Sunday, January 27, 2013

Management Education 'Market" in India

Management education sector in India has killed the goose! I don’t want to bore you with the gory details but this article (…tough lesson in supply and demand) by Reuters is quite an eye opener.

To understand how we managed to dig ourselves into this hole, I will try to, in brief, narrate the sorry tale. Business education India was doing well. Good schools, great faculty, very competitive entry barriers and a gradually opening economy meant that both the supply and the quality of the output was good. I remember times when getting into a business school used to be a matter of achievement and only the best could do so. The debate whether an entrance examination can decide on who is good or the best is an ongoing one and we will dwell upon that later. Not only was it difficult to get into a B school, it was hard work surviving one. I remember some of our seniors narrate horrors of great schools like the IIMs and few others!

So the situation was quite simple. Only the brightest were getting in and once in they were being ground and polished by the best and it is only logical to assume that if the input is good, the processing is good, the output will be good too.

The demand for managers in the industry, the number of business schools and the number of MBAs passing out seemed to be in a state of equilibrium. Then in 1991, India initiated economic reforms and the lumbering state controlled, Soviet modeled, Hindu rate of growth loving economy went into overdrive. I still feel the rate of change was too fast for the society to adapt to. As business grew, MNCs came in, the demand for management graduates grew beyond what could be serviced by the established business schools. This was probably where the government felt the need to open the management education sector to the private sector. Maybe the decision was in part motivated by the need of business schools spread all over India rather than being clustered around few educational hubs like Delhi, Pune, Mumbai and Bengaluru.

The intentions were good but the implementation was atrocious.  AICTE was tasked to oversee the affiliated colleges and UGC was supposed to look after the private universities. And like many other businesses, management education became over regulated and under managed. I have had the chance to witness two inspections and I tell you, in this country of scams, the regulation of private educational institutions is another one. Fictitious data, blatant violations, absolute lack of quality faculty and much more were ‘overlooked’.

The presence of a huge aspirational middle class and lax regulation saw management education become a ‘business opportunity’. That brought the flies in! They came in droves! Businesses with no experience of managing educational institutions were allowed to set up business schools and the rabid gnawing at the market began in earnest. I have seen with my own eyes the counseling session by a university where the private colleges affiliated by that university were engaged in a competition for admissions (what we now call ‘numbers’) that reminded me of the opening scenes from the movie Black Hawk Down where starving swarms of Somalis mob a relief truck!

I am not against private enterprise in education. In fact some of my dream destinations to study are private. But only those private educational institutions are doing well that actually try to do so. They do not compromise on quality. But we do and we justify it citing ‘market realities’!!

Admittedly today the situation is much better but that is only because everyone involved seems to be tired! The mad gold rush has petered down, the fringe players have died out, the numbers of MBA aspirants is large enough for you if you have a relevant ‘student friendly’ USP!

Colleges who learnt their lessons survived. Get numbers, please them, don’t do anything that makes them uncomfortable and then hope that they become your brand ambassadors and recommend your college or university to their friends and relatives. Colleges were smart enough to devise economic incentives for ‘motivating students’!!

And thus ladies and gentlemen, management education in India became the mass producer of unemployable pseudo MBAs today. People, who know nothing about education, set up colleges that pretend to teach to the un-teachable and everyone is happy!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Why Read Textbooks and not 'Notes'

I may be wrong but most business management students I have come across in the recent years seem to be sceptical of the value of investing time studying. It is definitely not that they are bad students or that they do not want to do well in life. On the contrary, most students in the classes I teach are way better than what we used to be.

In my opinion the blame lies with the education system; the regulatory bodies, the colleges and universities, the faculty and even the parents.

If a student is demonstrated a clear advantage of doing something it is safe to assume that most students will do it. It is then obvious that if you want a student to attend classes and prepare for exams, you just have to demonstrate the benefits of doing so. That said, just telling them that it is for their own good is not good enough! We need to make changes to our teaching and evaluation system where the students who do bother to attend classes and prepare for the exams are actually better off than those who do not! And as of now, I can confidently say that the teaching and evaluation at business schools (at least the second rung schools) is not doing that.

But that does not absolve the students. Working hard persistently is a habit. That is why most achievers have been that consistently throughout their student life. My experience as a student and as a faculty tells me that student performances do not see dramatic improvements even though dramatic falls are possible. Most of us keep scoring in a particular range throughout our student life. In fact, marks during 10+2 and graduation can be good predictors of academic performance during postgrad courses.

So being an achiever or a dud becomes a habit!

Then there is this issue of many of my students telling me that studying theory is futile and that when the time comes, they will deliver!  I am sure some might, but most wont. The reason is simple. Human beings are creatures of habit. Working and achieving is a habit and so is not working and failing. Our habits affect all aspects of our life. It is next to impossible to expect someone to deliver a sterling performance in the industry when the poor soul has not been able to get more than 60% marks ever!!

Then should all those who have scored less than 60% give up??? No…… They should make radical changes in how they work and study. If they keep doing the same things, the results will remain the same.

The changes can be many and in most cases, customised solutions will be needed. Till then, they can start by believing in themselves and start by developing the right “habits”!! One good way is to do the only job they have today. STUDY!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Woman and a Cat

Every morning I witness a piece of magic!

A middle aged Indian housewife walks up to the roof of her rather humble house to water the plants. There, she meets a cat and transforms into a beautiful young girl and both put up a riveting display of affection and playfulness! On days when the cat would not be there to greet her she waits for it, looks around impatiently and at times calls out to it. But when it is there, they meet like long lost friends and the metamorphosis of a regular middle aged Indian housewife into a happy young girl happens! Then as if answering to an unseen alarm bell, she transforms back to the serious, busy, unkempt self. Moments later, her family starts to emerge from their slumber. For the remainder of the day, this woman will remain the housewife she is and even though the cat will always be there, she would not even notice it! She cannot! She is a wife, a mother, she is responsible! Her family needs her to cook, wash, clean and not play with cats.

I do not know her or her family but I can see that she is a housewife and a mother of three. Socioeconomically, the family seems to be very close to what late Dr. C. K. Prahalad would describe as the bottom of the pyramid. Her husband never seems to be in a hurry and even though that is a state worth aspiring for, it is not a good sign if you actually have to earn your living in the current social setup. The kids I am sure go to school. Everybody goes to school in Kerala.

Back to the magic. Unlike her husband, I have never seen this woman at ease. Be it morning, noon or evening, I always see her busy with household chores. I have never seen her get ready or groom herself.  She is always dressed in a house gown which has seen better days. It is quite apparent that she does not step out of her house much and that she has enough on her hands to think about herself.

Not that it is a surprise; the job of a full time homemaker is one of the most thankless jobs a woman can be in India. We all know how deprecatory the title ‘housewife’ can be made to sound. Even the most liberal minds around me have at times made statements that reveal a moderate version of Mr. Mohan Bhagwat’s application of the theory of social contract to explain the institution of marriage. Even though Mr. Bhagwat was criticised for his suggestion that it is only natural that women remain at home and look after the household, the idea finds sympathy in a very large percentage of Indians.

Such beliefs in a predominantly masculine testosterone driven society ensures that we bring up our girls as passive, mute receivers of whatever our society chooses for them. The past few weeks have seen vigorous debate and discussion on women’s issues. Admittedly, problems are there and the good news is sections of the society seem to be looking for a solution for many of them.

But in my opinion, even the call for gender equality irrigates the deeply entrenched feeling that women will need to be granted equality for they naturally are not. A woman sacrificing her career, her aspirations and desires for the sake of her family is considered normal and that I think is where the patronising attitude towards women stems from. So many successive generations have been brought up trained to ignore their feelings that now being submissive is almost second nature to women. Whatever may be your address, your income or howsoever understanding your spouse may be, the Indian woman has been told that she is the one who has to make sacrifices.

Maybe the housewife I see every day is happy the way she is. Maybe it is all her choice. But if it were, why does she don a glass slipper before the crack of dawn everyday and transform into this beautiful, happy, carefree girl who plays with her cat?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What the blind see....

Why is he happy??? He is always smiling. An almost apologetic, sloppy grin! The worn out, out of style dark glasses and the white cane tells me that he is blind and shouldn't that make him sad, angry and maybe frustrated..... Anything but happy.

He walks everyday from the railway station to where ever it is he works and I often see him at a rather busy and tricky crossroad. Kerala boasts of enviable literacy rates in India but all that education does not seem apparent on the road. The traffic here is chaotic at best and murderous on days.

He walks through this impatient chaos everyday. I try to imagine myself on these roads with my eyes closed and quite frankly, I don't really 'see' much to smile about! Even otherwise, isn't blindness a good enough reason for someone to be miserable enough to stop smiling? Look at us. We find it so difficult to smile! 'There has to be a reason....' says a colleague with 6/6 vision.

So...... We with the gift of sight do not see enough reasons to keep smiling but a blind man does! Hmmm....

Monday, November 22, 2010

For All Parents and Teachers

Let me begin with a thought I just had, "Aren't all parents, teachers too?!??" We may not have asked for that job but my experience as a parent has taught me that "being a teacher" comes with the turf!

I read a statistic on news site today and in my opinion, if there is one statistic worth worrying about, this may be it.

I am thankful to the almighty that I got to live in times when children were free. Free to live out their childhood to the hilt! Some of us were good in sports, some in academics; some were born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouth, some from rather humble families, some aspiring doctors, engineers and some like me....... with a new aspiration every week......

But despite such diversity, we had one thing in common; we all had a happy & carefree childhood.

Is it possible that in our quest for to ensure a brighter future for our children we may be unwittingly offloading our unrealized goals and aspirations on their shoulders?

Even if we are not, could we have allowed pressures of extreme competition to affect our children? Is it possible that we may not even know our kids any more? Do we talk to them? Or Do we “tell” them or may be “instruct” them?

Is it possible that the trials and tribulations of a free market economy may have made us overlook festering emotional sores in our young ones? Do our children talk to us or do seek the comfort of faceless digital networks?

Why does CBSE have a helpline for emotionally stressed students every year before and during the boards? Why did a student in class four tell me that she lacked confidence? Who told her that? Because when I asked her if she knew what the word “confidence” meant, she did not.

Why do kids in schools and colleges make a beeline to the “counselor’s” office at the drop of a hat? Why do schools and colleges need to hire “trained” psychologists to “take care of the children”? Weren’t we the parents and teachers supposed to that?

When did we outsource parenting?

Am I being paranoid, making a mountain out of a molehill? Or do we really need to look carefully at our parenting and teaching.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Letter to Indian News Channels!

Dear Indian News Channels

Let me begin by placing on record my gratitude for the proactive reporting you guys have been doing for some time now. Although at times I have felt that your coverage of issues is rather selective and sometimes seems a bit biased to my untrained mind. But today I am writing to share some concerns I have had for quite some time now.

My brief experience with you guys showed me that what news will be carried and what perspective will be presented was always decided by the political affiliations of our masters. It was a rude realization that the fourth estate was not free at all! The masters were an eclectic collection of socio-economic institutions controlling either political power or money. I have seen how you compromised standards of your profession to metamorphosise into the vengeful vigilantes you guys have come to be known as today. I must admit that your proactive activism did bring cases and issues into the limelight and hasten their conclusion. But I often wonder whether this activist approach to journalism is your true nature or whether you are selective about the wrongs you choose to highlight.

Take the Commonwealth Games as a case in point. Despite the fact that you have done a commendable job in revealing the underbelly of the Indian democracy, is it also not a fact that you have conveniently chosen to ignore many human aspects of the story. Why were the story of forced eviction of the urban poor not highlighted more than the mere passing references which you may given. You went to London to uncover the tracks of corruption but did you find out what happened to the people we drove out of Delhi? Why did you not cover the pseudo ghettos crated to cover the ugly sores of humanity that we otherwise see and disregard everyday in cities across India? Why was the issue of possible pool contamination not highlighted? Why was the mishap with the Ugandan team just given a cursory reference? Why did you wait for the Sports Minister to formally apologise to the team before you spoke a word about it? Why is a team accusing us of all things, racism? And why are we not overly concerned about the accusation? Is it possibly because of the wrong skin colour the said team sports? Had it been an Australia or an England rather than a Uganda, would your coverage have been more intense? I think yes it would have been so. Not even you it seems are free from the national obsession for Justify Fullthe fair skin! When you behave in this fashion, do we even need to wonder why the best business in India are the ones that can either make you fairer or can teach you English!

I do not condone terrorism in any form and I do not condone violence by Maoists but take a look at your coverage of the Maoist problem. Have we not successfully (and somewhat justifiably, I admit) demonized a large chunk of the citizens of our country? I do watch news daily and I do not remember a single program that presented their side of the story. I am sure even you will admit that the biggest mistake the Maoists are making if that have not hired a good PR agency out of Delhi! The result is that almost everyone I meet knows that there is a “Maoists problem” and that “Maoists are terrorists”. But when asked about what could have triggered such a movement, no one seems to have any idea of the injustices meted out by the land mafia and mining mafia. And for some reason no one seems too comfortable dwelling upon the fact that such widespread plunder can never occur without active support from the state governments and a criminal disregard by the center. Then why do we wonder why the youth in Kashmir or the North East or Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh feel wronged enough to pick up the gun?

I must say that I am getting tired of your pseudo nationalism too! I quit watching one you only because of the rather accusatory tone one gentleman uses while talking to guests on his talk shows! It is an embarrassment to see you be so judgmental and your propensity to pass verdicts! If you have the conviction to invite a Pakistani on air and then use your show to accuse him rather than ask or talk to him, then have enough courage to get your ministers on air and ask them about fake encounters in Kashmir.

I can go on but I guess, I will leave you with a question a wonderful friend of mine has posed on her Blog ( Where the hell were you guys when the authorities were sleeping over the games???........... Don’t you think you guys woke up a bit too late???............... Have you guys woken up at all?....... And if indeed you have woken up, could you be responsible enough to show us what "should" be shown rather than what the establishment allows you to? And for God's sake Arnab, watch BBC for a couple of days and observe how they interview people!!

With regards
Ashish K. Pillai

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Letter to Dr. Lalit Bhanot

Dr. Lalit K. Bhanot
Secretary General
Organising Committee
Commonwealth Games 2010

Sub: A humble request

Dear Dr. Bhanot,

It is after a long time that I am feeling like this. As the Commonwealth Games 2010 approach, I am getting the same feeling I used to have as the Parent Teacher meet at my school would draw near! Never have felt such tangible fear of facing insult! I wish I am wrong but I fear that the games are going to be the greatest insult I have seen my country suffer at least in my life till today! But that is not what I am writing to you for…..

I on behalf of at least ten odd fellow citizens of India would like to place on record our humble request to be spared of the insults you are heaping on us. I mentioned “ten odd” as I have not been able to meet more and I assure you that anyone who reads your comments regarding the hygiene issues at the games village will probably feel hurt.

The issue is not the shoddy state of venues for an international event of such import. The issue is not even the ridicule the whole country has earned due to the way the OC has been handling the games so far. In fact the issue is not even the unmasking of corruption and the rot within the OC.

The issue is that when we have already been disrobed in front of the international community, you still have the gall to make ridiculous and downright insulting statements. I honestly on behalf of my fellow citizens would like you to explain what you meant when you said that the issues being raised about the horrible hygiene standards at the games village are actually non issues. And that too because this India and that our hygiene standards are different from what “they” expect.

I admit it Dr. Bhanot that hygiene standards in India are pathetic but do you really have to be proud of that and use it to justify the extreme incompetence your team has displayed. How can you even suggest that that "hygiene" in an Australia or an England means exactly what it is; cleanliness and in India it means squalor and filth? And let us for a moment admit your patently insulting statement, don't you think that when we are inviting "them" we should prepare our home according to "them". Do we really have to highlight the filth we live in?

I am not sure what happens at your home, Dr. Bhanot but even we “unhygienic Indians” do not tolerate dog shit in our rooms and beds, paan spit on our walls and people urinating in our lawns.

Dr. Bhanot, I am sure you are a literate man! At least the prefix before your name suggests so! I request you to cross the divide between being literate and being educated. Let us not sweep the truth under the carpet. If you want to sweep any thing, I am sure there is plenty to sweep at the venues and the games village!

Bridges are falling, ceilings are collapsing, dog shit is stinking, the world is laughing and the Organising Committee is still singing “ALL IS WELL……”

Please stop insulting your country, pick up a mop and try to save what is left of this great nation’s pride.

Thank you.
Yours Sincerely,

Ashish K. Pillai