Need for a progressive policy

An MBA education cannot mid-wife graduate handicaps

India recently celebrated its 70th Independence Day, a day that ended colonial suppression making way to freedom of thoughts and action. As we recall the historical freedom movement, it is appropriate to trace the historical evolution of management education with a suitable comparative.

The Pierson Report (1959) and Gordon & Howell Report (1959), popularly known as the Foundation reports, Porter & McKibbin Report (1988) and the Harvard Business School commissioned cross B-school case-studies (2008) have a common thread connecting them. All were in response to growing criticisms on American MBA education as though the nation was in danger and prescriptions addressed the disease and not the symptoms.

The Foundation Reports

During 1895-1956, 125 American institutions offered MBA degree, with nine of them accounting for more than half of the 4,500 graduate degrees awarded. In the late 1950s only six schools — Chicago, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, Harvard and Stanford confined to business education solely at the graduate level and till the late 1950s there was rapid growth in the number of business schools coupled with emergence of new concentrations and business dynamics. The rapid growth and post-war business and economic dynamics exerted pressure on academic community with major concerns regard to the future course of business education. In 1959, the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation commissioned two major studies which were undertaken by Robert Gordon (University of California, Berkeley) and James E. Howell (Stanford University) and Frank C. Pierson (Swarthmore College) respectively. There was growing criticism on the directionless proliferation of business schools and both provided a systemic road map that concentrated on knowledge-centric MBA curriculum.

Porter and McKibbin study

While the foundation reports were implemented, there was a lot happening outside the B-school environment. The economic structure was dismantled and the USA adopted free-market theory which made trade global with rapid changes in business organisations’ functioning and practice. There was a general level of complacency and a majority of deans and faculty took a dangerous stand that there was no need for curriculum change “as though they were generals with their troops planning to fight the last year” (Capon, 1996). This led to widespread criticism on the lack of business skills making business education a matter of national concern and the President’s Commission on Industrial Competitiveness requested for a report on the state of management education. This report questioned the ability of B-schools to educate and train future business leaders. In a separate initiative, AACSB and European Foundation for Management Development conducted three international conferences on the future of business education which formed the foundations for an AACSB study reminiscent of the Foundation studies.

Popularly called the Porter and McKibbin study of 1988, this was an outcome of visits to 60 B-schools, interviews with 200 corporate executives and survey of over 9,000 faculty, students and alumni. The second phase thus saw the growing importance of cross-functional expertise with personality and skill development.

Response to global financial crisis

The influence of Porter and McKibbin was strong during the entire 1990s and early 2000s building functional (including financial) expertise. The onset of the global financial crisis raised the flag on the purpose of MBA education. The Harvard Business School, as part of its 100th year celebration in 2008, began reinventing the very degree it invented. The third phase after the global financial crisis is trying to position management as a new profession with right attitude, uncompromising ethics and values with academic framework of knowledge, skills and attitudes as integral parts of any MBA programme.

The Indian scenario

The evolution of Indian management education can be characterised in three phases — growth, more growth and rampant growth.

Beginning modestly in 1948, there were only 120 management institutes till 1990. The AICTE, which was made responsible for promoting, maintaining and upgrading the quality of management education, granted approval to start many B-schools which grew to 800 by the year 2000 and rampant growth brought the total inventory of management programmes under the management education godown including unapproved MBA shops to 4,000 by 2015.

Between 1950 and 1990, there was only one study that was commissioned by the Government of India and is referred as the Nanda Committee. The Nanda Committee (1981) was the first committee that reviewed the working of the three IIMs at Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Calcutta to make recommendations for the promotion and development of management education in India.

The Kurien Committee (1991), R P Aiyar Committee (1999), The Iswar Dayal Committee (2001), Management Review Committee (2003) and Bhargava Committee (2008) followed later. The common thread linking all of them was the stereo-type diagnosis and the policy-level recommendations dealing with control, fees, admissions, etc. and very little on crucial issues like curriculum, skills, etc. None of the reports took the bull by the horn but allowed the MBA bullock cart to proliferate and run on bumpy roads to only mid-wife fresh handicapped MBA graduates.

It appears that Indian MBA education system has short-term goals with ‘once in 5 year committees’, staffed by officials on three-year contracts, implementing one-year solutions hoping that the problem will be solved immediately.

Management education is becoming a key input that drives the future of many economies and needs long-term vision. We shall see how it can be done in this article series on Management Education.

The author is Tata Consultancy Services Chair Professor of Management and Dean – Planning & Development, SASTRA University, Thanjavur. The views are personal. A series on management education.

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 8:47:53 AM |

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