Bridging the gap

Updated: Mar 10 2014, 09:16am hrs
American academic administrator Henry S Bienen once said, The world keeps changing, so what becomes important is to provide people with continuous learning, and in a heterogeneous country like India, a lot of different institutional forms need to be developed to meet the needs of a highly differentiated population.

Today, management education in India stands at crossroads. The traditional university structure of educating and training tomorrows business leaders has become redundant and other means of providing meaningful, relevant, industry-oriented education will supplement the current processes in the increasingly diverse and technological global economy. The process of globalisation not only demands drastic changes in the traditional educational approach but also stresses a need for introduction of new-age employability skills that have more economic value in todays time. Thus, there is a crucial requirement to shape the management education in accordance with the global changes to improve competitiveness and employability of the Indian workforce.

We all know that competitive advantage can be sustained only through continuous improvement. Organisations also prefer to identify people from within the existing employee pool who have the potential to take on higher responsibilities and develop their capabilities. It is generally seen as a better technique from both an employee retention point of view and makes better economic sense.

Till now, the accepted method of developing these skills and capabilities has been to use short-term training programmes to add new skills, using management development programmes or distance learning programmes to build capabilities.

Unfortunately, short-term programmes tend to disrupt business momentum and are generally available as one-size-fits-all approach that offers no customisation and has limited industry relevance. There is no other alternative either that can deliver the requirements of organisations, has complete relevance for specific industry verticals and delivers all this without affecting everyday business.

When we look at business management education formats in India, we realise that while business needs have changed, most business management education formats and curricula have not kept pace. There may have been progress made by some fine institutions scattered here and there, and online options, but the change is only incremental and still not completely appropriate.

Theres a learning to be shared: Management education formats that are relevant during economic upswing cycle are not relevant during the turf. Its not just post-recession sentiments but both business schools and corporates need to take a close and hard look at their offerings.

Managing multiple aspects of a job requires different sets of skills, which were not available in traditional technical education. Management education bridged this much-felt gap; it highlighted that business decisions are essentially inter-disciplinary and there is no unique solution to business problems. One can only identify several options to tackle a business problem and choose the best alternative according to the available information at that point of time.

Today, young professionals are taking leave to study, to invest in their careers. All too often they find that they are joining the industry back at not very different salary bracketsgrowing cases like these have punctured the value in management education, around which still there is a lot of hype.

Globally, the involvement of corporates and leading management institutions in supporting skill and competence building that is industry-relevant has become an accepted practice. Various institutes such as the University of Pennsylvania, the Carnegie Mellon University and the Apollo Global have taken up this cause and are providing education customised to the needs of working professionals.

Some recently set up management schools, for instance, have a completely new model of delivering industry-relevant, high quality corporate education designed to meet the needs of organisations who are trying to develop capabilities in their employees to enhance business outcomes. The model helps individuals reach the next level in their careers through capability building. They also provide flexibility to working professionals in terms of weekend curricula, online exams and central locations (in major corporate hubs).

In these changed, and changing, times, young professionals will need to study while working. The study-work balance will create a new sense of confidence and develop a risk-taking attitude which is the hallmark of entrepreneurs. Management educational institutions will have to offer short duration courses for this audience; it would be most desirable to complete a two-year course in just 11 monthsthe quicker it is, the better for most working students.

There can be greater use of technology to deliver education, not just online content but allow technology to do things like telepresence classes with the best global professors. Universities and institutes in India and Southeast Asia have already begun harnessing IT for the benefit of their tech-savvy students and professors. Implications of change are always profound: there are many who will question and debate about how it is affecting higher education. To successfully ride the waves of the future, we have to be bold, innovative and enterprising. Or as Peter Drucker, the guru of management doyens, had remarked, If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.

The design of any management education programme should be such that it not only meets the needs of the students but also matches the outlook of the corporate world. While such programmes are set to change paradigms in learning-while-working, the involvement of corporate India in the Indian higher education space is still at a nascent stage.

Rajesh Puri

The author is CEO, India Education Services