Why business schools must focus on nurturing lifelong learners, not becoming placement agencies

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New Delhi | Published: April 30, 2018 12:56 AM

Business schools must focus on their primary role of nurturing lifelong learners rather than a channel for churning out graduates seeking well-paid jobs

Today, most business school admission prospectus and presentations to the probable MBA students almost always feature median and maximum salaries of the graduating students.Today, most business school admission prospectus and presentations to the probable MBA students almost always feature median and maximum salaries of the graduating students.

When it comes to attracting students to business schools, placement is taking precedence over academics. This is observable from the prominence given to placements by a majority of business and management schools across India. Websites, admission brochures, advertisements in print and social media, and an increasing number of business school-sponsored events invariably mention sentences such as “the institute provides placement assistance to students for a promising career.”

In fact, today, most business school admission prospectus and presentations to the probable MBA students almost always feature median and maximum salaries of the graduating students. In addition, many business schools actively engage experts in grooming students for placements. The question is, why are business schools overemphasising on placements. Does it serve the true purpose of cultivating a new breed of MBAs? And what is the root cause and solution to this, if I may say, ‘problem’?

The millennial generation students evaluate an MBA programme typically on the basis of “return on education.” Students and their families are influenced to believe that admission to a business school provides a gateway to high-paying jobs. Incoming students confess that placements weigh heavily on them in making a choice to enrol in a school. This could probably be the reason why many people label management institutes as placement agencies, rather than temples of learning and centres of excellence.

The placement syndrome is so ingrained in the minds of MBA aspirants that a typical reply to a question such as “Why do you want to pursue an MBA in so and so school?” often is: “Sir, your business school has an excellent placement track record; top corporates and MNCs recruit from your campus. I am told that students graduating from your school are likely to land a job with a high salary.”

Regrettably, very few applicants express: “It will empower me for endless career opportunities. Your institute has reputed faculty, well-crafted and innovative curriculum, rigorous academic process, and good academic infrastructure in place.” This should be of much concern to all business schools.

The placement syndrome among entrants is further fuelled by an ever-increasing tuition fee charged by almost all business schools, and the broader societal outlook of equating success to high pay packages.

Management institutes enjoy an elevated status and are seen as catalysts of change in the society. It is, therefore, crucial for such institutes to make an honest effort to change the public perception of viewing them as glorified placement agencies. Learning can be understood as a process of changing behaviour. It is, therefore, essential for management institution to establish an education ecosystem that stimulates students’ curiosity to learn, ability to think analytically, prepare students to meet challenges and setbacks in life, and develop capabilities among students to apply classroom learning in real-life situations. Business schools can take the lead in nurturing potential students to learn to stretch beyond limits. But how?

Business schools should embrace a holistic approach to design and deliver an MBA programme. They should aim to work in close partnership with corporates for recasting industry-relevant course curriculum with an eye on garnering their support in providing project-based learning opportunities to the MBAs. Course curriculum requires periodical review and continuous adaptation from academics and practitioners. Students need to be emphasised time and again that management education is a lifelong pursuit. The renowned French musical composer Michel Legrand once said, “The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realise, the less I know.”

The quality of learning inputs and a well-structured learning process enhances placement prospects of students. Studies have shown there is a positive correlation between academic rigour and superior placement opportunities. Also, high pay packages (CTC has become such a popular word among students and parents alike!) are considered as a measure of successful culmination of an MBA programme.
It is the responsibility of each and every faculty member to tell students repetitively that being optimistic is okay, but positive outcome necessitates concerted efforts. The Bhagavad Gita, the iconic book, states that “do your karma (duty), be detached from its outcomes and enjoy the process of getting there.” Faculty members must make timely interventions in counselling students to channelise their energies in accumulating virtuous and growth-oriented learning mentality.

Additionally, students should be prepared to build resilience and willingness to persevere through the challenges they will undoubtedly be facing in the future. The lack of drive to excel in life represents a serious loss of human capital, with implications for students’ well-being later in their lives.
In the light of dwindling public perception, it is important for business schools to refocus on their primary role of nurturing lifelong learners rather than becoming a channel of churning out graduates seeking well-paid jobs.

By Vinay Dutta
The author is senior professor, Finance, FORE School of Management, New Delhi

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