As they say, MBA education is as old as the newly formed hills, comparatively speaking. The origins of the MBA education can be traced back to the USA, with the Wharton school being the pioneer, starting off in 1881 followed by the illustrious Tuck School at Dartmouth and the one and only Harvard Business School. Much course work has flown down Boston colleges after the MBA education was kicked off. However, the reason why an MBA school started off in 1881 – some 40 years before Henry Ford invented his assembly line – and when industry was very much in its infancy is a mystery. Where was the need for such a degree, if there were no industries that would employ them? Or where were the large companies to employ them at that time, since Henry Ford came in much later? So one is left with an impression that the MBA was an evolutionary matter, much like how engineering education began. The chicken and egg story all over.
With the advance of time, MBA education produced some of the stalwarts of industries which dotted the landscape. In modern times, we have names like Shikha Sharma, Ravi Venkatesan, Cyrus Mistry, Raghavendra Rao, Ashank Desai from India who are all business leaders of the highest calibre and who have accomplished much after their education in management. According to the “Educational Statistics at a Glance” published by the MHRD, in 2012-13, a little more than 22% of post graduates (MBA and PhD) of the total enrolled candidates were in management studies while the same is only 2% at the undergraduate level. And this doesn’t include data on part timers, distance education enrollers and other certificate courses. Clearly management education is highly valued in India. Management graduates from good schools get the highest paying jobs in all countries. Not only do they start off better but also do better over the employment life cycle.
All these facts bear witness why this education gets a lot of media attention. Annual B-School ranking is an important event at many leading business and general magazines. Most enrollers seek out the highest ranking schools. And they leave lower-ranked schools in favour of the higher ones even after paying the fees. Management education is horizontally and vertically competitive. Horizontally – in the course contents, in the setting of curricula, in pedagogic methods, and vertically – offering the best infrastructure, the best accommodation (compared with the IIM hostel rooms, the IIT rooms have to eat humble pie – to put it politely), the best placement services, the best jobs. Fees are hitting the roof, by Indian standards.
The fee-gap between management and non-management education has been increasing for the last many years, and one hopes that management education doesn’t price itself out of the reckoning. Many foreign B-schools say that they have reached the limits of “diseconomies of scale” and admissions are constantly threatened. Not only that, the management education system is acquiring a reputation of becoming elitist and meant only for those who can afford the high fees. This needs to change.
In this change, the one thing that is at the heart of the matter is the content and methodology of management education. Being a creature of the environment and having no anchor in any stream of knowledge, very unlike the sciences, the arts, commerce, which are all stream-based and well-founded and anchored in their respective vocational or knowledge spheres, MBA education has been the favourite whipping boy of academics and non-academics alike.
Everyone has a view on it, what it should include and not, how should it be taught and so on. There are as many proponents of the “quant” school as there are those who oppose this. The “diversity” brigade accuse the quant quadrangle of having usurped the MBA education from the ‘aam aadmi’s of arts, science and commerce backgrounds. Engineers seem to dominate MBA college admissions and they have set up the paraphernalia – exams, aptitude tests, psycho tests, the works – all in their mould, with a critical quant bias. No wonder there is some resistance building up.
Add to that the recent complexities of business itself. From retail to IT to IOT, to digital, to Industry 4.0, changes in the MBA environment are endemic. How do educators cope with this? There are three main forces impacting. Firstly, students’ attention span is reducing, with the advent of social media, instant ‘like’s and ‘thumbs down’, mobile android phones, fast paced life, shorter tenures at jobs, lack of “meaty” jobs (because consultancies do not have the big jobs, and consulting is the growing job sector for MBAs in India).
I have a feeling that this blog is getting too long. So I will sign off now and put the rest in PART II.