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Published on: Dec. 30, 2023, 3:08 p.m.
B-Schools: New directions
  • Campuses are once again bustling with a plethora of activities

By Ritwik Sinha. Consulting Editor, Business India

From an external perspective, one could categorise the activities at the country's business management schools (which number over 3,000) as fairly routine at the present time. Campuses are once again bustling with a plethora of activities. The blended form of learning, a consequence of the Corona pandemic, is also establishing itself as a component of offline modules. Clear evidence indicates that prominent B-Schools are enhancing their offerings both quantitatively and qualitatively.

In addition, we are witnessing the expansion of course portfolios, a growing emphasis on executive short-term courses by top-notch institutes, increased collaboration with leading online platforms, and new initiatives to elevate standards in research and development. Notably, efforts are being made to address the perennial issue of managing quality faculty.

Amidst these developments, there is also the notable aspect of leading foreign institutes establishing their centres in India, with GIFT City near Ahmedabad poised to become the hub for such institutions, attracted by the opportunities that are emerging there.

Beneath the surface, however, one can also discern signs of significant structural changes in the offing. The technological disruption of the new era (expedited by Covid), exemplified by AI/ML, Internet of Things, Data Analytics, or ChatGPT, is believed to be in its early stages. There is no clarity regarding the kind of employment ecosystem these innovations will create in the medium to long term. As if this were not enough, after recovering from the shocks of the pandemic, institutes are now realising how important it is to adhere to the New Education Policy, 2020, which contains specific clauses for the revamp of higher education institutes in the coming years.

As senior representatives point out, adopting NEP-guided changes will be easier said than done. It would be no exaggeration to say that management institutes, like their counterparts in other streams, may well be facing a decade of intense churning. While the top rung is confident in battling out current challenges, the same may not hold true for institutes in the medium to lower tier of the pyramid.

Responding to digital disruption   

This is a global phenomenon. The positioning of management studies is considered critical everywhere, believed to be closely linked to the strategic task of preparing managers and leaders for the future who will carry the economic baton. However, it's not just about ensuring economic growth and progress; it also encompasses other vital imperatives.

According to Professor Mahadeo Jaiswal, Director, IIM-Sambalpur, Industry 1.0, which began in Europe in the 18th century as a natural corollary of the industrial revolution, has rapidly evolved in the last 100 years. It now has a more expansive profile beyond industrial production and growth prospects. “Industry 2.0 was driven by PSUs, followed by Industry 3.0 dominated by computer science, where the US established a dominant position for itself. The next version settled with the arrival of the digital era, resulting in the creation of a new entity called start-ups. Now, we are talking about Industry 5.0, which, in my reckoning, entails 3D disruption – digitalisation, decarbonisation (climate change), and democratisation,” he says. The importance of this statement is clear: as industrial and economic processes align with these imperatives, higher studies, including management studies, must efficiently address these issues to prepare the white-collar workforce for tomorrow.

  • Technology has advanced at such a rapid pace, as exemplified by generative AI, ChatGPT, etc. We have to make moves at a similar pace to stay ahead of the curve

    Bharat Bhaskar, Director, IIM-Ahmedabad

While nobody would deny the significance of other elements of Jaiswal’s 3D theory, it is clear the expanding digitalisation process and its fallout are the most important immediate challenge. At the beginning of Industry 4.0, digitalisation simply meant creating tech-enabled platforms to simplify processes.

In Industry 5.0, it entails maturing to an unprecedented extent, where technology assumes command of the operations. Reports underline how AI would affect employability equations in the marketplace, with Elon Musk recently commenting human jobs would significantly shrink in the next 10 years.

“Technology has advanced at such a rapid pace, as exemplified by generative AI, ChatGPT, etc. We have to make moves at a similar pace to stay ahead of the curve," says Bharat Bhaskar, Director, IIM-Ahmedabad.

“We had just got used to the onslaught of advances in Data Science, programming, Blockchain, Machine learning, cryptocurrency, 3D printing, and other new factory management techniques and processes related to Industry 4.0, and now this Generative AI and the demands of Industry 5.0. They pose significant implications for business schools, prompting a need for drastic changes in the courses," says Subir Verma, Director, FORE School of Management.

“In the realm of business education, current trends spotlight the profound impact of technological disruption. Business schools globally are adapting teaching methodologies to address this transformative wave. The challenge lies in recalibrating modules to equip future leaders for this tech-driven era,” emphasises Himanshu Rai, Director, IIM-Indore.

Going by conventional wisdom, Industry 5.0 would mean further dominance of machine and technology. But according to Prof. Arvind Sahay, Director, MDI-Gurgaon, the new version of industrial progression would set a different kind of dynamics. “Industry 4.0 took you to the age of automation and robotics. But Industry 5.0 regime will have a strong element of human centricity – it will be best of human and machine capabilities coming together to deal with large scale disruptions.” 

  • We ensured the ethics component in the core program was strengthened and explored ways to enhance elective options for data science

    Prof Rishikesha T Krishnan, Director, IIM-Bangalore

Meanwhile, those at the top of the organisational hierarchy swiftly responded to the challenge, having anticipated its arrival in advance. The pandemic necessitated the rapid adoption of advanced technology, affording them ample opportunity to understand impending trends. Consider IIM-Bangalore, where Director, Professor Rishikesha T Krishnan shares insights into their proactive approach.

A couple of years ago, the institute conducted a review of its two-year MBA program, engaging with CEOs, recruiters, alumni, prospective students, and other stakeholders. The aim was to understand perceived changes in management education based on evolving industry needs. “In this exercise, we realised three critical requirements were becoming pivotal. Digital transformation was one, followed by the increasing use of data and analytics in industry. The third was a focus on ESG – environment, social, and governance issues,” he notes.

As a result, the program design team introduced a compulsory course on managing digital business for MBA students. “We ensured the ethics component in the core program was strengthened and explored ways to enhance elective options for data science,” he adds. “Our response involves an agile approach: incorporating new course electives, leveraging innovative tools, and ensuring access to advanced resources. A dedicated committee regularly reviews teaching modules, specifically addressing challenges posed by technological shifts. This proactive approach allows us to refine our curriculum, equipping students to thrive in a dynamic, technology-centric business landscape,” says Himanshu Rai of IIM-Indore, echoing a similar sentiment.

Blended learning, certainly a gift of the pandemic, continues to remain a prominent element in B-school delivery even as it has now stabilised to a considerable extent. “For our flagship and degree programs, we have reverted to the fully face-to-face mode, with the odd exception of leveraging technology to facilitate some guest speakers from the industry and foreign universities. However, we have also seen a marked increase in the number of participants in our customised blended and online short-term and long-term executive education programs, especially for leaders at CXO level," points out Archana Shukla, Director, IIM-Lucknow

  • None

    For our flagship and degree programs, we have reverted to the fully face-to-face mode, with the odd exception of leveraging technology to facilitate some guest speakers from the industry and foreign universities

    Archana Shukla, Director, IIM-Lucknow

Expanding portfolio and refinement  

While aligning with digital disruption remains the core focus for most top institutes, they have expanded their offerings to create a more holistic profile. Introducing domain specific focused courses has been a key initiative. “We have been the second among all IIMs to launch a full-time programme in Agribusiness Management to create leaders, entrepreneurs, and intrapreneurs with vision and competence for giving a fillip to agro-based enterprises, with a strong national orientation. We are also the only IIM to have a full-time, two-year program on Sustainability Management,” says Shukla of IIM-Lucknow.

According to IIM-Bangalore director, the institute focuses on refining its start-up promotion programme with the latest technology. IIM-B has been a pioneer in this area with its entrepreneurship development programs and incubation support under the umbrella of the NS Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning. It has recently completed 20 years of impactful contributions and the programme is now expanding.

“We have a distinctive niche in this arena – a focus on the early-stage entrepreneur. A noteworthy recent development is our ability to do this at scale. Just a few months ago, we ran an online women’s entrepreneurship program supported by the National Commission for Women that was attended by a few thousand women entrepreneurs,” says Krishnan.

Harnessing online options for creating courses in critical socio-economic sectors is now also a key pursuit. “We want to have greater impact on those parts of the Indian economy and society which need greater managerial inputs, but for some reason or the other have not been getting those inputs in the past,” elaborates Krishnan.

The manifestation of this strategy involves starting an online course for hospitals on hospital management designed to strengthen the managerial capabilities of people already working in hospitals, whether they be doctors, administrators, radiologists, or technicians. The necessity of such a programme was realised during the pandemic when hospitals and health centres were found to be struggling with management issues. IIM-B is now contemplating a similar programme for the MSME sector as the large segment of the Indian economy faces several challenges on the competitiveness and growth front.

  • None

    Business schools globally are adapting teaching methodologies to address this transformative wave. The challenge lies in recalibrating modules to equip future leaders for this tech-driven era

    Himanshu Rai, Director, IIM-Indore

IIM-Indore has undergone a transformation by re-evaluating its existing courses through a comprehensive program review that integrates immersive simulations and identifies important external input topics. Core courses have experienced substantial refinement, and include topics such as such as ‘Understanding Power’ ‘Cybersecurity: A Boardroom Agenda,’ and ‘Coaching and Mentoring for Managerial Excellence’ within the Post Graduate Programme (PGP).

According to Rai: “These specialised courses aim to equip students with indispensable skills for effective boardroom stewardship. Our commitment involves ongoing evolution and alignment with current industry complexities to ensure our curriculum remains at the forefront of relevance and excellence.”

For some other leading institutes, adding environment-specific components to their teaching modules has been a top priority. Professor Kunal Ganguly, Dean (Development) at IIM-Kashipur, emphasises the importance of exposing students to ground realities and environmental issues. “We have included them in the curriculum and introduced experiential learning as a compulsory course with three important pillars: unlocking rural potential, environmental and sustainable business practices, and MSME development."

Talk to Dr Harivansh Chaturvedi, Director, Birla Institute of Management Technology (BIMTECH), to understand how one of the premier institutes in the Delhi/NCR region is faring in improving its portfolio and he classifies the initiatives into three broad categories: product, process, and technology. “When we refer to product innovation, we are considering the introduction of new specialisation courses such as AI-DS, blockchain, digital business, technology consulting and management, climate change and sustainability, ethics and privacy, and softer subjects like happiness and wellbeing,” he explains.

Process innovation includes making learning robust by conforming to international accreditation standards like AACSB and national ones like NBA. In the technology innovation category, there has been an overhaul in classroom infrastructure. “The technology innovation in our classroom infrastructure is among the best when compared to peer institutions, encompassing the use of smartboards, LMS, automated attendance, and cloud-based continuous assessment,” he adds.

  • I believe B-Schools now have to gear towards a pizza model of business education, in which all the ingredients, the stuffing, and the toppings must be there in each and every slice which a student would like to take at any point in time

    Subir Verma, Director,FORE School of Management

Aligning with NEP

Until last year, the sweeping changes outlined by the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020, especially for the higher education regime in the coming years and decades, were not widely discussed. The main concern was the need to restore normalcy after the disruptions caused by the pandemic. However, it has now become a key point of debate, as it includes prescriptions for everyone – from the top institutes to those at the bottom of the pyramid, best defined as institutes in Tier-II and Tier-III locations.

Looking at the entire structure of higher education, the base seems to be quite broad. Currently, India has 1,113 universities, 43,796 colleges, and 11,296 standalone institutes. Within this structure, there are over 3,000 PGDM institutes, with 70 per cent of them being standalone institutes. Examining the specific provisions of NEP 2020, it broadly envisions institutes becoming multi-disciplinary, evolving into universities by scaling up, or becoming part of higher education clusters. These provisions aim to make a quantitative and qualitative difference, aligning with projected future demand and helping India emerge as a global hub for higher education.

“NEP 2020 is not a disruption but a leading directive that allows business schools to offer diverse choices for future aspirants. Multidisciplinary education will emerge as the driving force to ensure interest-based learning. This arrangement is crucial for students to make informed choices regarding their careers. Multidisciplinary education is engaging and will help management education evolve, building a robust skilled force for the future,” says Vikram Singh Tomar, Director (Admissions & Outreach) at Jindal Global Business School. “The NEP will contribute to the democratisation of education by making it accessible to more people,” opines Ganguly of IIM-Kashipur.

Some action is quite visible on this multidisciplinary clause – IIT-Kharagpur had earlier initiated an MBA course. Now, some IIMs in Tier-II locations like Ranchi, Bodhgaya, and Jammu, etc, have kick-started undergraduate courses too. There is no gainsaying that it is a prerequisite for becoming a university. “This is how it happens with leading global institutes like Harvard and Wharton. Their core expertise also lies in running defining undergraduate courses,” an analyst points out.

  • None

    Poor-quality business schools, wherever they are located, may ultimately become extinct

    Dr Harivansh Chaturvedi, Director, Birla Institute of Management Technology

While nobody doubts the intent and objective of provisions like transitioning into a multidisciplinary mode, many believe it would be easier said than done. "The issue of multidisciplinary education is a far bigger challenge at the postgraduate business education level. It definitely makes our education more holistic and will provide participants not only with more varied skill sets but, importantly, a more wholesome understanding of phenomena, puzzles, and dilemmas, along with more equipped competencies to resolve them. The issue is how does a standalone private institution with distinctive competencies in one discipline become multidisciplinary," says Subir Verma.

“AICTE has initiated the issue of converting PGDM institutions into degree-granting institutions, but it is still undecided. There are divergent views on the introduction of multidisciplinary courses,” adds Chaturvedi of BIMTECH.

NEP 2020, according to an analyst, is a significant change from the usual way things are done. It challenges the idea of education being split into narrow categories or subjects. It claims to be quite student-centric – an example is the multiple entry and exit provision, which lends flexibility to the Indian education system. From the perspective of B-Schools or any other higher education institution, this would entail reconfiguring the curriculum wherein a student can decide to exit with a PGCM or enter after 4 years of undergraduate education to acquire the PGDM or an MBA degree.

This practically means gradually doing away with the current curriculum model, in which the first year in the two-year PGDM or MBA is spent on offering foundational courses and the second year is devoted to electives or deepening knowledge. The curriculum would now need to be structured in a concentric manner, in which some core and electives must be offered from the very first term of the PGDM/MBA program.

“I believe B-Schools now have to gear towards a pizza model of business education, in which all the ingredients, the stuffing, and the toppings must be there in each and every slice which a student would like to take at any point in time. Postgraduate business education has to be completely re-imagined,” emphasises Verma of FORE School of Management.

  • Industry 5.0 regime will have a strong element of human centricity – it will be best of human and machine capabilities coming together to deal with large scale disruptions

    Prof. Arvind Sahay, Director, MDI-Gurgaon

While NEP is not seeking an overnight transformation and a reasonable amount of time has been provided for transition and streamlining, the exercise will need investments – a major challenge, particularly for standalone institutions. This comes even as there are broad indications from government quarters that its aid to IIMs will progressively decline in the coming years.

“The biggest challenge is about growing big, scaling up to 3,000-odd in a certain span of time. Where do we have the bandwidth to do it alone – the financial resources, the intellectual capital, and the infrastructure? Most of the good private standalone B-schools are not-for-profit and keep on ploughing back the surplus for the development of their students and the faculty. We also don’t have the land bank and infrastructure comparable to an IIM or an IIT. Most of us are small-sized with a few programs, less than a thousand students, and a hundred faculty,” Verma further emphasises.

Other critical trends

The management of faculty and the lower level of research continue to remain serious issues for the majority of institutes, which may become more pronounced as they make efforts to transform as per NEP regulations. The top ones, of course, owe their positioning to their focused approach on these critical parameters.

“High-quality research requires myriad methods and perspectives. Research collaborations help us complement our skills and capabilities. Across the world and across disciplines, collaboration is one of the key drivers of research productivity and quality,” says Krishnan of IIM-Bangalore. Bharat Bhaskar of IIM-Ahmedabad, however, points to a broader picture.

“In a generic sense, these issues are quite genuine. An entire generation of teachers and trainers are now retiring and there is not sufficient replacement for them even as the demand has gone up. The quality PhD candidates are mostly grabbed by the corporates for their own research units. We have been very fortunate that because of alumni support, there are distinctive centres of excellence at our institute,” he underlines. 

  • None

    Multidisciplinary education will emerge as the driving force to ensure interest-based learning. This arrangement is crucial for students to make informed choices regarding their careers

    Vikram Singh Tomar, Director (Admissions & Outreach, Jindal Global Business School

In the post-Covid phase, the alumni bonding system is once again in full swing, and there have been noticeable actions on this front in recent times in terms of contributions to the ongoing development process of their alma mater and its current students. For instance, at IIM-Lucknow, the batch of 1996 recently established the Radhakrishnan Gopalan Young Faculty Researcher endowment with an initial corpus of Rs75 lakh and an annual award for a young faculty researcher to promote excellence in research. And there is no dearth of such stories.

“Their diverse experiences and success stories contribute to a holistic understanding of industry trends, equipping current students with practical skills and a forward-looking perspective. As business and the economy continue to evolve, alumni engagement becomes increasingly crucial in preparing the next generation for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead,” says Nitish Jain, President, SP Jain School of Global Management.

A more prominent trend is the growing ambit of short-term executive courses at leading B-Schools, on similar lines as witnessed in leading global institutes. “Upskilling is a major initiative in our school, and we have seen revenues jump three times in the last  two years. Companies have recognised the need for talent upgrading, and we conduct a host of programs in leadership, technology, and many other areas where companies have some sort of pain point. We see this growing in the coming years,” adds Nitin Jain.

And the scene is no different for other institutes. “At IIM-Indore, our flagship MBA program for working professionals, like the PGPMX in Mumbai, is getting more attention. Apart from PGPMX, which is a two-year alternate weekend MBA, we offer over 180 different executive education courses, including ones made for people working in the UAE and GCC regions. These courses help professionals learn about important topics in business and management. The courses are flexible, online, and blended, so people can attend classes on weekends while they keep working,” says Rai.

According to Shukla of IIM-Lucknow, the institute trained about 5,000 professionals through a spate of short-term or executive courses. Globally, it is believed that the best of B-Schools earn about 30 per cent of their revenue from short-term executive courses, and for the top institutes in India, reaching somewhere close to that point will certainly become a major objective in the coming years.

  • As business and the economy continue to evolve, alumni engagement becomes increasingly crucial in preparing the next generation for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead

    Nitish Jain, President, SP Jain School of Global Management

The other major objective of the NEP to make India a global hub for higher education, including management studies, is widely considered a far-fetched goal. GIFT City near Ahmedabad has reported signing off on agreements with five universities from Australia to open campuses. However, there is unanimity among senior representatives in the management studies' circle that the next decade will be a period of significant transformation. It may lead to a reduction in the number of institutes, as meeting the twin challenges of digital disruption and NEP alignment may prove insurmountable for many.

“In the coming decade, it is predicted that the demand for degrees like MBA will decrease, and skills-based credentials will become the norm for recruiters. B-Schools located in Tier I or II cities, far from industry clusters, may face challenges to survive. Poor-quality business schools, wherever they are located, may ultimately become extinct,” observes Chaturvedi. He is not alone in predicting that the ultimate rule of the game will be to show dynamism on a perpetual basis.

Meanwhile, the placement scene this year, as insiders indicate, is somewhat subdued, and there are doubts that there will be any significant average salary increase. The placements so far have been mostly driven by the automobile, retail, FMCG, pharma, and consultancy sectors, while IT companies are missing in action.

Industry insiders also point to some Tier-II IIMs finding it difficult to attract prominent names in their placement drive, raising doubts about how well they are carrying the IIM legacy. However, as an analyst points out, this could be the result of extreme bullishness and over-hiring last year after companies in many sectors had gone into an overdrive. “A cyclical adjustment”, is how he defines it, emphasising that it should not be seen as a major aberration in the grand affair.

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