Sunday, May 05, 2013
Management Education in India: A Turning Point
Management Education in India is in crisis, and that's good news.
Students have lost confidence in the mushrooming MBA schools because they do not work. They have stopped enrolling. The banks have become weary of financing these institutions. Every month, a few business schools are closing because their owners come to realize there is no easy money in this.
Talking to people who own and run these business schools, one gets the impression that the students are at fault. They are not interested in learning anything, just the job at the end. At the time of admission, there is hardly any discussion about the curriculum, methods of education or even the faculty. The students want to know what is the kind of starting salary they can get after completion.
This is indeed true, and this is indeed why there are mushrooming business schools. In fact, it is easy to satisfy students' demand for good jobs in the end, without a good education, as some business schools in India demonstrated. One of them, which maintains a very high profile, operates without any accreditation and charges Rs. 1.2 million to the students just because they promise a job paying at least Rs. 400,000 in the end. The company is thriving and have 8 or 9 campuses across India. They bribe the employers - pay them Rs. 300,000 to Rs. 400,000 - for every student they take in. Most students are fired from their jobs in six months to one year anyway, as they may not be good enough or the employers want the money to employ the next person. But the school indeed maintains an excellent placement record and advertises heavily (and employs one of the popular Bollywood actors as its brand ambassador) to draw more students in the scheme.
The point indeed is that an unreal expectation is being created by the business schools themselves, by some more than others. And, while there are some excellent Indian businesses which are models of innovation and smart thinking, my favourite example being Indigo Airlines, and in spite of the massive growth in the number of business schools, courage to innovate and do something new and worthwhile is plainly missing among the b-schools. Besides, if they are not outright scams, often the education is so bad that one would wonder how they operate as B-Schools. It is wholly unsurprising to find the student work at the post-graduate level being of inferior quality than what would expect even in a primary school. The teachers, who are poorly paid, are often recent pass-outs of the same schools themselves, without any training or experience whatsoever. The only segment of education business that the massive growth of the business schools helped to expand the business of Ph D, as dozens of universities now give Ph D degrees in two years and often without the student requiring to defend any work. As a natural offshoot, there is a booming business of Ph D writing, companies selling Ph D thesis (indeed, recycling their work often, as plagiarism checks are uncommon) to those who will be teachers. The whole business of business schools in India have in turn become a self-sustaining journey into the gutter of education.
Indeed, this is not just a private B-School phenomenon. In fact, the business education at the public universities is somewhat worse. Most private colleges run courses from them and they are as outdated as floppy disks (yes, one of the courses require work submitted in floppy disks still, and the colleges have to find them as no other medium is permitted). The teachers at state universities, while they may hold legitimate Ph Ds, often have huge conflicts of interests, as they run profitable 'notes' publishing businesses and do not want curriculum to change. Hence, the crisis of confidence is equally apparent in public sector education as it is in private sector.
Finally, the regulators, the All India Council of Technical Education, which has been plagued by several scandals over the years and which has now been stripped off its power to oversee the MBA programmes, is indeed the root of this chaos. While India may have retired the Nehruvian, paternalistic state everywhere else, AICTE ensured that it lived on in education. It managed to become one of the most draconian, as well as the most ineffective, of the agencies, making sure all innovation is immediately stamped out but failed to control any institution which did not follow its mandate. The most apparent example of this farce was AICTE's publication of a list of institutions (on their website) which they did not approve of, which included the names of some of the most popular institutions in India.
However, despite this bleakness, the good news is that the situation has reached its nadir. The real estate entrepreneurs, the black market operator and the political agent, who parked their property and their laundered money into the business of Business Schools are disappointed by the returns and have started leaving the space, allowing sanity to return. The phenomenon has indeed caused widespread damage, as thousands of disappointed students and disillusioned employers make it difficult for the committed and serious schools to legitimize themselves. However, as always in education, we don't have a demand problem, we have a delivery problem, and once the delivery problem is resolved, the students and employers will be back. This would indeed need patient work and innovation, and the possibility that this will happen is much brighter now than ever before.
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How To Live
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T S Eliot
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