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....