15 Jul 2020 21:11 IST

Revisiting the business model of management education

A girl looks at her study notes and mobile as another student sets up a solar panel to charge the battery in Bormarjong village in Karbi Anglong district of Assam. | Ritu Raj Konwar

With students seeing the value-cost trade-off of online education, will it change existing paradigms?

As we sit down and flip through the pages of the newspaper with eagerness to spot a news on the status of the vaccine discovery and the rush to break free from the shackles of the apartment walls, the Covid-19 pandemic has infused a lifestyle of its own that does not replicate any other experience of the recent times. We are experiencing a new normal in this virtual and digital world, with digital transformation initiated willingly or unwillingly in the Covid-19 era.

However, does that mean that businesses have come to a standstill, or the machines have stopped rolling, or customers have stopped consuming pizza? That is not to be, as “virtual” is the “new normal”. Be it Reliance Jio in India or Verizon Wireless in the US, the telecom and internet service providers are riding the growth curve in the virtual world. It is virtually everywhere with corporate executives jumping from one virtual meeting room to another on Google Meet or Zoom. Academia too prepares itself for one of its biggest crisis in the last several decades.

From a time when the academic committees of leading universities and the boards of business schools across the globe were grappling with how to wade through the crisis, virtual academics through technology platforms have come to the rescue. While virtual education has been a boon for the administrators in these times, there it has dented existing business models.

Temporary stoppage

On June 25, a news item on the Forbes website informing readers of the indefinite shut down of the residential MBA programme in the fall of 2021 at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Business did definitely draw eyeballs world over. This was not the first of its kind as the University of Missouri had informed earlier in April a temporary stoppage to the applicants of its full-time MBA programme at the Trulaske College of Business.

To add to this illustrious list of business schools, are the names of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne and University of Iowa, with their full-time residential programmes halted till further information with the focus shifting to online and hybrid models of executive education.

Other leading schools, such as Harvard, Yale and MIT have either postponed the commencement of programmes till August-end or September’ 2020, or have announced that students appear in batches for the residential programmes. In India sessions are delayed with IIMs, XLRI, MICA and other leading business schools planning commencement of classes on virtual mode for the fresh admissions from August-September.

Virtual models

Fee revisions, which were a norm every year, factoring for inflation have been a far cry, not just in India but overseas too. In fact there are murmurs on fee revisions on the downside, while some institutions have already excluded the boarding and lodging expenses from the payment schedule for the students.

The moot question to be answered is that are we up for a disruption in management education post Covid-19 era? Does the virtual model replace the theatre classrooms in business schools with standard digital capsules of reading material replacing the unique faculty driven pedagogy? Therefore does this standardised mass production module with a much lower cost structure lead to a model of education offered at quarter the price of what it is currently being delivered at?

The key stakeholder in the value network – the student - having once tasted the success of this new model is definitely going to question the Harvard and MIT model in practice. Given the pandemic situation, the passing out batch and interning batch of 2020 have had their share of problems, which they managed to surmount.

Value-cost trade off

Be it the retracted placement or internship offers, through the extended network chains of alumni, and social platforms like LinkedIn, and FB, the gaps have been managed well by the students on their own with some facilitation from the placement offices. This has been a great learning experience which definitely raises the question of whether the traditional model of management education is really worth it? If the virtual model can provide 75 per cent of the value (in terms of learning and career opportunities) at quarter the cost, it probably makes sense to adopt the same, and beef up with self-driven internships and additional course modules for free or paid depending on the skill gaps to be addressed.

The serendipitous disruption of management education is written on the wall, and under all probability will remain given the value-cost trade off. Policy-makers (i.e. AICTE, UGC, MHRD), and think tanks will need to burn the midnight oil and revisit the charter before demonstrations and discussions on public platforms start picking up.

Base of pyramid

Nevertheless, if the virtual model of the residential MBA becomes the new normal in the post Covid-19 era, it is going to open up the business education to the base of the pyramid and for rural intellect which shied away from going to business schools given the affordability and accessibility of the programme. Virtual models will make the classrooms transnational with representation from across the globe with the dreams of a Kikuyu tribesman from Central Kenya or a Santhal girl from Jharkhand hooking on to the same session on organisational culture and ethics.

This is a win-win both from the producer and the consumer perspective with enhanced perceived value with increased willingness to pay and reduced relative cost, in addition to the scale economies. The existing assets spread over acres in the business schools campuses can be converted to incubation centres and centres of excellence for research and development breeding an ecosystem of innovation and creativity. Only time will bear testimony to the redefined business model.

(The writer is faculty at MICA, Ahmedabad, in the Strategy and General Management area.)