Management education requires a Policy triage

Management education requires a Policy triage

The comparative analysis between the evolution of management education in the US (the Mecca of MBA education) and India is the best way to begin.

By the time you read this article, the new Union government would have taken shape putting to rest one of the fiercest electoral battles in the festival of Indian democracy. Nevertheless, its action time again to create a difference and I begin my share with the need to differentiate Indian management education. The rate at which business has transformed the world and vice-versa, there is a symbiotic disruption creating new organisational architecture, leadership paradigms, jobs, wealth and above all an eternal era of uncertainty driven by complexities. It is only during confusing complexity there is new learning and not during congenial prosperity.

The comparative analysis between the evolution of management education in the US (the Mecca of MBA education) and India is the best way to begin. American management education saw a three-phased policy pathways chartering progress. The Pierson Report (1959) and Gordon & Howell Report (1959) popularly known as the Foundation Reports, Porter & McKibbin Report (1988) and the Harvard Business School commissioned cross B-school case-studies (2008) have one common thread connecting them.

All these reports were in response to growing criticisms on American MBA education. MBA education in the US was critically reviewed as though the nation was in danger and prescriptions addressed the disease and not just the symptoms. In the US, during 1895-1956, there were a total of 125 institutions offering master’s degree in business education. Out of the 4,500 graduate degrees awarded, nine schools accounted for more than half the degrees. In the late 1950s only six schools—Chicago, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, Harvard and Stanford—confined to business education solely at the graduate level.

The period from inception to late 1950s was characterised by a rapid growth in the number of business schools coupled with emergence of new concentrations and business dynamics due to post-war economic development exerting pressure on academic community on the future course of business education. The Foundation Reports provided a systemic road map focussing on MBA’s academic curriculum.

While the Foundation Reports were implemented, there was a lot happening outside the B-school environment. The economic structure was dismantled and the US adopted free-market theory leading to globalisation. There were also rapid changes in business organisations’ functioning and practice. There was a general level of complacency and a majority of deans and faculty took a dangerous stand that there was no need for curriculum change. The Porter & McKibbin study was an outcome of visits to 60 B-schools, interviews with 200 corporate executives and survey of over 9,000 faculty, students and alumni.

This second phase thus saw the growing importance of cross-functional expertise with personality and skill development. The onset of the global financial crisis raised the flag on the purpose of MBA education. The Harvard Business School, as part of its 100th year celebration in 2008, began reinventing the very degree it invented. The third phase saw the positioning of management as a new profession that needed the right attitude with uncompromising set of ethics and values. The three phases together provided a framework of knowledge, skills and attitudes as an integral part of MBA education.

The Indian contrast provides an interesting perspective. The evolution of Indian management education can be characterised in three similar phases with a difference—growth, more growth and rampant growth. Beginning modestly in 1948, there were only 120 management institutes till 1990. Today, there are over 3,500 AICTE-approved management institutions offering graduate degree programmes with an approved student intake of 4.2 lakh, of which 2.8 lakh enrol and only 1.4 lakh graduate. The post-2010 period also saw the McDonaldisation of IIMs that created many Grossly Overpaid MBAs (GoMBAs).

Be that as it may, between 1950 and 1990, there was only one study that was commissioned by the Government of India and is referred as the Nanda Committee (1980) that reviewed the working of the three IIMs at Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Kolkata. The Kurien Committee (1991), RP Aiyar Committee (1999), Iswar Dayal Committee (2001), Management Review Committee (2003) and Bhargava Committee (2008) were various policy committees that came later. The common thread linking all of them was the stereo-type diagnosis dealing with control, regulations, fee, admissions, etc. and not much in the lines of the American management education evolution.

Today, management education is a key input that drives the future of many economies and needs long-term vision to fill three gaps—Policy, Relevance and Delivery. In short: Management Education requires a policy triage.

S Vaidhyasubramaniam

Vice-Chancellor, SASTRA Deemed University

The New Indian Express