Are top business schools losing sight of what hirers want?

     Print Edition: September 4, 2011

Reclaim the B-school from the P-Mart: K. Ramkumar

I have been associated with B-schools for over 20 years. All these years, I have been searching for answers to the following questions:

  • Why were B-schools set up?
  • Who do they serve?
  • How do we judge their fulfilment of purpose and efficacy?

Let me assume that the over-arching purpose of B-schools is to produce entrepreneurs and business managers. My experience over the past two decades suggests this objective is achieved only to a minimal extent. Let us look at the evidence that led me to this conclusion. How do B-schools sell themselves? Do they talk about the value proposition of their unique curriculum, quality of faculty and their accomplishments; the pedagogy, rigour and discipline in skill building; the quality of internship and the guidance received; or their high standards of assessing proficiency? Or do they say: we are the best placement agency, hence come to us? The emphasis is entirely on the latter.

The sad part is that the faculty at most B-schools keeps bragging about the high price at which it was able to sell its products. I suppose the economics professor teaches in the same school that price has very little relation to absolute quality. In a demand-outstripped market, inflation rules and even mediocrity fetches a fortune. All the more so when old boys' clubs of most top B-schools lobby to propagate their gene pool and create dominance for the alma mater in the corporate world - a Darwinian necessity.

Have we ever asked what happens in the last semester at B-schools? The sole objective seems to be the setting up of the placement mart, or P-mart, exploiting the demand-supply gap, pushing up the price through day slotting, and ensuring that even the last mediocre product finds a placement, so that the "sold-out" tag can be put up. The placement procedure browbeats recruiters by not permitting a genuine selection process that good governance dictates, and reversing the process of buy and sell where the seller demands that purchase be made without any meaningful quality testing. Why will anyone learn in a B-school when "placement" is guaranteed by the demandsupply gap?

In this warped power balance, where do the B-school directors and faculty stand? The truth is that they have been disempowered by the compelling need to flaunt a "sold out" board, and promote the "we got the best price" ad-line. How can the franchise of any institution be ceded entirely to the students, whose interest in it is only for two years, and when they care very little about the impact of their immature actions on the long-term prospects of the institute?

This P-mart focus has led to young recruits at companies coming with an exaggerated self-image and spending the next five years in search of their real worth, moving from one organisation to another. The recruiters' flattery to endear themselves to the young students sets them up for future shock, when their power after recruitment is nullified. Sadly, these youngsters spend their best five years in self-doubt and anxiety. Will the arbiters take note and stand up to reclaim the B-school from the P-mart? The glimmer of hope is that some directors have already taken charge. Will the recruiters be responsible and support these directors?

K. Ramkumar is Executive Director, ICICI Bank

N. Ravichandran, Director, IIM Indore
N. Ravichandran, Director, IIM Indore
Institutions need time to mature: N. Ravichandran
In recent years, India has seen an unprecedented expansion of higher educational institutions. A significant amount of public money is invested in these institutions. This investment in the creation of these institutions has often triggered debate on the contribution and relevance of these institutions.

In this column, we confine ourselves to the top rated, public-funded management institutions only. The standard view of these institutions is that they admit young bright students through a challenging, competitive entrance examination, train them and place them in lucrative jobs. The restricted supply in the context of huge demand has contributed to the brand equity of these institutions.

They attract extraordinarily bright students. Rapid and consistent industry growth provides them job opportunities. Therefore, it is relatively easy to find placements for this small number of students - about 2,000 - every year. The contribution of the faculty in these institutions is at best marginal. This view is supported by questioning the publication track record of the faculty of these institutions in peer-reviewed international journals. Often, it is observed in the media that no great research of social relevance is carried out in these institutions.

But let us look at the whole subject in context. Just as our democracy is maturing, so are our educational institutions. The two oldest IIMs have 50 years behind them, the next-oldest is 40. The fourth one is 25 years old and the fifth and sixth are 12 years old. The remaining seven institutions are less than two years old. Surely they need time to mature.

These institutions are faculty driven in terms of administration and governance. Much of their academic and financial status is a consequence of faculty involvement, and the faculty's academic accomplishments. These institutions stand for a value system that is represented by a clean, transparent and fair admission process. This needs to be contrasted with the fact that in our social life, nearly everything is available for a price.

Several of these institutions have earned a reputation and contributed to industry in a significant way. The industry-academia collaboration is not confined to student placement activity only. Consulting as a profession in India has seen remarkable progress, beginning 1990. Several faculty members are also members of the board of various organisations.

They train mid-career executives for industry. Executive MBA programmes launched by all these institutions are a clear example of the way they are contributing. Often institutions need at least ten years to stabilise at the infrastructure level as well as at the programme level. We have accomplished the first stage of creating top class management institutions.

But we need to give some time to these institutions to mature. We cannot and should not sprint during a marathon.

N. Ravichandran is Director, IIM Indore

(The views expressed are personal)

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