ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYA

Besides offering too few electives, the Indian B-schools are indulging in too much of teaching.

According to a Chinese saying, “In pursuit of knowledge, every day something is acquired and in pursuit of wisdom, every day something is dropped.” Our business schools do not seem to agree. To remain relevant in a fast-changing world, our B-schools want to teach more so that their students will acquire more and drop less. In the process, the students are facing the danger of becoming increasingly less wise.

Generally, an MBA curriculum is aimed at achieving the integration of diverse academic disciplines for creating managers capable of making ethical and commercially viable decisions in an interconnected world. Hence, the curriculum of a B-school focusses on diverse functional areas such as economics, operations and marketing, and also deals with interpersonal leadership and communication skills that are essential for managerial effectiveness. Considering the fact that the different streams which go into the management discipline have achieved a high level of sophistication and that many students often join MBA programmes from diverse backgrounds without any knowledge of those areas, the B-schools normally offer some core courses. These compulsory courses build the foundation for taking up specialised courses by students later as per their individual choice.

For providing more time for absorption and creative thinking and maximising the freedom of choice, good B-schools try to optimise the teaching load by offering a small number of compulsory courses and a large number of electives. For example, Wharton and Harvard offer only 10 core courses (at the Sloan School of Management in MIT, the number is only five) and a huge number of elective courses. Harvard offers about 100 electives, while in Wharton the number reaches almost 200. In most cases, the students need to select about 10 courses from these electives. In a way, the number of electives defines the level of academic competition within a business school. Different courses have to compete with each other for survival. Students in many U.S. B-schools are even allowed to take a few courses from other schools or universities, thus raising the level of competition higher.

Compulsory courses

A quick glance at the MBA curricula of Indian B-schools reveals that competition is relevant only for classroom discussions. The programmes in all schools are overloaded with a large number of compulsory courses. This is true not only of a run-of-the-mill B-school but also of the Indian “Ivy League” — the IIMs. IIM-Lucknow teaches 24 core courses and offers only 15 electives; in IIM-Kozhikode, the numbers are: 24 core and 48 electives. IIM-Calcutta teaches 25 core courses in the first year and offers about 80 electives. The leader, IIM-Ahmedabad, teaches 33 core courses (a total of 25.5 credits) and offers only about 80 electives against Harvard's (whose model it is supposedly following) 10 core vs. 100 electives.

Besides offering too few electives, the Indian B-schools are indulging in too much of teaching. For example, if about 20 courses are the norm in most of the top U.S. B-schools for a two-year MBA degree, IIM-Bangalore teaches 18 courses in the first year itself. In some B-schools, the total number of courses goes almost up to 60! Obviously, with such a high teaching load our B-schools are nowhere near their international counterparts in terms of quality teaching, research and breakthrough thinking. There is no time available for creative thinking and innovation. The large number of assignments and evaluation that go with every course are making our students experts only in cutting and pasting. Probably, only the AICTE is happy with the situation because of its total faith in quantitative criteria for providing accreditation. Compulsory teaching of too many subjects and mass proliferation of B-schools are forcing many of them to rely completely on visiting faculty. Such pure transaction-based model cannot help to build quality institutions.

For ensuring quality, our B-schools must drastically reduce the teaching load of compulsory courses. More electives must be offered to give a wider variety of choices to students and maintain pressure on instructors to keep their courseware marketable. This is critical in today's environment since the knowledge revolution is making courses obsolete very fast and, at the same time, creating scope for many exotic electives.

Excessive teaching is also adversely impacting the development of strategic focus areas. If Kellogg is known for marketing, Stanford for technology and Harvard for general management, our B-schools are not known for any such focus area. Out of the 10 core courses taught in the Harvard Business School in the first year, five courses are leadership and organisational behaviour, strategy, the entrepreneurial manager, leadership & corporate accountability and business, government & international economics. Most of the electives offered in the school are also designed around these courses. It is no wonder why Harvard is known for its strength in general management. Many a time, institutes may teach similar core courses, but the large basket of elective courses offered from one area makes their focus visible. By teaching everything to everyone and with a very small number of electives, Indian B-schools are not able to develop a high level of expertise in any single area.

Lack of focus also impacts the income-generating capability of the institutes. It is believed that two-thirds of Harvard Business School's income come from non-fee collections, namely from executive training and publishing.

But for most of the Indian B-schools, fee collection is the sole source of revenue. The IIMs earn a good amount of revenue from executive training and consultancy, though it mainly comes from government and quasi-government organisations which have more to do with bureaucratic risk-hedging than actual competence.

Once the Foreign University Bill is passed, many global brands will come to India for capturing the market for the reputed international MBA degree at an affordable cost.

In the emerging red ocean current, leaders may not face many problems for some more years because of their established brand image and infrastructure facilities. Other B-schools with good infrastructure can survive by offering their facilities to foreign institutions and thus converting themselves into a real estate provider from education provider.

And for the rest, the day of reckoning has come, and it is time to migrate from MBA to the next emerging field of education business.

(The writer is Dean, Globsyn Business School, Ahmedabad, and the views expressed are his personal. email: ab@globsyn.com)

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