Across India Inc, there’s been a view of late that today’s MBAs are a tad shallow in outlook and lack the “desired qualities”. This, it seems, is because of the increasing gap between what institutions teach and what companies want in an increasingly demanding corporate atmosphere. This is especially so in the new sunrise sectors whose ways don’t match with the traditional teaching methods followed in our B-schools. Consider some of the recent surveys for validation: one by MBAUniverse.com-MeriTrac revealed that employability among fresh MBAs came down from 25 to 21 per cent among B-schools outside the Top 25. This when MBA seat numbers in India grew from 0.95 lakh in 2006-07 to 3.53 lakh in 2011-12.
Then, at a recent performance review at one of India’s leading beverages companies, the top management found that the performance of its MBA recruits was way below its less-paid non-MBAs. While the non-MBAs were willing to try out new ways to find solutions, their more accomplished colleagues came with an “attitude” and were stuck with set ideas which often fell short of expectations.
A few years ago, Harvard Business School undertook an exercise to examine the relevance of its approach in relation to the demands made by the industry of its managers. The initial results were quite startling, with the researchers finding significant gaps between what was being taught and the requirements of a modern industrial environment. Prof Shrikant Datar, who led the research at Harvard, had told Outlook in 2010, “Prospective applicants were being discouraged by many employers from going for full-time MBA programmes. Executives repeatedly questioned the value-addition of the MBA degree.”
This situation has really ‘come home’ in the Indian scenario today. Datar felt there is tremendous opportunity for business schools to implement ideas like critical and innovative thinking and leadership development. The best Indian B-schools, he said, need to do more research in the context of the problems Indian firms face. At the heart of the problem is the approach followed, based as it is on analytics, models, statistics and a predominant emphasis on case studies, a model the IIMs and a large number of other Indian management schools have borrowed from the West. It focuses on ‘problem-solving’ but is low on the human element and people management, which is important in India.
Says former IIM Lucknow director and DG, Indian Management Institute, Dr Pritam Singh, “We have been blindly following this western hegemony without looking at the ground realities of Indian industry. The case study method doesn’t help develop leaders, that can be done only by integration of mind and soul. The world is moving towards the Gestalt method and HBS, Ross School and other leading schools are bringing in social sciences, art, theatre and music into their curriculum to develop this area.”
While the leading, older IIMs fiercely defend the case study method of teaching, some of the newer ones have started looking at this approach and its execution critically. Says IIM Kozhikode director Debashis Chatterjee, “Case studies should be used to uncover a basic truth or deeper reality. But people here do not know how to create good narratives which capture attention effectively. Also, the overtly analytical and transactional approach of western universities doesn’t hit home often in India. I think the approach has to be different in India...we are not a linear, transactional culture.”
So is it time for Indian business schools to introspect, find their own methods? Says management guru Vijay Govindarajan of Tuck School of Business, “Yes, it’s time for Indian management schools to take a zero-based approach. So much has changed in the global competitive space and India’s place in the world. Today’s leaders face very different challenges as compared to India in the 1960s when the IIMs were founded. The IIMs need the latest case studies that capture innovations happening in India. It has to challenge students to scale such innovations for the benefit of every Indian.”
To keep up with the rising demand of the new growth sectors, newer B-schools have started introducing sector-specific and niche courses in areas like telecom and retail. There has also been a steady demand for these and many business schools have made a killing as students, looking at quick job prospects, flock to it. But global management experts are not convinced that these niche courses are the answer for today’s needs. Says Govindarajan, “Sector-specific MBAs are really not needed. There are core management concepts that cut across all sectors. Specialisation can always be allowed within regular MBA programmes.”
There could also be inherent dangers in this approach, looking at the topsy-turvy fortunes of some new sectors. Says management thinker Mrityunjay Athreya, “Sectoral MBAs appear good at the start, but if something happens to that sector, the school and the students are in trouble. It may be better to have a comprehensive MBA, with a strong specialisation option for different sectors.”
Indian B-school leaders, however, have a different take. Says Bakul Dholakia, ex-director, IIM Ahmedabad, “Some of these changes are reactive, some are proactive. You have to make changes partly geared towards market forces and partly towards managing change. And this is necessary to maintain competitive edge.” IIM Ahmedabad, he says, was one of the first to recognise such needs and introduce new sectoral and niche courses like one on m&a when liberalisation began, on retail management and on insurance before the sectors opened up. Newer B-schools have been more proactive and have started several new courses, like supply chain and logistics management.
Of late, some US management schools have introduced a system where students get cross-cultural/cross-discipline exposure and students are allowed to sit in classes of other disciplines of their own institution and also at other universities, with an aim to developing human skills among managers. Unfortunately, in India, even the IIMs do not have such a system. That said, the government has been pushing the idea of a common entrance exam and a common curriculum for all B-schools in India. It could be the first step for managing change.
By Arindam Mukherjee with Lola Nayar