanced earning potential, professional advancement and a competitive edge in the global business arena. For those with the ambition, determination and a strategic financial roadmap to make it happen, the dream of an MBA can become an achievable — and potentially life-changing — reality.