Explained: How to be in the 'top league' of business education in India

Industrial revolution and rise of large corporations necessitated shareholders to employ agents who worked towards maximization of shareholders’ wealth. Business Schools globally played an important role in imparting education to students that would make them ready to manage and eventually lead these corporations. Technical knowledge was much valued and management education naturally was skewed towards imparting them.

The advancements in technology has made it easy for people to obtain hard skills as and when required. Similarly, many of the jobs now performed by MBA graduates will get performed by machines in the future. Some of the top global leaders have openly expressed that management education needs to undergo changes to bridge the gap between what is required in the real life versus what is taught in B-schools.

Speaking on education, at the World Economic Forum (2018), Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, emphasised on the need to move away from knowledge-based teaching to teaching the softer skills like “values, believing, independent thinking, teamwork, care for others...”. Similarly, Nitin Nohria, the dean of the Harvard Business School, admitted, “anyone can teach you how to read a P&L or value a derivative; those kinds of things have become commoditized. The bigger challenge is to teach America’s future business leaders how to be curious, humane, and moral; how to think outside the box about problems like funding the research for a new blockbuster drug. And how to be strong enough to stand up to Wall Street when it demands the opposite”.

In India too, the India skills report 2019 stated that only 36% of the MBA students in the country were employable. Further, hundreds of B-schools across India are shutting down every year due to lack of offers from recruiters. While a few top schools like the ISB and IIMs are continuously re-evaluating the curriculum, marking themselves with the market demands and innovating teaching pedagogy, the trends are clearly shifting globally, and all B-schools need to recalibrate their efforts to remain relevant.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb famously said, “In academia, there is no difference between academia & the real world. In the real world, there is”. How does a B-school bridge this difference? For one, Engage with stakeholders to add real time value to the community. Curriculum and faculty should be geared towards integrating theoretical knowledge to practice. Maximizing shareholders’ perspective is now passé with companies aspiring to move towards a more wholistic measure of performance like the Triple Bottom Line approach that looks at people and community (social responsibility), planet (environmental sustainability) and profit (the bottom line). 

B-Schools need to accordingly reset curriculum, faculty and mindset. 

Research is an important component of all business schools. And rightly so. However, rigor versus relevance is a debate that the B-schools need to engage in. Warren Bennis, a professor of management at the University of Southern California says that “Business schools have forgotten that they are a professional school.” Not all good researchers are good teachers and not all good teachers are good researchers. Add to this a component of practical experience and industry engagement. A healthy balance is required in a fast-changing world.

Letter versus spirit: Ethics class doesn’t make one ethical. Knowing risk management tools didn’t prevent a Lehman brothers from collapsing. But knowing the consequences of not acting ethically or knowing what is at stake if a wholistic assessment of risk is not done, will act as a deterrent for people to take shortcuts. The school must understand, communicate and practice the basic values that it stands for and inculcate it in its students too. Strong personal and organizational values aid people to keep pace with changing times with integrity and in an ethical manner. 

In order to be globally relevant, B-schools in India must truly globalize. Efforts to attract sizeable proportion of international students, impart international experience, design globally relevant curriculum, promote cultural diversity and bring global faculty need to be made. Companies and marketplaces are global in nature after all. 

Hard versus soft skills: Traditionally, management education has paid emphasis on hard skills and quite neglected soft skills. With technology getting more and more adept at providing on-the-go technical knowledge and soft skills proving to be vital to succeed, increased focus on enhancing skills like negotiation, human behaviour, leadership and structured thinking are needed. It is also important to allow students time to think and reflect so that it becomes a habit and incidences of breakdown and mental health issues can be avoided in the future.

Entrepreneurial spirit: The schools themselves need to have entrepreneurial traits of curiosity and innovation. Executive education, new courses, flexible programs, online programs and specialized programs need to be launched to keep pace with market requirements.

In recent times, failure of many global giants due to flawed risk assessment, governance lapses, and judgement errors have raised questions about the effectiveness of the management education as the leaders of many of these corporations were educated at the top B-schools in the world. Elite institutions in the US like Harvard, Stanford and MIT have reported a drop in the number of applications in the recent years. The Indian B-schools can learn from these experiences and take proactive measures to be top of the league. Yet, let’s not ape the West. The West is looking to Us. Let’s tell them what we stand for. The East is the biggest market for global companies. Let’s make leaders in India, for the world. 

The leaders who understand these markets better than those educated in the US or Europe.

Nupur Pavan Bang is Associate Director, Thomas Schmidheiny Centre for Family Enterprise, Indian School of Business. 

Views expressed are personal.

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