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D Tripati Rao
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?
Business schools in India try to answer this question twice every year. Like the average business school entrance test, these exercises involve some number games. First, there is the scramble for smaller and smaller numbers in the annual rankings by various agencies of business school performance. A place in the magical top-ten category is keenly sought after and readily highlighted on Business or B-School websites as well as in the media. The other cherished 'small number' is announced during the annual placement season. This 'number' is the time taken for hungry corporate firms to lap up the bright products of a particular school. The number of hours seems to shrink every year indicating either the progress of the school or the desperation of firms.
The placement season usually highlights other figures, which unlike the ones mentioned above, are valued for their magnitude. These are the figures of average and highest salaries offered to the bright young products of the various schools. It has been reported that most schools in 2005 witnessed a particularly good year for campus placements with a significant rise, often more than 20 per cent, in the average annual salaries offered as compared to 2004. Though at present foreign salaries offered to Indian MBAs do not compare well with global figures, there are indications that the gap is becoming smaller. Foreign placements in 2005 surged a whopping 600 per cent plus over the previous year and salaries offered have also seen a substantial rise.
These astronomical figures are the chief drivers behind the high visibility of management education and the profession in general today. Increasingly the best brains in the country are becoming professional managers while ignoring traditionally highly valued avenues like the civil service. Leaving aside the vulgarity of a ten-lakh-plus annual salary in a country where the annual per capita income is one-fiftieth of this level, one often wonders whether these figures are 'value for money' propositions. Does the two years one spends in a business school change the person so much to justify the difference between the salaries on offer before and after the MBA? The answer seems to lie in not just the two years of coursework but in the rigorous tests that precede the selection processes in business schools. The Economist has labelled the Common Admission Test, which is a requirement for admission to the esteemed Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), as the toughest B-School examination in the world. IIM Ahmedabad admits approximately 250 out of 140,000 applicants for its Postgraduate Programme of Management (PGP). In a cycle where comparative excellence attracts even more excellence, only the brightest, fastest and the most agile make it to the highly rated institutes. The recruiters know that the biggest strength of these institutes is their uncompromising admission procedure. The coursework, whether it lasts two years, one year or even six months is just the icing on the cake.
In this scenario, the students get their 'dream jobs', the companies get a short list of the brightest minds in the country to pick from and the institutes gain in stature and reputation by facilitating the whole process. It is a win-win situation for everybody and presents as a model for professional education that the rest of India needs to emulate. Or is it? Does what is being taught in the business schools make any difference? Teaching and learning in Indian business schools are largely based on standard texts and cases from the West (chiefly the USA). Many educationists opine that many of the B-Schools in India do not intend to create managers. They blindly pursue a Western model thereby enabling students to get jobs in the corporate/industry set-up. The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) appear to have traveled far ahead of the IIMs in producing successful entrepreneurs. Out of all B-Schools in India, probably only the top 20 qualify as 'integrated' B-Schools having good industry interfaces for disseminating knowledge, skills and good practice. There are only isolated attempts to develop a local knowledge base and to build managerial theory. This is evidenced by the low priority accorded research in the majority of institutions, paying it lip service only. Many newly mushroomed 'for profit' private institutes end up creating 'sales personnel' rather than managers. Management educational institutes that aim to nurture global business leaders must demonstrate leadership qualities themselves for 'leadership' is not limited solely to its 'noun' usage. It is as a 'verb' (in the sense of providing leadership) that is especially relevant in today's business scenario. But does it matter as long as there are good placements for their trained students?
Indian companies seem to be happy with the status quo. What is most striking is their unwillingness to fund management research. The industry interface of many business schools is limited to short-term management development programs and consultancy projects. There are very few attempts at sustained relationships so as to probe new directions in business theory and practice. Highly visible analysis of Indian business practices is more often carried out by expatriates in foreign universities. A case in point is the recently published Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid by C K Prahlad of Michigan University. The lack of a research culture also feeds back into the system as a lack of quality faculty. If the number of publications in internationally reputed journals is any indication, the faculty has miles to go. It is no wonder that there is a dearth of good role models in business management research in the country. One hopes that business schools and businesses are slowly realising the need to strengthen research. Some encouraging efforts are noteworthy. The software giant Infosys has been supporting doctoral research at various Indian Institutes of Management. The Bharati Telecom has initiated similar funding at IIM Lucknow. The recently signed MoU between the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar is another indication that even non-IIM business schools are realizing the importance of this.
The Indian government's role in the control and regulation of management education also needs mention. The government rightly deserves the credit for pioneering work in this regard by setting up the prestigious Indian Institutes of Management. However, there needs to be greater control by the government to ensure the standards of private institutes. This area is not very effective. India has around 1700 B-Schools and almost all of them are successes from the viewpoint of profitability (Business Today, 10 Oct. 2004). The government body that recognizes these schools is the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) - which is not exclusively for management education only. The need for a separate body for management education with greater powers has often been pointed out. Many recognised institutes do not meet the basic quality standards in terms of competent faculty, innovative course curriculum design and adequate provision of state-of-the-art facilities, let alone being genuinely engaged in research and cutting-edge consultancy projects, as required of a business school. Indeed, corporate chieftains in India bemoan that many B-Schools do not impart the soft skills that will enable young management graduates to become better decision makers in an uncertain real world.
[The views presented in this article are the authors' personal views and do not represent the views of the institutions to which they belong.]
WATCHPOINT: Given that the GATT regime requires the opening up of global education markets from 2005 onwards, Indian management education institutes will have to gear up to compete with institutes elsewhere on the global stage.
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AFG Venture Group is an Asia and Australia based corporate advisory and consulting firm with over 20 years experience in creating alliances, relationships and transactions in Australia, South East Asia and India; including a 15 year history of corporate and equities advisory in Australia, undertaking merger, acquisition, divestment, fund raising and consulting for private and public companies.
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