Challenges To The Traditional MBA
- Steeped in theory rather than practical, real-world applications
- Focus on hard skills related to traditional lines of finance, marketing and such
- Not enough research in areas pertaining to India-specific situations
- Inadequate focus on developing people management and softer skills
Characteristics Of The New MBA Courses
- Emphasis on non-classroom learning; practical problem-solving and innovative thinking
- Looks at entry barriers in the form of not just merit but work experience
- Greater interaction with corporates for feedback on curriculum, teaching methods; willing to look at annual curriculum changes
- Major focus on development of softer skills pertaining to people management, understanding social contexts, communication
- Holistic view that goes beyond self and oragnisation, structured emphasis on incorporating ethics and code of conduct
The manager, the torchbearer of capitalism, seems to be in disrepute. In the aftermath of the slowdown, the list of complaints is long—dodgy ethics, the lack of ability to handle crises (real ones!), people management only in name, and a general crisis of trust. Such is the anger that some even have asked: is the manager’s reputation beyond repair? B-schools globally are churning away to answer this question. Curriculum is being reworked, courses are becoming shorter and teachers are being retooled. The new mantra for B-schools globally is fast becoming “quality over quantity”. It no longer suffices that you have a management degree. The content of that degree is key.
This is not just nice-sounding claptrap, to be forgotten in a couple of years. Given that the crisis has brought into sharp focus the inability of managers to effectively deal with real-world issues, B-schools need to adapt to changing dynamics. The charge is that business schools are too focused on scientific research; that they hire professors who have limited real-world experience; and students who graduate end up being ill-equipped to wrangle with complex issues and ethics. “The MBA as it is now is being seriously challenged. We cannot be vendors of content but have to give them relevant experience and insight, which comes from on-ground development,” avers Debashis Chatterjee, director at IIM-Kozhikode.
Clearly, there’s need for change. Although many argue there isn’t a need for a total overhaul, “B-school graduates need to re-examine their mindsets with regard to profitability, competition and risk,” avers Dishan Kamdar, senior associate dean for academic programmes, Indian School of Business. Expectations have changed too. The slowdown has brought about a change in what companies want from MBA graduates, and vice-versa. “Today corporates expect graduates to deliver from Day 1 and hence they put a premium on graduates who can apply their management models, theories, principles. Also they expect people managers,” says Dr Rajan Saxena, vice-chancellor at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies.
Given that there’s been a general decline in the number of people applying for MBA courses, this rethink has become even more critical. Consider this. Over the past two years, the number of applicants to B-schools has actually fallen. The total number of applicants for CAT (the common admission test for admission into the IIMs and a whole host of other Indian B-schools) has gone down from 2.85 lakh to 2.25 lakh. And, according to a global survey (including India) conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council, roughly half of the management programmes reported an increase in application volumes for the class of 2010-11. But 40 per cent registered a decline compared with 2009.
Tailormade Courses ISB, Hyderabad, has made ethics a key focus (Photograph by P. Anil Kumar)
Interestingly, the executive MBA programmes (EMBAS) have shown growth, reversing a three-year decline in this segment. The survey explains this trend, saying that as the recession progresses, household income diminishes and opportunity costs rise, leading to a drop in applications to full-time courses. The survey notes that three types of courses—online or distance-learning programmes, EMBAS and full-time one-year MBA courses—showed growth.
This trend is reflected in Indian B-schools as well. For instance, the S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR) has seen the number of students applying to its niche programmes like Family Managed Businesses increase. The number of applicants for the one-year programme for “matured candidates” has doubled. All this while, the number of people applying to the full-time two-year MBA course have remained stagnant at 20,000.
At the Indian School of Business, the pioneer of the one-year MBA course in India, demand has been growing for its flagship programme—as well as its executive programmes. ISB, in keeping with demand from senior industry executives, is now offering pgpmax, which is targeted at senior industry executives with an average work experience of 15 years. Many institutes have followed this example and launched one-year full-time courses or looked at shorter-term courses over specialised verticals. Prof S. Sriram, executive director of Great Lakes Institute of Management (which also offers a one-year full-time course), says that one-year courses will be a growing trend because they offer the same value-adds over a shorter period of time. “It’s about ensuring that you pack in as much of theoretical learning with practical training that caters to the person’s emotional quotient as well,” he says. Great Lakes has seen the number of students grow to 300 last year, compared to 120 when it started in 2004.
Within full-time MBA courses, most institutes are looking at reinvention. The new focus is to look at how to broaden abilities, but at the same time offer a specialist’s perspective. Schools are also looking at greater interaction with industry to offer more real-world problems that need analytical thinking and help develop other interpersonal skills. The new mantra is moving towards non-classroom learning. At Narsee Monji, the curriculum underwent a change in 2008. One of the goals was to develop ethical managers, for which the programme was structured from a business perspective as well as to provide time to develop integrative skills and people management skills. The institute, based on feedback from recruiters and other external developments, has introduced new electives like Global Economy in Transition, Business Analytics and so on.
Several institutes are looking at deepening specific verticals—offering specialisations in, say, cloud computing. Ashok Sarathy, vice president, GMAT programme, Graduate Management Admission Council, says, “Schools tailor their courses to the demands of the local economy, which is why some Indian institutions offer post-graduate programmes with specialisations in agri-business, family business and rural management.” However, offering specific specialisations, many experts believe, may not be the way to go. They say that, instead, the content of courses needs to be tweaked to be in line with “real-world demand”. In some cases, the institute is unable to find the right candidates for the course. Recently, IIM-A decided not to offer the course in public policy this year because it has been unable to recruit qualified civil servants. “I don’t believe in super-specialisations. I think a broadened view still holds good in today’s context,” adds Shiv Agrawal, CEO of ABC Consultants, a recruitment firm.
One of the criticisms of management studies in India has been the lack of adequate research and “connect” with complex India-specific issues. “To us the current western problems of appropriate institutional mechanisms or environmental problems certainly need response, but not only at the tactical level by way of a few new courses. This is what the western world is doing and that I believe is not going to be effective,” avers Dr M.L. Shrikant, dean, SPJIMR. He feels pedagogic architecture should be homegrown and indigenous—that’s the only way B-schools can develop sensitivities to the local issues along with human and ethical dimensions of the possible solutions.
Recruiters say that the trend towards shorter duration courses and EMBAS will continue. Also, there is a real need for entry barriers to management courses. “More corporates are looking for people who have a flavour of experience. Also there’s a greater need for B-schools to devote time to look at personality development, business and personal communication skills and overall etiquette for managers to operate successfully in today’s complex environments,” adds Agrawal. ISB, for instance, has a workshop on ‘Business Ethics’ and has even made ‘Ethical Responsibility’ one of the key learning goals of their pg programme. They are now looking at a formal process of assessing this learning goal among their students.
There’s clearly a churn in management education. The need for experienced and qualified faculty that can meet this demand for changes is also at its peak. Institutes are working hard to ensure they come up to par with what India Inc wants. And most no longer believe this change is cyclical. “There is nothing wrong with MBA as a programme. What is wrong is the application and the way it is being run,” says Amit Agnihotri, chairman, MBAUniverse.com. That’s why there is a growing feeling that a shakeout in Indian B-schools is around the corner.