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Business Education Should Focus on Relevance

This article by Bibek Banerjee of IMT, Ghaziabad was published today by Business World

Management education plays an essential role in today’s dynamic business environment because of the positive consequences associated with the curriculum and pedagogy practiced in B-Schools. For schools to be competitive, it is very important to consider how much balance is required in loading the curriculum with theories from the ‘western’ world and those from the ’emerging’ world. Over the last decade, India has witnessed an exponential growth in terms of number of institutes imparting management education to aspirants. With rapid globalization and technological changes in the business world, the importance of management education keeping pace with the shifting fault lines of relevance has never been as deep as it is in today’s times.

In the context of India, business education has been largely concentrated at the ‘post-graduate’ level; while business degrees in the under-graduate levels are still at a formative stage. Nearly all top B-schools are stand-alone autonomous institutions and the government funds only a handful of B-schools, like the IIMs. The private schools are autonomous and predominantly fee-financed and therefore, Indian B-schools are in constant pressure to offer tangible value propositions to students in terms of ROI on their education.

The successful B-schools tend to balance strong curriculum with students’ career in both the immediate and the medium term. Predominantly, the prime role of Indian B-schools has been to (partially) resolve industry’s managerial talent problem. However, in recent years, some B-Schools like IMT Ghaziabad have focused on customized programs for individual organizations with uniquely blended action-oriented curriculum and pedagogy to develop managerial capabilities in-house.

As management education faces a call for significance in the contemporary scenario globally, Indian B-schools are not unaffected by the contextual impulses of the markets they serve. Research is one of the vital elements that require utmost focus in B-Schools. Lately, top B-schools in India have witnessed a timely move to focus on peer reviewed scholarly research. But, there is a prime need for Indian B-Schools to create a forum that upholds the relevance of scholarly publications in the Indian context. At the same time, merely filling the system with an over emphasis on quantity (of publications) is also a matter of great concern to maintain the credibility of the context.

Additionally, closer interface with the Industry, Government, NGOs, and Policy Research Institutes is necessary. Customized Executive or Corporate Education is a great interface that can contribute significantly in increasing management institutions’ contribution and relevance. Working up to the post-experience segments is a relatively new foray in India. Leveraging participants’ experience as avenues to embellish the curriculum is a great opportunity for excellent B-Schools. Good B-Schools often integrate industry inputs into the curriculum through guest lectures, live-projects, internships, case research, action research, and customized business simulations. In addition, the rapid emergence of quality minded Indian institutions seeking international ‘accreditation’ is changing the business education scenario for the better. The tangible benefits of accreditation (such as AACSB, SAQS) are many, and it includes increasing the credibility and esteem of Indian management schools worldwide. It is great that the quality minded B-schools, which are trying to create lasting value in Asia, has bought into this fact.

The growth of schools that are willingly self-selecting into driving continuous improvement processes through global accreditations is a significant development. On the other hand, it is also encouraging that international accreditation agencies have begun to take a more grounded point of view on the contextual issues around quality standards in Asia Pacific in general and India in particular. Avoidance of ‘western codes’ of quality and relevance (in favour of contextually relevant standards) does not seem to be as blasphemous as they used to be. B-schools should continue to push the accreditation agenda aggressively in the coming time. After all, if McDonalds and Burger King can customize their burgers for relevance in India, why should Indian B-schools not customize their curriculum and methods for relevance for the markets they serve?

The B-schools need to customize pedagogy far more specifically than taking either a national or a regional point of view. While there are elements of standard pedagogical tools, every B-school has an opportunity to stamp its creative value on uniquely customizing its position.

The campus location is one of the important elements that play a role in this whole process of pedagogy. For instance, the choice of pedagogy for Entrepreneurship & New Business Models may differ depending on the location of the institute (large metropolis vs a smaller town). Access to faculty and markets may moderate the degree to which a school can innovate on their curriculum. IMT’s location in the Delhi NCR region gives it an advantage in collaborating with strategic partners (practitioners, policy makers, and industry experts) to source live projects that students work on. While some projects are analytical and require mining and analysis of secondary data, others require significant amount of qualitative research and limited amounts of primary data collection. For instance, IMT Ghaziabad’s location in the Delhi-NCR allows us to improvise on our pedagogy to build one-on-one interfacing with industry leaders and client organizations, organize field visits and engage in action research. The ‘operating model’ of the education system is also important in this context. In India, the autonomous quality minded B-schools are inclined towards ‘residential on-campus system’ where students and faculty live on a mid-sized campus. This co-habitation set up allows a great scope for experiments that cannot be achieved while having commuting students and faculty.

The relevant curriculum and pedagogy have to be synced with a balance between some standardization and some customization. The measure of customization may largely depend upon the unique elements of the respective contexts including location, the operating model, and the targeted student segment. The unique elements to India are scale and cost. Intensifying the contextual relevance of the curriculum and the pedagogy is harder if the scale is too big. One of the major western standards that do not work in India is clearly pricing – quality has to be affordable.

The synthetic platforms of online engagement do not seem to be a perfect substitute for human engagement in India. The leadership vision and the role of the faculty are paramount in this balancing act. There is a significant role of the academic leadership in creating a coordinated system of motivation that makes everyone accountable for their respective roles. This includes strategic investments, collaborative outreach with the industry and other stakeholders, objective and subjective evaluation of research output and their relevance and impact on the education system. Business education has to have a sense of service to the local community through which it can be a great catalyst to unleash the potential of the economy. Quality business education must focus on bringing growth, wealth and development in society at large by developing entrepreneurship, creating jobs, nurturing innovations and improving quality of life for all.

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Bibek Banerjee is the Director of GBSN Member School, IMT, Ghaziabad