"More than 50% of the seats in the Business Management Schools in the Gujarat state lying vacant", was a news headline in a local newspaper recently. Moreover, about 10 of such schools are planning to shut the shop. What a distracting scenario!
Post liberalization in 1992, the Indian business houses began expanding in India as well as abroad. In addition, the first generation entrepreneurs too entered the fray in a big way. This led to the creation of additional and new jobs across the industries. To complement this trend and to supply the required managerial resources, the existing Business Management Schools (BMSs) expanded their operations and many new BMSs opened across the country.
As many industry sectors matured in a new competitive and regulatory environment, the focus was shifted to performance management for higher productivity and retention. Consequently, the organizations began the process of workforce rationalization for cost efficiency and better margins. In the good old days, such a rationalization was the last resort with a lot of heartburn. Now, resizing the work is a routine and a continuous activity with little heartburn.
Parallel to the growth in the industrial and service economy, the BMSs also sprung up significantly. However, the new BMSs alone cared for being relevant to the industry requirements nor felt the need for obtaining feedback from the alumni on their effectiveness. Rather, churning out the maximum number of graduates became a prime motto. Many of the new BMSs actually have turned into a factory. Ironically, many BMSs even have allowed students to start working much before the course completion. They brand it as a unique feature of their program. This is like allowing a fetus to come out before the end of pregnancy.
In the pre-1990 era, there were quality BMSs but limited in number. The demand for the management graduations was much higher than the supply. Overall, the quality of students passing out was much superior. Today, the situation has reversed; the supply is much higher than the demand and the quality of graduating students has certainly deteriorated.
I have attempted to look at a few operational issues and suggest possible remedies. The larger challenge however, is to review and revise the rules & guidelines for approving the initiation of the BMSs.
The admission process has become more of a formality, barring for a few old guards. Although Common Admission Test and Management Aptitude Test are still the base, many BMSs have their own 'untested' admission processes. Clearly, there is a dilution in the admission process' quality. Then, there are the NRI and Management quotations for granting admission on payment basis. How a non-meritorious student from a wealthy background can get an admission at the cost of a describing poor candidate? There is also a new trend of 'acquiring' the students through the consultants, who specialize in the job.
There is a need for the central or state level regulators to define and exceed the admission process in all the BMSs. The admission process must be robust enough to filter the descripting students, who have an academic bent of mind and an attitude to turn into a 'Leader' or an 'Entrepreneur'. BMSs must remember that students are their real brand ambassadors. Therefore, if the incoming quality is not checked, then the reputation of the institute certainly could suffer.
It is futile to impart knowledge that does not match the business world's realities and requirements. Curriculum design is like the skeleton of the human body. With the weak skeleton, the body can not stand on its own. In addition, the inclusion of the unverified pool of knowledge is a dangerous trend. A few success stories are not sufficient for theorizing. Teaching advance courses and neglecting the basic ones create 'balloons'. At the slightest pinch of needle, they whirl and disappear.
Basics are basics and deserve a due place. How can a student specialize in Marketing without understanding Phillips Kotler? Neverheless, to match the speed of the emerging pool of knowledge, there is a need to review the curriculum every two years at least. The challenge is to ascertain that the curriculum is in harmony with the industry requirements. This can happen only when the BMSs regularly involve the leading practitioners while designing the curriculum. After the draft design, the BMSs should invite the review & critique from the industry veterans & eminent academics. After incorporating their inputs, the BMSs should then finalize the curriculum.
Quality of the faculty
Another critical issue is the quality of the faculty. Who is teaching the management students? We find, more so in the B & C Grade BMSs, that a typical faculty member does not have adequate industry exposure, through either research or prior work experience. Such faculty members are generally management graduations from B Grade BMSs. They have taken up teaching because most probably they could not lend a suitable corporate or desired assignment. Overall, the commitment of the faculty to the depth of the curriculum, quality of teaching, interest in students' all-round development, and for making students industry-ready is just uniquate.
There is a crying need for the concerned regulators to review the standards for appointing the faculty and monitoring the quality. The best way would be to have a reliable assessment program that would include annual discipline test and an interview with an elite panel contracting business leaders & top-notch academics. In addition, the BMSs should provide at least 60 days per year to each faculty for industry interactions, business consulting, and knowledge validation. It is good to have young faculty members, but not at the cost of knowledge and maturity.
To attract the good faculty, the BMSs must offer the competitive compensation and good work environment. To that an extent, there is no difference between the BMSs and the business organization. After all, management education too has become a business.
An associated aspect is the deployment of the visiting faculty. For each subject, there should be at least two visiting faculty. The visiting faculty should have noteworthy academic and professional credentials with work experience not less than 15 years. Ideally, after each concept session, the visiting faculty can take the 'practice' session. This design will make it easier for the students to comprehend the concepts and to grapple with real-life issues.
'Survey' Syndrome & Advertising
Every second business magazine conducts an annual 'Top BMSs' survey. Although survey methodologies are apparently robust, such surveys force the BMSs to turn more 'marketing' oriented. The participation in such surveys has become a fashion. Use of television commercials, print media ads, social media uploads, etc. too has become common for advertising the BMSs' physical infrastructure, placement records, etc. In many cases, there is a wide gulf between the advertised stuff and the ground realities.
The BMSs need to desist from such surveys, and instead, focus on their core responsibility of grooming the students for the real business world. Only when the students perform as per the industry expectations, the BMSs' reputation will grow more sustainably. As stated elsewhere in the article, the BMSs should let the students' performance be an advertising medium.
In BMSs, the range of the infrastructure variates from a classroom with only fans to a fully air-conditioned hall with the Wi-Fi connectivity & video-conferencing facility. The BMSs should provide comfortable and not luxurious infrastructure and subject the students to the harsh business work environments through more industry projects. The focus should be on providing a healthy learning environment that challenges the students intellectually and allows them to enjoy the learning process.
Briefly, the BMSs are accountable for preparing the students for not only earning money, but also for creating professional benchmarks in their relevant disciplines. This can happen only the BMSs continuously monitor their soft and hard infrastructure. The BMSs need to demonstrate courage of not having a full class strength when they do not get adequate students due to tough admission process. The lesser number with better quality is any day superior than the higher number with the inferior quality.
As many reports have indicated, only 25% of the India's management ranks are employable. Such an abysmal number is a product of mushrooming BMSs with no accountability. At the end of the course, the students must recognize that the 'blood is thicker than water'.
In the coming two decades, India's economic growth will significantly depend on the quality of its professionals. Therefore, the BMSs must arrest and reverse the commoditization of the management education. Only this will help in releasing the committed and bright minds in the economy's growth trajectory.