MBA (or the equivalent PGDM programmes) defies conventional wisdom. That is why our universities find it hard to contain them.
Unlike an M.A., M.Sc, or an M.Tech programme which tends to remain stable over a few decades, an MBA programme almost exhibits a knee-jerk reaction to anything that happens around.
The reason for this is the tight integration of the management programmes with industry needs. The corporate sector demands, and often gets, the profiles and skill sets that it immediately requires.
Therefore, institutes, students, and other stakeholders have no option but to remain dynamic and continuously reinvent themselves.
B-schools realised, some earlier than others, that today's world is driven by technology. Typically, MBA programmes tended to focus on producing generalists with a wide variety of skills, with the primary focus being strategic and problem-solving skills.
However, the shift towards a focus on technical skills is now perceptible. For example, the last decade has seen almost every self-respecting B-school offering at least one specialisation or an entire programme in data analytics.
In the past, typical MBA students would try to position themselves distinctly from their technical counterparts from the technology programs.
It is incredible to see the management students lapping up courses on advanced tools and programming languages such as Python.
Why does the industry need an MBA with technical skills? Our conversations with leading technology firms indicate that they look for their prospective employees' leadership, managerial, and technical skills.
Such employees can work in teams that provide complete technology-based solutions to their clients. In fact, even traditional programmes such as M.Sc and M.Tech are increasingly including management courses.
Due to this reason, lines are getting blurred between some M.Tech, M.Sc, MCA, and MBA programs in analytics and Information Technology.
The shift towards technology is unlikely to stop there. A host of new technologies will be part of our everyday lives within the next few years.
We can foresee that topics like robotic process automation (RPA) and augmented reality (AR) will find their way into the MBA syllabus. Some leading B-schools have already included courses on artificial intelligence that look beyond data analysis.
Some are setting up laboratories with AI and related technology equipment. It makes immense sense. Gone are the days when you were considered technically competent if you knew something about cloud computing or C++ programming.
Programming is taught in schools today, and the internet has allowed even laypersons to have a fair bit of knowledge about technology topics. MBAs cannot aspire to create value for their customers in today's world without reasonably in-depth knowledge of creating technology products and services.
While this is all happening, we also might see an increasing conversation on the right age to do an MBA. Indian B-schools have been very different from their US counterparts in this.
A typical MBA applicant in the top B-schools in the USA and Europe has around five years of work experience.
For example, the average work experience at Stern (NYU) and the London Business School are 5.3 and 5 years, respectively. On the other hand, Indian B-schools tend to have students with 0-4 years of experience, with a median of around 2 years.
The recent introduction of the integrated programmes in management by some IIMs and other B-schools has taken this to the next level. Is this the industry requirement?
Would industry look for graduates who sat in classes where no one student had ever seen an actual workplace? It is a difficult question.
We might see a variety of opinions on this in the near future-both from the industry and the thought leaders in academia. There is a state of flux right now, and it will be interesting to see where it all converges.
(The author is Associate Dean (Academics), Chair - Information Systems and Technology Area, T A PAI Management Institute, Manipal.)
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