The use of technology in management education is going to grow leaps and bounds, and offer greater equity in spreading knowledge

How has management education changed over the past five years? Which are the areas where it has changed using industry inputs?

Change can be understood broadly in terms of quantitative changes and qualitative changes. Quantitative changes can be in the form of expansion of institutions and expansion of programs, particularly variety of programs, which are also linked closely with qualitative changes. The qualitative changes include more formalized teacher training programs which are expected to lead to better classroom experiences for the student and the teacher; also, in the nature of student evaluation and the kind of intellectual as well as practical exposure students and faculty receive. Campus composition has also changed; slowly and steadily more women are gaining admission into management programs. This, in turn, reflects the character of a campus or a program. These are the aggregate level changes one can identify; quantitative expansion is the most visible change.

Today, we have well over 2000 institutions/B-schools offering management education programs at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The variety at the PG level is extremely high. If we identify specific MBA specializations, which are formally declared in the certification, it would amount to a few dozens, including domains such as retail, communications, banking and insurance, healthcare, biotechnology, energy management and so on. There are so many specializations, which indicate both quantitative and qualitative changes. Another thing we should note is the relationships that these institutions/B-schools are trying to build with foreign institutions, formally or informally. Also, the importance given nowadays to B-school rankings by various agencies is much higher than what it was some years ago. We also have the launch of one-year executive MBA programs. These are some of the notable changes that have taken place.

Industry interactions are steadily growing, though I have not seen a sharp growth. There is steady interaction in the form of working professionals participating in guest lectures or at times offering full courses in many institutions. There are examples of industries formally collaborating with management institutions/B-schools to launch user-oriented or industry-specific management programs. Advisory and governing bodies of almost all management institutions/B-schools have industry experts. When we say industry, we are actually talking about a huge entity. At a micro level, we can say we are interacting with industry, but, as a whole, industry is a huge entity with c professionals working in different functions, domains, levels, contexts and cultures. Thus, it is nothing short of misrepresentation if we (B-schools) say that we are interacting with industry by virtue of our interactions with only a few people. They can at best express their own experiences and perhaps their colleagues in the context of their organizations. They cannot represent industry as a whole. At a logical level, interactions are present, but at a substantive level, if we have to refer to these interactions as being rich enough to capture "industry requirements" in a prioritized order, that simply cannot be fully true. We need popular forums and portals to enable wider and richer institute-industry interactions. We are caught in our own comfort zones and tend to believe that what we know or think of is the truth.

Where do you see change in management education over the next five years?

a) Another change I would like to mention is that the proportion of students with prior work experience who seek admission into management programs has increased sharply in our country's reputed management institutions/B-schools; this is at once both, qualitative and quantitative change. The classroom composition has changed from classes dominated by freshers to people with prior work experience. In some of the best programs in India, the proportion of people with prior work experience is quite significant. Many among them have put in at least 24 months of service in organizations. But, at the least they have some exposure to an organization to understand its working, culture, processes, systems, etc., and hence can be expected to be clear about their expectations of management education. They should be able to understand all academic inputs in class in a different way compared to freshers. This I see as a major change that is already happening.

b) There has also been a change in the availability of management programs via distance education. The use of technology in management education is going to grow by leaps and bounds, and offer greater equity in spreading knowledge.

c) One major change I expect to happen in five years or a little more is in the "continuing education" of managers. Managers need to re-skill themselves to develop deep specialization even in their own lines of experience, and not to mention about related lines of experience.

d) Just like we have all-rounders in cricket and mid-fielders in football and hockey, we will need all-round managers. Expanding on this observation, I am very confident when I predict that Indian organizations are going to shift on a large scale into the project mode of management operations. Any enterprise works on two modes: a) on a routine operations mode, which is absolutely important, because that's what sustains it, or b) on a project mode, which will enable it to achieve quantum or significant changes/improvements. Organizations use the project mode to introduce a new product, organize and conduct a new marketing campaign, change over to a new financial accounting system, install ERP systems, or transform their culture.

e) My expectation is that organizations will expand their focus, which will become more intense on the project mode of operations. So we will have people in various line functions getting educated and trained in project management and therefore enable their organizations to work on the project mode and, consequently, the team mode of working too. This, I believe, will be a major change in addition to what I said earlier regarding the infusion of technology in management education and the deep specialization programs that will enable managers to re-skill themselves.

f) Also, the proportion of people who are interested in doing part-time doctoral programs is steadily increasing. This is another interesting phenomenon; not too big, but noticeable.

g) People are expecting the entry of foreign institutions on Indian soil, either to work alone or in partnership with existing institutions and float new programs. This will be another big shift in the next five years.

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We must note that there are very severe socio-economic and cultural stresses all over that are revealing themselves in various forms. Their consequences are very difficult to predict. One can only build pessimistic, optimistic and likely scenarios to enable organizations, or even society as a whole, to respond adaptively. In this sense, "if the world is going to continue the way it is, my predictions are very likely to happen."

Why are we not concentrating on research?

Traditionally, if you look at any field, when one examines the Indian research environment, the infrastructure, the culture, etc., we are not seen as a very strong player if we benchmark with some of the best nations in terms of the quantity of research they are producing through research projects, technology development, refereed articles in the most reputed journals, the financial inputs into research, etc., we don't stand very tall in the world of research. That doesn't mean Indians are bad in research. I believe, given the constraints and limitations under which we are working, we are doing a great job. For instance, my own department over 2009 and 2010, in independent global peer ratings, in the area of operations, production and manufacturing management research and academic output, is ranked in the "top-20" in the world; this is no mean achievement. It's a remarkable achievement for our department, a relatively quiet department in the management scene. When it comes to management, everybody says IIMs. Quite a few ask, "IITs? Do you have management education?"

They don't know that our's is among the largest management research departments in the world. The unfortunate belief system among many Indians is "what I don't know does not exist" and that is the sad state of affairs. They don't have information seeking behavior. So, our peer group, even within India, does not know of the class of research of my Department. I am saying this only to highlight that even under the limited circumstances we are all working in, we are doing pretty well. With some amount of financial and substantive non-financial support, I think India will become a great country in research. Very often people compare India with China, which has made very great strides according to the numbers available. But, I wouldn't comment too much on China for different reasons. I don't know what's true or what's false about China.

It is too closed a society. Perhaps they are doing very well indeed. However, we will talk only about our country. How can research in India across all fields like Science, Engineering, Technology, Humanities and Social Sciences, including Management, contribute to greater progressive peace in India? I think this is an important question. Are we a peaceful, progressive and secure society? So long as we fall into this category, I think our research will carry meaning. But is that happening? My answer is tilting towards "No", because the socioeconomic-cultural orientation of research in India is yet to become strong.

What needs to be done to promote increased research activities in our colleges and institutes?

In our colleges, trying to increase research is like chasing a mirage. The teaching load of our college teachers is extremely high. The number of courses offered, the number of lecture hours per week to teach and the academic load, keeping all these in mind, I would even go to the extent of saying that it is blatantly unfair and unrealistic to expect our college lecturers to do research. So, when we want research to be performed we should look at institutions like the IITs or IIMs. There are other research institutes as well. If we consider socio economic studies, there are fine institutions in India, which are research focused and only give a second priority to teaching and training. It is only in institutions like these that research is feasible on a significant scale. We have to support that. I am not saying that college teachers should not do research. I should not be misinterpreted. They should do research, but in their own limited circumstances, in order to keep their academic spirit alive. Otherwise, a teacher teaching the same thing without renewing knowledge is a dead academic, but live human being.

Are we witnessing a situation where more engineers are jumping into management education? Why?

It's bound to happen; a management qualification is a logical end point for several people in their careers. When they reach the age of 35 to 40, the management content of their work increases dramatically as they handle budgets, finances, people, systems, processes, and relationships. I strongly support management education for experienced people & not for freshers. If I am a dictator, I will close down the management institutions for freshers. Now as a colleague, I will only wink at them. The best management institutions in the world will not touch applications from those without work experience. The minimum work experience they expect is 4 to 5 years. Should we learn from the best and excel or be satisfied with status quo and mediocrity? Management is that kind of subject which involves a lot of tacit learning to understand its fullness. Hence, work experience becomes a logical necessity.

Freshers? Do they require Management education? If yes, there is a form of management education that we can give – confine them to only the basics of management. Like, if I want to teach Carnatic Music to beginners, will I start teaching with Muthuswamy Dikshithar? Certainly not, I will start with sa re ga ma pa ……. then bring up the learners to some basic level and then graduate them. Unfortunately, management education is trying to push Muthuswamy Dikshithar (higher level) into eager and gullible freshers. At best, freshers can only understand the spoken language in class, but not the essence of the lessons. There is a lot of difference between understanding spoken language and internalizing content, concepts and the context. It's like they can only listen and appreciate Muthuswamy Dikshithar's compositions, but they will not be able to practice or critique his compositions. If somebody says that they can do that, they must be exceptional. We also have a different challenge. Today, we are graduating 800 thousand plus UG engineering students, but where are the jobs for them? Do you think Industry can absorb 800 thousand plus students, or even a major fraction? Under Graduate engineering students are finding difficulties in getting a teacher. Leave alone the question of whether the teacher is good or bad. There are good institutions, good teachers, and good students, but if we are comparing with the totality of the scale in engineering and management education, the good ones are only a miniscule part. I am not even talking about the BA, BSc, or BCom degree holders. I am talking about only the BE, B.Tech and equivalent degree holders. And, you know what is likely to happen to a society with so many unemployed, qualified people. I will be very hard on our successive governments. I think they are totally lost. They are not providing any evidence that they are smart people. They only want to be survivors, and these words, though harsh, are from my heart.

There is a war cry from the industry that the quality of engineers entering industry is very poor?. What needs to be done to address this problem?

This is a different point I have stated in every forum I have spoken in – good teachers multiply, and bad teachers multiply more. It's a disaster on our hands. A majority of teachers in our engineering colleges seem to have drifted into teaching, perhaps the most sacred of all professions. Gurus play a major role and are exalted souls. One must not get into this profession only to earn daily bread. Education in India cannot afford such drifters. Teachers are vital for influencing our student community. Engineering students fall into the age bracket of seventeen and twenty two. They are moving out of teenage to become young adults; a perfect time to get screwed up by bad teachers. Who cares for such micro-level phenomena?

Many of our performance evaluation systems, schemes and methods are quantity-oriented like how many students are graduated? We don't care about their academic and citizenship character? When, where and how do we evaluate these qualitative criteria? Academic, intellectual character is evaluated based on marks and CGPA. Perhaps, to an extent they are true reflections. But, we have completely ignored citizenship character. Everybody seems intent on covering the syllabus, completing the portions, conducting exams and submitting evaluated scripts. Higher technology education is a ritual today – a clear case of successful ritual and failed worship. This is the paradox of higher technical education in our country. I do not wish to comment on the other forms. If higher technical education is a disaster, then general higher education is an Armageddon. We should plod on with our smart, hard work and live in hope and faith.

About the Author

Prof. Ganesh L S, Retired Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras

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