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Three levels of B-Schools: Good, bad and ugly!

Satyanarayanan R, Founder Chairman, Career Launcher

THE essence of my critique of current MBA programmes  in general is captured by this couplet by Akbar Allahabadi.

Taleem jo di jaati hai humein uff kya hai faqt bazaari hai
Jo aqal sikhaai jaati hai who kya hai faqt sarkari hai

In the context of management education in India, the IIMs need to take a bulk of the blame for the current state of unimaginative curricula that trails the needs of society by a generation! Before sharing a few examples about the good work done by a few private institutions in this space, I would like to categorise the present curricula and its delivery by diverse colleges as per a schema of my own, I would put them under three levels. 
Level 1: Inertia-driven
These are the courses that are victims of ‘inertia’. They are offered and taken because they have been offered and taken for decades. No one complains. The professor knows it by heart. It can easily be couched as ‘a must’ and the ‘tamasha’ continues. My own reading is that over 70 per cent of the courses and teachers fall in this category. Chances are that these teachers at the IIMs are drawing more from the IIM brand than the IIMs drawing from them.

Level 2: Market-driven
These are usually courses that are market-linked. Typically, this is an outcome of the professors’ or the institute’s competence and working linkages with the industry outside. These constitute about 15-20 percent of the courses offered. The professors who run these would command respect from the industry or companies. They would be happy to partner for curriculum development, research and case writing collaboration and so on. MBA, being a real world education, has to be at least at this level. While this category would come close to being cutting edge for management, it still falls short of being inspiring and transformational.


Level 3: Thought leadership-driven
This is the category of original research where the world is waiting to eat out of the hands of the researcher, professor or/ and institution. This category looks at management and leadership education that is needed for tomorrow.
‘Core competence’, a renowned concept by the late C.K. Prahalad falls under this category and Fortune 500 companies will spend the next decade to learn and follow this “mantra”. 

Imagine him teaching a 25-year-old face-to-face. Mind-blowing, isn’t it?  Isn’t that the benchmark that the self-proclaimed top guys should aim to better?  Professors or teachers such as the late Sumantra Ghoshal, Ramnath Narayanswamy (IIMB ), J Ramachandran (IIMB), Anil Gupta (IIMA) and Indira Parikh (Flames) fall under this category.

What is special about the level-three programme?
The core attribute of a level-three programme is the deep and original insight that it carries from the understanding of the human psyche or the society, at large. The emphasis is to understand it ab-initio in the current context and covert these insights into a body of knowledge that can be structured, fleshed out and taught to a learner. 

“Thought leadership driven programmes look at management and leadership
education needed for tomorrow”

Applying this model in India
In the context of India, we transformed from being an administered society to a managerial society about two decades ago. However, India is fast emerging as a society of entrepreneurs in diverse ways. The ethos of democracy coupled with the economic well-being is throwing up opportunities like never before in the history of mankind. In this context, entrepreneurship and personal leadership-linked programmes and offerings rank very high in my ratings.

Shining examples from private B-Schools
The family business programmes by S.P. Jain almost a decade ago is a shining example of an institute demonstrating this thought-leadership which continues to be of greater relevance even today. At least 90 percent of the economy is driven by the unorganized enterprise run by an individual or a family! Makes sense?

The work done by ISB to go after the aspect of management education for the working professional and even senior management is another role model example of what was done successfully with deep insight. Continuing education or back-to-education was the mantra for ISB. Works wonders and IIMs followed suit.  I would think the work done by Wellingkars over the past decade too is praiseworthy here. 

The wholesome development at Flames (Under Prof Indira Parikh) and Symbiosis (under Prof Pillai) are two shining examples and the students’ gratitude to them is the best testimony of these level-3 courses and programmes. The focus on personal growth is worth emulating for any other institute worth its salt.

Similarly, the focus on entrepreneurship at IWSB (Greater Noida) has begun to find mention and I believe this to be a level–three programme. 

The work being explored by SOIL (Anil Sachdev) and Great Lakes (Under Prof Bala) are other examples of new-era and original think outcome, in my view.

IIMs – Bring the inspiring guys back into the class room
It would be unfair to categorise IIMs as non-innovative. However, that these marquee institutions need to move from the current 10% of the courses being in level three to about at least 50% of them to be in that area. The market-savvy courses could be left to the lesser mortals in the management education space by the IIMs and they would do well to bring back the top-notch professors who do exist on the campus but do not find it motivating to offer any courses for the PGP programmes. For instance, if Ramnath (Ramnath Narayanswamy), Sundi (S Sundarajan), IR (Indira Rajaraman), RamC (J Ramachandran) teach the PGP batches in my own alma mater (IIM Bangalore), there is no way anything is going to be anything less than level three.

Aaj mujhse hazrat e naaseh yeh jalkar keh gaye Aasman se ab farishtay aayenge taalim ko   
– Daag

Entrepreneurs are optimists and incorrigibly so! I am no exception and would like to end on a note of hope. The above couplet by ‘Daag’ shares his optimism about a near future when our education would be so inspiring that the ‘farishtay’ would want to come down from the skies to be learners in our world. Insha Allah (by God’s grace), we will get there!   

The author is Founder Chairman, Career Launcher.

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