Business schools: How to create an India-centric management model

New Delhi | Published: January 9, 2017 6:04:16 AM

Since times immemorial, India has been the hub of world-class education. The renowned educational institutes of Takshashila, Nalanda and Vikramashila were established well before the modern prominent Oxford, Cambridge and Bologna...

Indian economy was managed by multiple rulers (Greeks, Arabs, Turks, Mughals, Portuguese, British), and the result was that exemplary original Indian educational and management systems got lost in history.Indian economy was managed by multiple rulers (Greeks, Arabs, Turks, Mughals, Portuguese, British), and the result was that exemplary original Indian educational and management systems got lost in history.

Since times immemorial, India has been the hub of world-class education. The renowned educational institutes of Takshashila, Nalanda and Vikramashila were established well before the modern prominent Oxford, Cambridge and Bologna (Europe’s oldest university). Indian universities, besides being the centre of attraction for scholars from across India, also attracted intellectuals from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey.

Not only the Indian education system, but Indian management skills were also admired—a description of which is found in the treatise Indika by Megasthenes (the Greek philosopher who served as the ambassador of Seleucus Nicator to the Mauryan court in 4th century BC).

Since then, the Indian economy was managed by multiple rulers (Greeks, Arabs, Turks, Mughals, Portuguese, British), and the result was that exemplary original Indian educational and management systems got lost in history. Thus, contemporary education in general and management education in particular became a replica of what is being taught in Europe and the US, irrespective of the fact whether or not it is of any use to the managers working in India.

Although management education at both the undergraduate as well as postgraduate levels got a big boost with the opening up of the Indian economy in 1990s and the entry of MNCs, yet our business schools could not cater fully to the requirements of these MNCs. However, when MNCs started getting Indianised as per the local tastes, cultures, traditions, customs and regulations, without any alteration in the management curriculum in Indian business schools, a gap between what is doled out and what is being taught started cropping up. The purpose for which business schools were created started getting defeated. Instead of educating practising managers, besides enhancing practical knowledge through extensive research, most of our business schools turned out to be the factories to churn out cheap managers, catering to the demand of growing privatised MNCs in the economy. Today, not many institutes from India figure in the list of world’s leading schools.

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All the stakeholders—institutes of higher learning, professors, corporates and students—are responsible for this pitiable situation. The curriculum, typically designed by senior educationists without considering industry requirements, is aimed at easing the teaching community. The generations-old curriculum that fails to synchronise with the modern day requirement of management education (growing weightage of case-based learning, besides a focus on the absorption of digital techniques and networking in the modern era) is being taught in most business schools. Secondly, our management research is being tested and verified only in labs (computers). Professors seldom visit the markets, industries or meet people. They make alternate arrangements to gather information, customise it as per the needs, develop the hypothesis, and using statistical tools change it into a typical model that becomes fit for publishing in topmost journals—all of this brings accolades for professors as well as universities and institutes to which they are affiliated to. However, in this process, both the objectives of educating the practising managers as well as developing practical knowledge through extensive research are bypassed. Since educators become information collectors and processors of the same, they can hardly convince students when questions related to strategy or policy are raised or when isolated cases are discussed in classes. Management students, too, feel contended by securing good marks with limited efforts, and without developing any management skills through practical exposures in the market.

Here we must mention about our unique experience:

We discussed with the students of an MBA school a case regarding how Air India turned profitable under the NDA government. The replies thrown by students ranged from low aviation turbine fuel costs since 2014, intensification of competition due to which the goalpost shifted from profit maximisation to sales maximisation, timely operated flights, good food being served, difference of cash loss and accounting loss since its merger, etc, to the Prime Minister being a good manager. However, students failed to notice practical arguments, i.e. entry of Air India into the Star Alliance, the existence of the 5/20 Rule, adding up of fuel-efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliner and A320s, and starting of flights by Alliance Air (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Air India) on profitable short routes, thereby connecting flights to popular global destinations.

This case, we believe, speaks volume about the stereotyped thinking of management students. It calls for the overhauling of the system of providing management education so that their managerial skills may commensurate with what is expected by the corporates and what is being churned out, so that the disaster due to the piling up of unemployed MBAs could be avoided.

For this, thought must be given to case-based learning. A cursory look at the curriculum of universities like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, etc, demonstrates a strong emphasis on case studies in their educational process. Today’s student generation is tech-savvy. All the conventional reading material is handy to them through different electronic media and repositories. Owing to this, it is feared that students may remain elusive from the classes in second-tier business schools or join distance education programmes if the creativity is not used inside the classrooms. If it happens, a large amount of investment on infrastructure and the employability of many will come at stake. Hence, we need to incorporate practical components in the curriculum and creativity inside the classroom. Not only this, faculty teaching management subjects needs to be sent mandatorily to the corporate sector/industries to understand the operational problems, offering solutions to the same, followed by discussions in the form of case studies in classrooms. It is expected to broaden the horizon of all the stakeholders. It can also be a source of revenue for the faculty concerned or the school.

Also, MNCs are focusing on emerging economies like India. With short product life-cycle and limited profitability, they cannot afford to take high risks in these economies and, accordingly, are desirous of having ready-made information regarding business environment, business culture, norms and customers in these countries. Such case studies can be of immense use to them, as it will help them understand the psyche of Indian customers and they can (re)design their policy and products accordingly, whereas faculty and schools will be benefited out of the revenues after selling the cases.

It’s not that Indian management educators are any less capable, as scholars graduated from India have left an indelible mark in terms of first-class research at topmost institutes. We need to motivate them and provide an environment where they can excel. In a nutshell, management education needs to shun the age-old curricula and increasingly make efforts on practical aspects of teaching and learning, with a greater focus on India-centric studies, so that, over a period of time, the world may emulate the Indian management model.

RS Bawa is vice-chancellor, Chandigarh University; Rajiv Khosla is head, University School of Business, Chandigarh University.

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