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Feature
Published on: Dec. 14, 2020, 1:30 p.m.
Reinventing MBA
  • Vanilla MBA degrees do not guarantee gainful employment or a career path

By Ritwik Sinha. Consulting Editor, Business India

In 2016, when industry association ASSOCHAM had released a report on the state of MBA education in the country conducted over 5,000 B-schools, it had simply delivered a rude jolt. The real shocker was the employability equation – the report maintained that only 7 per cent of graduates from B-schools are employable. The other revelations were no less startling, which included that the plain, vanilla MBA degrees do not guarantee gainful employment or a career path, which any student of B-schools would aspire.

More than three years have passed since the association went public with that report but since then no empirical study has come out offering strong contradictory assumptions. In fact, there have been more additions to the tale of woes with reports of many B-schools quietly moving out of the fray. The established ones like the IIMs have, no doubt, continued to move on a steady path with subtle introduction of new elements in their curriculum in sync with the changing business environment. But, in a general sense, the scene does not seem to be that encouraging if not bleak altogether.

“The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write,” renowned futurist Alvin Toffler had once said. “It will be those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”. This popular quote has now clearly begun to haunt business leaders and managers of traditional businesses across the world. New equations and formulas have begun to find ways in the marketplace, as defined by the growing digital age in every corner. The EBITA-centric ‘brick and mortar’ businesses have now been joined by the valuation-driven new age enterprises, which are unlikely to replicate the dotcom bust witnessed nearly two decades back.

They are clearly more formidable today and defining a new emerging global economic order. Needless to say, a strong undercurrent of reinvention is sweeping across the business sphere, making it imperative for everyone to show agility in embracing new models. And, this also holds true of our higher learning institutions including B-schools, which exist with the commitment of preparing the future league of leaders and managers.

From the standpoint of Indian B-schools, the challenge of reinvention or transformation has probably become more pressing than ever before considering the serious question marks raised against them on their qualitative delivery capabilities in the recent past. With the economy in the midst of what seems to be a serious slowdown spell again, any kind of curtailment in campus recruitment in the next season may further erode their credibility even as this could be a momentary issue. The broader need of reinvention, of course, is the larger issue as many observers and leading luminaries of higher education today are demanding. According to them, the inevitability of the evolution of MBA 2.0 can’t be ignored any longer at a time when upgradation in business processes across the spectrum has become a cardinal rule now.

There are a host of issues, which cumulatively converge into the crying need for reinvention of B-schools in our country. No doubt, some of them have been in existence for over five decades and the segment got into prominence after India opened its doors to liberalisation in the early 1990s, there have been a decisive change in the scene in the last ten years. Before the financial meltdown of 2008, the Indian economy had witnessed its best growth spell which had seen subtle absorption of MBA graduates with both domestic majors and MNCs ready to fork out top dollars to get them on board. Exorbitant starting salary offerings from top dogs were almost reported with monotonous regularity those days.

Within the country, there were a host of inspiring signposts – MBA graduates who went on to create successful enterprises almost from the scratch. Uday Kotak, Sanjeev Bikchandani, Deep Kalra, Ajit Balakrishnan, Ashank Desai, Sandeep Goyal, etc, were the shining examples in the domestic sphere. Globally, the list included the likes of Elon Musk and Michael Bloomberg.

But those were the heydays. Since the beginning of this decade, many fault lines have clearly emerged in the MBA ecosystem, which has raised many questions. And this again emerges from the analysis of the overall picture of business schools. Those in the top 50-100 league still seems to be responding to the aspirations of their graduates in terms of placement and salary offerings coming their way. But the problems become increasingly visible once you move beyond the IIMs and other top-notch B-schools and start analysing the affairs of those who are placed in middle and lower rungs. There are clear blocks of leaders and laggards in terms of deliverables leading to a mixed scene.

As a resultant factor, the charm and prestige attached with an MBA degree seems to have somewhat lost its sheen in the recent times. Statistics tell the story. According to an AICTE data (the regulator for technical education, which encompasses courses like engineering, management, architecture, town planning and pharmacy), there has been a modest decline in the number of management colleges from 3,609 in 2014-15 to 3,264 in 2017-18. And this has truncated the number of management seats available for the aspirants by over 10 per cent – from 456,419 in 2014-15 to 394,835 in 2017-18. As a natural corollary, the teaching faculty also declined from 60,360 to 55,876 in the corresponding period.

Experts will tell you that much of this has stemmed from the mindless approval granted by AICTE to new institutes between 2007 and 2012, which included permission to those with no prior experience in running an educational institution. Such institutes failed to scale up or bring in adequate changes in improving curriculum attuned to the changing business environment. Economic slowdown post-demonetisation when companies were reluctant to hire fresh manpower further shook their foundation with the average campus recruitment rate coming down to 45 per cent. While the premium B-school graduates such as the IIMs have still been commanding attractive pay packages, those from also-ran institutes in Tier II and Tier III locations have been forced to accept salaries below Rs10,000 as the ASSOCHAM report had mentioned. Additionally, if the MBA course was pursued in a run-of-the-mill institute on the basis of bank loans, it has simply been a case of double whammy after passing out.

As you flip through the pages of this edition, you will find out leading experts giving their opinion on both problems and the solutions pertaining to MBA education. The problem side has a whole lot of grey elements. To begin with, the autonomous selection process adopted by every institute here as against a uniform selection process of GMAT in the West. GMAT-driven process helps in formulating a merit list, which ultimately decides the enrollment of aspirants in different institutes.

Secondly, the degree or diploma handed out by an average B-school in India often confuses the prospective employers since they are offered both through full-time and online curriculums without clearly defining the evaluation parameters. Furthermore, any expert will tell you that majority of these institutes are driven by profit motive and hence the cost cutting is visible in most of the critical elements of their operations – be it in deployment of a qualified faculty or in putting up with state-of-the-art infrastructure. A commonplace wisdom is: if the institute is serious in intent in making a difference, its faculty (permanent or visiting) must comprise entrepreneurs or business leaders.

But barring the top notch ones, others don’t seem to pay any attention to this imperative. In the developed markets, digital infrastructure for business management schools is a rule now. But, in India, it still remains an exception. Furthermore, the outdated curriculum is another critical reason why an average MBA degree holder does not receive that enthusiastic response from prospective employers. The management curriculum in general has not been revised to the extent that they can well prepare their students to subtly fit into today’s dynamic business environment, which has its own set of non-stereotyped challenges to deal with. Experts also point at another basic flaw of MBA being treated as entry level degree as against something that is procured after some experience, as is the norm with globally renowned institutes like Kellog or Wharton. Brief summer internship stints will not help in preparing the quality future leaders and managers comparable with the best in the world, many of them will tell you.

It is quite interesting to see that, while many institutes have shut their shops in recent years, some analysts do not view it as a serious setback. The disappearance of non-serious players, in their view, is a lesson for the existing and committed ones to look for viable solutions to plug the gaps and make more agile to embrace new models. You will almost find observers speaking in unanimous voice on the imperatives like including globalisation as a standard aspect of management education and moving away from the plain, vanilla MBA module. There is a growing demand now to open the MBA specialisation stream for business analytics, digital marketing, social entrepreneurship, sustainable development, hospital administration, media management and sports management, etc.

An equally important argument these days is to tweak the curriculum in a way (by enhancing the interface with industry leaders) that it strongly instils the spirit of entrepreneurship, as against ‘landing-a-good-job’ aspiration of the majority. “In reality, a large fraction of the world’s leading entrepreneurs are not necessarily graduates and, hence, a degree in management can only be considered as a value addition for entrepreneurship,” says a vice-chancellor of a leading South India-based institute. “But, like always, there is an exception that, with proper base of domain knowledge, a management graduate can be better equipped as an ‘entrepreneur’ and more effective as ‘intrapreneur’ in their chosen areas of business and activity”.

The generic picture may somewhat be not that encouraging, but that does not mean that positive tidings are completely amiss. When we move to the specifics, the institutes at the top of business management pyramid, there are enough action visible and they continue to carry the baton confidently. According to a recent study, there is a marked increase in foreign exchange programmes of top B-schools in the country in the recent years. The average salary for graduates coming out of the premier institutes has also gone up by more than 20 per cent in the past five years (averaging Rs18-20 lakh per annum). Some leading B-schools have been on an expansion opening new campuses and there again is a marked modification in their curriculum as per suggestions from the top corporates. A key reason for consolidation of their leadership position also emanates from the fact that now they have begun offering customised training programme for the employees of different companies.

The addition of new incubation centres, thanks to the growing alumni engagement, is becoming the new norm for top institutes, much on the lines of leading global B-schools, which benefit immensely from the contribution of their former students, who have made it big in the world. More focus on research and launch of new programmes (responding to going beyond plain MBAs) are the major add-ons which are defining the developments in the well-established quarters. For instance, some leading institutes like FMS (Delhi University), Christ University (Bengaluru), ICFAI Business School (Hyderabad), Symbiosis Institute of Management (Pune) and Amity Business School (Noida) have begun offering MBA in entrepreneurship. Simply put, it is not difficult to trace the wave of change sweeping across the functioning of the leading institutes in the fray.

Meanwhile, in a significant recent development which could give a major push to make MBA courses more meaningful, education regulator, AICTE, has granted graded autonomy (earlier given to IIMs and other top universities) to leading B-schools. Based on their performance on certain parameters, the top-graded institutes would have the leeway to launch courses without approval. They will also have the freedom to start skill courses and open research parks and incubation centres provided they are in self-financing mode. And, going by the reaction from the education fraternity, this is going to be a major catalyst in reinventing the MBA courses in the coming years.


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