Since early 1900s, B-schools around the world have borrowed from sciences, humanities, law, economics, maths and other disciplines, and adapted themselves into application-driven schools.
Truth be told, management education is facing an existential crisis. That does not mean enrolments in B-schools are going down or placements have tapered. Both continue to grow, but one must question the purpose of management education.
Since early 1900s, B-schools around the world have borrowed from sciences, humanities, law, economics, maths and other disciplines, and adapted themselves into application-driven schools. They are institutes that train future leaders, business managers and entrepreneurs. Even the case-driven pedagogy of B-schools has borrowed from law schools and medical colleges, while the internship component came from engineering schools.
B-schools harp on the fact that only those businesses will survive that innovate and disrupt themselves. However, I am not sure if they themselves have done the same in the last several years. All changes that have been brought about look incremental and the fundamental building blocks of an MBA degree have remained the same. Management education has not disrupted itself; in a fast-moving, social-media-driven crazy world, B-schools have sadly been left behind.
Technology and design schools are at the forefront of innovation. Liberal arts schools are shaping policy and politics. But what role are B-schools playing? New-age entrepreneurs are dropping out of programmes, focusing on boot campus, hackathons and accelerators/incubators, and jumping into the game rather than waiting for two years and paying for expensive education that will not guarantee them a commensurate job.
Questions are asked about the relevance of this education that is training students to become managers and not innovators. I would stick my neck out and say that management education is not future-ready, yet. Why?
Because, fundamentally, an MBA is a risk-averse degree; it gives a feel-safe feeling to the student. It is a programme that equips you with tools and skills like a typical Indian food plate (thali) with a little bit of everything. It surely is rigorous in process, but not in content. At best, the entrance process is a fine filtering system and hence corporates know that they are able to hire talent without spending a huge amount of money and resources.
B-schools have become too ambitious and expanded themselves without looking at market realities. Regulatory authorities in certain countries, including India, allowed the mushrooming of thousands of poor quality colleges without checking for quality of students, education and faculty. While students taking various MBA entrance exams have remained constant, a second look at the quality of those writing these exams will let us know where management education is headed to.
Some institutes have gone into global accreditations—a welcome sign—but a closer look will reveal that it is more of a process-oriented exercise and does nothing to increase the innovativeness of the school. Faculty are trained and rewarded to publish in peer-reviewed global journals and there is a race among young faculty to publish in FT-ranked or ABDC-ranked journals at the cost of classroom teaching. Most of them are trained in research and not in effective teaching, which hampers classroom teaching. Often, faculty have almost no experience of real-life businesses and their ability to discuss issues without the crutches of business cases is suspect. In many MBA classes where students, by contrast, have considerable work experience, this situation becomes absurd.
Also, the MBA curriculum is among the slowest to react to market realities. Pick up the curriculum of any of the top B-schools in India or abroad, and you’ll find that 70% is the same as it was 10 years ago. You might see a sprinkling of some electives in the areas of leadership, data science, analytics and finance, but if one looks beyond the surface, they are not adequate enough to make students future-ready.
MBA schools have begun to teach soft skills, but do not spend time and efforts on behavioural training of students. They might run some courses taught by external consultants, on etiquette, grooming, workshops based on theatre, art or take students on field trips, adventure camps or trekking, but is that enough?
B-school classrooms have not changed in the last 60 years—they remain a poor copy of Harvard’s horseshoe-shaped class where an instructor will teach cases. New technology has entered our lives, and even a 10-year-old can learn many new things using the internet without an instructor, but B-schools still focus on classrooms. Two months of summer internships is taken seriously only in select places, while most of the time the firm just obliges the school and gives some basic project. The whole model of core courses, some electives, one summer internship, few guest lectures, a couple of field assignments is past its sell-by date.
The current model fits well for conventional jobs in FMCG marketing, corporate finance and consulting, but will not work in the new economy.
B-schools have to reinvent themselves. With teenagers becoming social media influencers, gig economies threatening conventional businesses, and college dropouts creating billion-dollar companies, B-schools must ask themselves: What is our quintessential striped suit MBA doing?
(The author is dean, Faculty of Business, FLAME University. Views are personal)