10 Nov 2020 22:05 IST

What is the future for business education in India?

On national education day, the writer says B-schools are challenged on the skill-sets they impart and by MOOCs

Prof Srikant Datar from Harvard Business School discusses the future of MBA education in his pathbreaking book Rethinking the MBA published in 2010. A decade later, the disruption brought about by the pandemic is only reinforcing the same debate, pushing it to the forefront. It will be interesting to hear Prof Datar’s thoughts especially when he takes over as the next Dean of the Harvard Business School.

In India, around 2.3 lakh students have applied to the CAT 2020. This number is lowest in the last four years, yet impressive given the pandemic situation. Though, the global trend in MBA admissions is much worse, MBA education in India has not yet lost its sheen. But this may not continue unless Indian B-schools adapt to the changes of 2020. The challenges facing the Indian B-schools are on two fronts — skill-sets in demand and content delivery. The key skill-sets demanded by the industry include negotiation skills, integrative approach, digital transformation, automation and analytics to name a few. The challenge on the content delivery side is mostly from MOOCs such as Coursera, Swayam, and Udemy.

Integrative approach to education

The biggest change brought about by the pandemic is digital transition. As reported by NASSCOM, digital adoption in the last six months is higher compared to digital adoption over the last five years. Companies across the spectrum are automating mundane tasks and adopting digital technologies to increase efficiency. B-school graduates are expected to contribute towards smooth digital transition. Automation and digitising businesses have made many roles redundant. Today’s managers are expected to handle multiple aspects of the business unlike a decade back when specialisation was the focus. Hence industries expect B-school graduates to possess an integrative approach and focus on business development to achieve growth.

Data is the currency of a digital world and today’s companies have access to data like never before. Data Analytics is essential for business and B-school graduates are expected to integrate analytics to increase effectiveness of their decisions. Most importantly, the pandemic has introduced the culture of work-from-home and multi-location teams. The team size is smaller, monitoring structure changed, roles compressed and teams have more flexibility on delivery with increased responsibility. This requires team leaders or managers to have better communication and negotiation skills.

Challenges faced

The big question is whether Indian B-schools are ready to deliver what the industry wants. Industry demands employees comfortable with digitised versions of core functionalities and ability to integrate these functionalities to arrive at an effective decision. Indian B-schools still focus on the traditional specialisations of marketing, finance, HR, and so on and the delivery of many of these specialisations is in silos. B-schools have introduced analytics but most of them focus on the coding. The focus on choice of the analytical tool, application and interpretation of results have taken a back seat. B-schools do focus on communication, but negotiation skills are taught in very few schools.

While B-schools are struggling with the changing circumstances and industry demands, MOOCs have posed a challenge to their viability. Most of the 3,000 odd B-schools in the country are an extended version of undergraduate programmes. They impart basic concepts of management, develop communication skills, and provide opportunities for personality development. While demand for these skills and resulting employability was high prior to 2008, employability based on these skills is low. The reducing demand coupled with the availability of MOOCs will make things more difficult for B-schools. Students can obtain the required skills via MOOCs. Unless B-schools reinvest their value proposition, their existence is endangered.

Continuous innovation

The best solution for B-schools to retain their relevance is to ensure that they continuously innovate to impart relevant knowledge and skills. The best way for developing these new skills are either internships or live projects offered by companies. Internships and live projects help students understand the current industry trends. They develop practical communication and negotiation skills. Students handle live data which develops their analytical skills. And most importantly their integrative thinking develops when they tackle an issue or complete a project after analysing it from all functional and strategic aspects. B-schools should adopt MOOCs and incorporate them into their curriculum rather than fighting this trend. The NEP 2020 also supports this flexibility. MOOCs help B-schools impart concepts from allied areas and also create space in the programme for students to pursue live projects or internships.

B-schools should adopt these initiatives and incorporate flexibility into the curriculum to accommodate them. B-schools to do so will see better corporate acceptability and sustained reputation in the student cohort. Traditional B-schools ignoring the change will fade away and be replaced by short-term online programmes.

(The author is Chairman – Corporate Engagement and Branding, TAPMI, Manipal.)

Recommended for you