Is it time for a debate is the game over for MBA colleges? Going back three decades into my days in a management program from a top ranked national institute, passing through delusions of incompetence in my understanding of management, I am prompted to ask this question. I had the misfortune of four years of diverse work experience prior to my entry into the program. My futile attempts to relate the learnings with my own experience exposed the dis-connect between learning and reality. I doubted if there was something amiss and I was less of a fit into the program.
Three decades later I realise the problem was not with me, but with the way the program was conceived, designed and delivered, even from one of the national institutions at that time. Three decades of experience in industry, consulting, training, management education and working with overseas students leads me to believe that our management programs need disruptive change, to qualify to be of any value to the participants as well as end users of the program; the employers. Education like any tangible product has its own life cycle and MBA programs seem to be nearing end of their life cycle.
Most MBA programs from tier two / lower institutions primarily cater to manpower needs of the exploding business process outsourcing, off shore data acquisition, aggregation, analysis entities and call centres or other lower order tasks in brick and mortar organisations, to mechanically perform assigned tasks without questioning or having to use judgement, discretion or a holistic approach or innovation. The conclusion is based on observation, inputs from students, managements of institutions and the HR community.
Such a strategy plucking the low hanging fruit adopted by the institutions is only logical. MBA programs will be viable (attracting candidates) only if the candidates who spend fancy money for the program (of limited intrinsic value) have the assurance of a well-paying job with a respectable brand, at the end of the program, irrespective of what they do on the job. Though most of the job content doesn’t demand any MBA, the MBA tag seems to sell, aiding to mask intrinsic shortcomings of the candidate. In reality it is a flamboyant tribe of superficially overqualified and under-employed. Candidates are content with the prospect of catching two birds in one shot: a well-paying job with a degree to flaunt; oblivious to the low sustainable intrinsic value added. Instantaneous gratification overweighs the negatives and suits everyone: the institution, the employer, the candidate and even the candidates’ significant others (parents, social circles, potential partners).
It is unlikely, these candidates holding an MBA feather in their caps will get to perform any worthwhile managerial / higher order tasks normally expected of MBAs. Are MBA programs killing the innate capabilities of the vulnerable younger generation by misplaced celebration of placement (transfer of liability) records. Placement records are used as surrogates to endorse program quality and credentials; in reality the ability to tie up, influence and manage recruiters.
Students and college managements are exuberant to display placement statistics, conveniently avoiding the quality of placement in terms of job content, fitment, opportunity to use skills imparted or potential / actual career growth commensurate with the MBA program objectives.
The MBA hype started with the economic liberalisation of the early nineties, explosion of information technology and the accompanying lucrative opportunities for MBAs from the three IIMs, who were the pioneers of MBA (PGDM) in the country. Lucrative employment opportunities for the PGDMs of the IIMs fuelled demand for MBA programs. Many universities started MBA programs to cater to the demand and diluting quality by entry of private institutions into an industry with low entry and exit barriers, to milk the green field opportunity. Increasing supply, governmental regulation and corrupt regulatory machinery catalysed dilution of quality leading to where the MBA stands today.
Is it time the MBA and PGDM programs are rechristened as Management Thinking Programs, since a respectable MBA program should train students to think and learn from experience and act; not mechanical application of tools but incisive analysis and understanding of problem context and judicious contextual decisions. Is it time to coin new program titles to what is sold as MBA; a gross misnomer to something far from it, with commercial motive.
Is it advisable to design programs specifically to cater to the needs of the mass employer community who by default employ majority of MBAs coming out of the MBA teaching shops. These programs could be diplomas in BPO, call centre, customer care, store front management, data aggregation and analytics, sales and marketing, HR process management and so on.
Such an approach will help reduce the cost of education to meet needs of this employer segment, generate value for money for candidates, enhance supply of focused trained hands for employers and reduce expectation mismatch for MBA aspirants. It will also ensure improved resource utilisation at macro level and improved quality of real MBA programs. It will ensure better match between skill needs and skill repository, enhance employment opportunities for a new class of people from not necessarily the cities, who cannot afford the gold plated MBAs, reduce frustration levels, and Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) from educational loans for MBA from banks.
Real management is characterised by elements of complexity, low visibility, high ambiguity, turbulence and stress associated with handling dynamic expectations of diverse stakeholders, which is hardly the case now with the job profile of the mass manufactured MBAs. This I believe is the primary reason for unemployment, under employment and complaints of low employability of candidates carrying their MBA title
Land, labour and capital considered to be factors of production in the pre industrial era have given way to people, ideas and technology. New paradigms of economic activity and development, needs new paradigms of handling them. Development and destruction are two sides of the same coin: both contributing to GDP when measured on prevailing parameters and scales. Loud thinking, analytical skills, tolerance are some of the distinctive capabilities expected of MBAs. Will our MBA programs reach beyond the eroded functional specialisations of production, marketing, finance, systems of the 20th century? Will we rise up to the invisible emerging needs of the future?
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