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!


Anu said...

The concept of Quality versus Quantity has taken a back seat.The number game being played by the business schools or other private institutions is hampering the progress and also the demand for a quality workforce in the industry. The main thought which is sauntering in this entire wrongdoing of imparting education is the bulk production of unemployable pseudo MBA's all over the country. Only statements are being made like introduction of grading systems for Business schools just to filter out the good lot out of the whole. But still the gap has widened between the statements being released and the actions or deeds being performed. In the end management market will remain profitable like this following the same route of creating MBA's...Then there should be employability also ,even if the product does'not meet the quality levels being demanded by the industry..

Ashish Pillai said...

Anu... in most private colleges and universities, the quest for quantity has definitely overshadowed the quest for quality but exceptions do exist. I am fortunate enough to have begun my teaching career at one such college which has been able to demonstrate that the focus on quality delivery need not be sacrificed for admissions.

Sumit Saxena, who was a student of mine at IBS Chandigarh mentions of Shiv Nadar university as an example of a university focused on quality.

I shall be writing of the college I mentioned soon.