EDU

The Right Balance

A higher education specialist based out of New York, Dr Choudaha blogs specialises in strategic management of higher education, institution building, collaborations and market development. He can be reached at rahul.choudaha@eduleaders.com

By EDU

Added 15th December 2011

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It is time Indian B-schools did some soul searching on the relevance of management programmes in the evolving social context. Do we have the right missions, expectations and impacts? Or are we fumbling in the dark? The relevance vs rigour debate of the US can show the way.
Many leading American B-schools are in a soul-searching mode to strike the right balance between relevance and rigour. On the one end is the argument for more practical and competency-based learning, which meets the needs of businesses and on the other is the scholarly approach to teaching, grounded in the rigour of research.
Condemned in the US
More than 50 years back, the Ford Foundation in the US funded a report Higher Education for Business in response to the lack of rigour in business management programmes. The report highlighted that academics at some [business] schools were more akin to quacks; and the curricula offered were narrow, simple and weak. The calibre of staff and students alike was condemned, with the authors calling for more research and less consulting work by faculty, improved regulation, fewer case studies, more theory and analysis, and more teaching of ethics, according to The Economist.
More recently, the debate has shifted towards the lack of relevance of B-schools in the face of changing nature of business. Warren Bennie and James OToole in their Harvard Business Review article How Business Schools Lost Their Way critiqued the current model of B-schools and argued: The entire MBA curriculum must be infused with multidisciplinary, practical and ethical questions and analyses reflecting the complex challenges business leaders face.
Lessons for India
The relevance vs rigour debate is as applicable in the context of Indian B-schools. On one end of the spectrum there is a segment of B-schools like SP Jain and MDI, which have global ambitions, and on the other there are many which are struggling to fill seats. This wide spectrum of institutions has resulted in a two-tier structure, with a handful of high-quality institutions followed by a majority of mediocre ones. The need is to bring in systemic change and improve the quality of all B-schools. The lessons from the history and evolution of the relevance vs rigour debate in the US can inform the direction to be taken by the Indian management education system and avoid repeating the same mistakes.
Whats Your Mission?
First, B-schools need to develop a culture of defining mission, outcomes and impact. A majority of the Indian B-schools do not clearly define their purpose and direction. This results in misplaced expectations and poses difficulties in measuring impact. For example: one B-school can make a significant impact in terms of producing a pathbreaking research and another can make as significant an impact by producing a class of competent professionals. However, unless there is a clear definition of the mission and impact the institution intended to make, it will be difficult to strike a balance between rigour and relevance.
As Mile Augier and James March in their article, The Pursuit of Relevance in Management Education, note: The argumentis not merely an argument between experience and scholarship; it is also an argument over the proper criteria by which to assess both.
Different Strokes
Second, the emphasis on relevance or rigour is also not the same for all institutions. Some of the leading B-schools which are seeking excellence and global reputation cannot ignore the value of research culture in attracting the best faculty, building global collaborations and international rankings. The challenge is to ensure that research does not remain in journals only and can be integrated with classroom learning through case studies and additional readings. The next tier of institutions need not have the same research emphasis as top-tier institutions, and they may concentrate on leveraging and integrating research produced by other B-schools in curriculum. Thus, while there is a need for cutting edge research produced by some B-schools, it should not be expected of every institution.
Mix & Match Faculty
The third lesson for the Indian B-schools is to develop a mix of faculty who appreciate balance of relevance and rigour. Some argue that since MBA is a practical field, faculty should have real-life
experiences and hence, significant work-experience can replace scholarly rigour. Prof Rakesh Khurana of Harvard Business School notes in a New York Times article while students may find the experiences of some of these accomplished but non-academically credentialed [not holding doctorates individuals interesting, there is little evidence that students are being offered a deep and challenging intellectual experience. The reality is that India needs scholars who value and integrate the real life work experiences and likewise, we need practitioners who acculturate themselves with the rationales and value of research.
Scholars vs Managers
Finally, India needs skilled managers. Given the context of the changing nature and growth of Indian economy, Indian B-schools have a huge responsibility of developing managerial talent. This means that B-schools have to broaden their own mindset by accepting that they are not in the business of offering MBA degrees, instead, they are in the business of developing talent, which innovates, improves and provides solutions to business and societal problems. Thus, one approach to make B-schools relevant is to consider some of the biggest challenges faced by the Indian society and align the research and curriculum to develop competencies, which enable managerial effectiveness.
Undoubtedly, there is an imminent need to make a systemic improvement in quality of Indian management education. Given the context of evolution of Indian B-schools and needs of the economy, it is important to find the right balance between relevance of practical application and rigour of research foundations.
It is time Indian B-schools did some soul searching on the relevance of management programmes in the evolving social context. Do we have the right missions, expectations and impacts? Or are we fumbling in the dark? The relevance vs rigour debate of the US can show the way.
Many leading American B-schools are in a soul-searching mode to strike the right balance between relevance and rigour. On the one end is the argument for more practical and competency-based learning, which meets the needs of businesses and on the other is the scholarly approach to teaching, grounded in the rigour of research.
Condemned in the US
More than 50 years back, the Ford Foundation in the US funded a report Higher Education for Business in response to the lack of rigour in business management programmes. The report highlighted that academics at some [business] schools were more akin to quacks; and the curricula offered were narrow, simple and weak. The calibre of staff and students alike was condemned, with the authors calling for more research and less consulting work by faculty, improved regulation, fewer case studies, more theory and analysis, and more teaching of ethics, according to The Economist.
More recently, the debate has shifted towards the lack of relevance of B-schools in the face of changing nature of business. Warren Bennie and James OToole in their Harvard Business Review article How Business Schools Lost Their Way critiqued the current model of B-schools and argued: The entire MBA curriculum must be infused with multidisciplinary, practical and ethical questions and analyses reflecting the complex challenges business leaders face.
Lessons for India
The relevance vs rigour debate is as applicable in the context of Indian B-schools. On one end of the spectrum there is a segment of B-schools like SP Jain and MDI, which have global ambitions, and on the other there are many which are struggling to fill seats. This wide spectrum of institutions has resulted in a two-tier structure, with a handful of high-quality institutions followed by a majority of mediocre ones. The need is to bring in systemic change and improve the quality of all B-schools. The lessons from the history and evolution of the relevance vs rigour debate in the US can inform the direction to be taken by the Indian management education system and avoid repeating the same mistakes.
Whats Your Mission?
First, B-schools need to develop a culture of defining mission, outcomes and impact. A majority of the Indian B-schools do not clearly define their purpose and direction. This results in misplaced expectations and poses difficulties in measuring impact. For example: one B-school can make a significant impact in terms of producing a pathbreaking research and another can make as significant an impact by producing a class of competent professionals. However, unless there is a clear definition of the mission and impact the institution intended to make, it will be difficult to strike a balance between rigour and relevance.
As Mile Augier and James March in their article, The Pursuit of Relevance in Management Education, note: The argumentis not merely an argument between experience and scholarship; it is also an argument over the proper criteria by which to assess both.



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