The Mints Have To Press Afresh

Stagnant syllabi, poor faculty, unemployable graduates, along with tepid industry demand have put an ultimatum before B-schools

Illustration by Sajith Kumar

Till a couple of years ago, being an MBA was a ticket to a good job, a five-figure salary and all things high life has to offer. An insatiable industry hired them at a speed equal to the one in which business schools were churning them out.

With industry fortunes turning and companies treading on a cautious path, coupled with an oversupply of MBAs from burgeoning and fledgling B-schools all around the country, that has changed. Why, many of them find it difficult to find a decent job after graduating from B-schools. Last year, when an Assocham study boldly declared that only 7% MBAs graduating from Indian B-schools were able to get a job, it put a seal of credibility on what was being uttered in stage-whispers.

The study said that lack of quality control and infrastructure, low-paying jobs through campus placement and poor faculty were the major reasons for India’s unfolding B-school disaster. The need to update and retrain faculty in emerging global business perspectives was practically absent in many B-schools, often making course content redundant.

Of course, IIMs and the top 20 Business schools do not fall in this category—they are bastions of quality and are able to get 100% quality placement for their graduates.

Experts point to two main factors for the nadir the hallowed profession has touched in current times. First, the indiscriminate churning out of MBAs due to an uncontrolled proliferation of B-schools. According to industry estimates, there are a little over 5,500 business schools in India, churning out MBA graduates every year, creating a demand-supply mismatch. Madhu Veeraghavan, director, T.A. Pai Management Institute (TAPMI), feels that if you go beyond the top 50 B-schools in India, quality drops drastically. Consequently, companies do not even bother to go there for recruitment. “If the input is flawed, the output will be flawed as well,” he says.

Pramath Raj Sinha, founding dean of Indian School of Business, says, “There is a perception that for high-paying jobs in the corporate world one needs an MBA. So MBA gained in popularity and lots of MBA colleges and programmes were started. Too many programmes are just exploiting the irrational exuberance and demand for MBAs. Most programmes are underresourced and of very poor quality. Like with education in other fields, only bookish knowledge is being pushed through with no relevant context or practical learning. That is the main issue.”

Obviously, this uncontrolled spawning was a result of market forces—high demand for MBAs in the last decade gave rise to choosing management as a profession. “The MBA syndrome has been created by an unusual hype as an MBA is a passport to a cushioned life. There is a nexus between the market and those setting up schools. The flaw is in the way MBA schools are designed and the way they have proliferated,” says Debashis Chatterjee, director-general, International Management Institute (IMI) and former director, IIM Kozhikode.

The second factor is a matter of grave concern—a total lack of quality among the new B-schools and graduates. Barring students of the top 50 colleges, most lack the basic skills to become a good manager. S.V. Nathan, partner and chief talent officer, Deloitte India, says, “One of the main reasons for this deterioration is the proliferation of business schools. The quality of education in these schools is predicated by the faculty there and that is predicated by what they get paid in cash and research. It’s a factor of all these. A big problem is that all that the B-schools focus on is how to place students, when the focus should be on curriculum and studies.”

There is also the fact that students come from fields that are not too oriented towards cognitive skills and problem solving in an unstructured set up, which is required of managers in the corporate sector. Says former chief learning officer at Wipro and a career HR professional, Abhijit Bhaduri, “About 90% students in B-schools today are engineers who have certain type of skills, but real-life problems are unstructured and requires different kind of skills, which is absent in them. Also, our fundamental DNA is exam-oriented and most students know how to crack exams. But beyond that there is a huge gap.”

Somewhere around, business schools too have to be blamed, for they have not been able to catch up with changing times and are still following a rote learning formula totally outdated in today’s context. “Every industry will have its rise and fall. Today, potentially, MBAs are at that point. Education curriculum is designed for still-life painting, and as long as life was in the still-life phase it was fine, But now life is animation and frames per second. MBAs have been left behind and doing a catch-up game,” says Bhaduri.

A majority of schools today follow the case study method of teaching, which was started by global business schools like Harvard and later adopted by the IIMs. But both have moved forward, while many Indian B-schools are still stuck with this now-old and outdated method. As a result, many B-schools, including some of the newer IIMs, are also not able to fill their seats or show a good placement record.

Finding quality faculty is yet another concern. While even the IIMs have struggled to find excellent faculty, lower down the value chain, faculty in ordinary B-schools are often poor. That is also because every MBA today wants to join the industry and earn money. Few or none want to go into academics. The other major shortcoming in smaller B-schools is the lack of proper industry connect and interface, which deprives students of first-hand industry experience.

Obviously, the quality of students who are enrolling to become managers presents one of the biggest problems. Says Nathan, “My biggest challenge today is that the gap between what I need and what we get is big and gets worse with each passing year. We need good reading and comprehension and articulation skills in English among students. That is completely missing. How can they become leaders of tomorrow? Only 3-5% is fit to be employed from the total crop!”

Unbelievably, most students coming out of B-schools today lack even basic skills required for making good managers, feel experts. “The industry’s demand has changed from plain vanilla MBAs to specialists and B-schools are not producing them. Employers look for good communication skills, which is not there among new MBA graduates. Apart from that, they lack a mind for inquiry, they cannot manage time, have no idea of the challenges of the real world and above all, cannot troubleshoot and solve problems. Because of this, 95% of MBA graduates are not employable,” says Veeraghavan.

To solve this, says Veeraghavan, B-schools need to revisit their curriculum every two years to stay abreast of developments and tune themselves to the industry’s needs and cut out the deadwood, as the world is changing fast.

So what is the outlook for the future? Chatterjee says even the top 50 schools will feel the pressure, as their golden days may be over, but they will survive. “Beyond that, the rest will face near extinction.” B-schools will have to constantly reinvent themselves to stay in contention and be relevant to the industry. And that is a tough job, considering that the needs of the industry are constantly changing. Top B-schools have already started doing this. If others do not fall in line, they will join the list of those who are irrelevant or will be forced to down their shutters.