Why Management Education?
Why do the best youth study management? There is a huge demand for managers not only in business enterprises but also in non-profit and non-governmental organizations. But it is questionable as to whether the demand is for what they have been taught. Prospective employers benefit from the fact that these young people have the semantics of business. The content is not as important. The learning from daily interactions with other bright young people, not faculty or the courses taught is the student’s most valuable gain. Employers do not get ready-made managers because they have studied management for two years. Employers have to spend years in training them to become useful. But many of the institutions attract good students and that saves the employers the time and money they would otherwise have spent in searching. It is not surprising that there is a trend everywhere in the world including India for employers to seek out other good postgraduate students (in commerce, economics, social work, engineering, etc) instead of recruiting only MBAs (or equivalent).
The selection process almost invariably ensures that outstanding young people from among the brightest in India are selected. Admissions are the most critical part of management education. Hence the objectivity and rigor in selecting students whose mental skills and personalities are most suited for managerial responsibility must be ensured. That is why the leakage of the test papers is a blow. It shows that IIMs responsibility for the test had become complacent in discharging their responsibility. The initial reaction of IIMA as the nodal centre also did not show an appreciation of what such leakage could do to the image of IIMs and the burden it imposed on students.
There is a multitude of admission tests, putting excessive tension and financial burdens on applicants. The Supreme Court was correct in asking for a single admission test for all recognized management education though it looks as if the present government will allow the present free-for-all to continue. At the same a written test by itself is not enough and a viva enables checking other personality and communication factors necessary for management success. It enables special weightage for women, humanities’ students and not primarily engineers. But the sanctity of the tests must be safeguarded and they must be seen as beyond outside interference.
While looking at admissions we need to consider the socioeconomic background of those who are admitted. The nature of admissions tests, class of the faculty, need for English language skills, all might be combining to pack management schools with students from urban, middle class, English language oriented backgrounds. The universe of those who apply might thus exclude the bright but really background socially or economically. Such youth from the lower classes do not stand a chance in the selection process or in such schools. It should be the attempt of government and all others to make special attempts to prepare bright youth from lower classes for admission.
Many bodies conduct annual ratings of management schools. Their objectivity is not always perfect. A trusted body must conduct one that is scrupulously fair and transparent and gives importance to academic work, not merely to infrastructure. Today the ratings for academic work in ratings are shallow because of the almost invariably middling research and publications by most management faculty. Neither students nor prospective employers have any information through these ratings of the caliber and quality of the teachers, their research background and the teaching.
What is taught in most of the institutions is American in its approach. Textbooks and much of the reading is American in origin, even when some are by Indian authors. There is little quality writing by Indians. Different aspects of management (marketing, finance, production, etc) are taught separately, not in an integrated way except briefly at the end. There is little attempt to introduce the social, economic and ethnic realities of India and root the concepts taught into that context. There is little congruence between the rationality that is taught in the classroom and the very different realities at home for most Indians. Nor does there seem to be research into how that congruence might be encouraged. The teaching is mostly of concepts with little attempt at problem solving. Some teachers do use the case method in teaching but suffer from a lack of up-to-date and well-written cases. Rarely are there teaching notes prepared along with the cases. Institutions are niggardly with resources for supporting faculty and students in research and case writing. This is unlike in the USA where substantial funds are available for the purpose. IIMs provide a little; but it is poor funding as compared to what is needed for each case to be written and for a well-researched project. Universities pay little attention to provide funds for this purpose. Private institutions rarely provide any funds for research.
Placement in the highest paid jobs is today the substitute for academic content as a measure of institutional quality for all concerned parties-recruiters, applicants and the media. The rating measures are such that quality of infrastructure, faculty numbers and placements lead to higher ratings and attraction of the best students. This attracts more of the highest paying employers (regarded as ‘best’ employers). The high ratings even for the new IIMs are perhaps due to their brand name and the physical and faculty infrastructure due to generous government funding.
This placement mania makes management students and aspirants regard jobs and earnings as the ultimate test of excellence of the institution. This value is thus inculcated into the very bright young and impressionable students. Instead of usual idealism and desire to change the world for the better, the topmost value is of maximizing the earning for oneself, immediately upon graduation. Such misplaced inverted values led, in the USA, to the ‘Greed id good’ value of Michael Milken and his ilk, brilliant young men who were ultimately jailed for criminally misusing their positions to make extraordinary earnings. Are the scams of recent years in India a fall out of this value system that promotes greed?
Management educators must examine whether other values might be more basic to society and must consider how they can be inculcated. Students must get a good grounding in the socioeconomic-political realities in India and outside (not merely of industry) if they are to relate to the Indian reality that oppresses the majority of Indians. That does not appear to be happening today. The ideology that underlies management teaching appears to hail market orientation and private enterprise over all alternatives. India has too many poor for us to put areas like health, education, water, etc., largely if not wholly in the private sector or in the market. An understanding of the realities that drive such decisions needs to be inculcated.
Some institutions do have special courses on ethics and values. We need to integrate ethics and values into all courses, not as something to be studied by itself. While Hindu spiritual texts are a wonderful storehouse from which much can be gathered, teachers must find some way to avoid religious dimensions in their teaching.
Management education must place less weight on placement and more on academic work. Employers must do more homework on the quality of faculty, their research and publications. Teachers should put much more emphasis than they do on the social-economy. They should not merely focus their teaching on managerial skills and techniques.