Business schools have come a long way in the last few years. When it comes to building character, however, I believe that there’s still room for improvement.
Many business schools were plagued with three primary problems: student passivity in the learning process, a decrease in curricular relevance, and a failure to translate business knowledge into applicable business skills. To a large extent, however, schools have addressed these problems, strengthening their programs overall. First, business schools have tackled the problem of student passivity. Numerous articles have highlighted the problem of viewing students as “customers.” “Being Good versus Looking Good: Business School Rankings and the Circean Transformation from Substance to Image.” If the problem is left unchecked, students almost inevitably come to see their educations as the responsibility of their professors. Many schools are rethinking their programs to address the problem of student disengagement—they are even re-evaluating the design of the typical tiered classroom. I sometimes ask students, “What does the design and shape of this room remind you of?” They frequently say, “a theater” or “an auditorium.” And what does one expect in a theater or auditorium? Of course to be entertained. This perception may partially explain why many business schools are moving away from the tiered-classroom model, to more interactive, group oriented spaces.
Schools are also changing their curriculum. These programs are giving students much more responsibility in their own education. For example, some schools are encouraging students to initiate courses with faculty guidance and organize study trips. We know that there is little correlation between instructor ratings and what students learn—teaching and learning are distinct activities. We also know from research that for adult learning to be meaningful and successful, students must be actively engaged in the process.
Some business schools had made a “devil’s bargain” with the market— essentially, they were selling credentials for money. Students often came to business schools with the understanding that if they didn’t cause too much trouble for schools or faculty, schools and faculty wouldn’t cause too much trouble for them. In addition, curriculum often failed to translate business knowledge into applicable business skills. That’s quickly changing, as business educators seem to be placing greater emphasis on ensuring that students truly master the material. More educators are tailoring the level of instruction to individual students, taking into account their backgrounds and experience. More are ensuring that students leave their programs intellectually prepared for their careers.
In part, these changes have been implemented in response to concerns raised by employers, recruiters, and alumni who perceived, accurately or not, that business schools had watered down the academic rigor of their programs. And, in part, these changes reflect pressure from faculty who want business to take their work more seriously. In fact, many are making efforts to revisit the idea of the “professionalization” of management, in which the practice of business has its own code and regulations, similar to law and medicine.
Business schools could go even farther in this area. They could not only recognize the academic performance of students and faculty, but also set a tone of rigor and seriousness in everything from class attendance policies to enforcement of the honor code. Still, more schools are taking the content of what they teach—the intellectual Substance of business— more seriously. A number of curricular reforms have also addressed the disconnect in the business school classroom between knowledge (knowing) and the application of that Knowledge (doing). " A patient would not want to have surgery performed by a doctor who knew all the theories of medicine but had never actually picked up a scalpel. Similarly, corporations don’t want to hire business graduates who know the theories of business, but have never applied them successfully in the field."
We believed that business schools needed to do a better job of making sure their students could actually apply the academic and theoretical knowledge that they learned in class in real-world situations. In this regard, business schools have continued to offer students more experiential classes, more emphasis on group projects, more contact with the corporate world. For instance, many of today’s business students consult for nonprofits and present ideas and solutions to groups of practicing managers. These are steps that will positively affect our graduates’ ability to turn their knowledge into action. It is quite likely that these curricular reforms will also affect research. Time will tell if this physician’s wisdom will be implemented in management education. The most fundamental issue is this: How should business schools measure their success? Most ask, " Have we increased our graduates’ salaries? Have we assured each of them job offers? And have we climbed in the rankings?"
In fact, many business schools base their reputations, in large part, on how well their MBA degrees translate to their students’ career advancement. Every business school Web site includes a link that says “Hire an MBA” or “Job Placement.” From what I’ve seen, Web sites for law, medical, and engineering schools place no such prominent emphasis on job placement. This is true even though their students also graduate with student loans to pay and also must find gainful employment. In choosing “economic” standards for assessing their success, business schools reflect the overwhelmingly instrumental orientation of their attendees and the “market based” ethos of much of their curricula.
Many business schools are, in fact, undertaking serious self-examination. They are engaging in the sorts of conversations among their faculty, students, and alumni that can help them redefine and reinvigorate their purpose as business educators. Only through these conversations can we devise the tactics to make that purpose come to life.
Business school leaders can only improve business education by knowing the facts of their enterprise, not by listening only to what they want to believe or hope to be true. Quality of our Education still needs to be improved to match Industry Expectations from B-Schools. Academicians, Students and Corporates should work together to achieve required Education quality.
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