B-schools should prepare students to build learning habits, since most of the knowledge acquired becomes obsolete within the first few years at work
Let’s start with a quiz. How do we rate the effectiveness of TV programs? The Target Rating Point (or TRP) indicates the popularity of a TV channel/program in a particular channel. The TRP measure helps advertisers decide which TV channels and programs they want to place their advertisements in.
How do we rate the effectiveness of business schools? Should we judge a B-school by the kind of jobs the students are offered, or the quality of research publications or, the caliber of students that the B-school is able to attract? Ideally, B-schools should select students who show the potential to perform managerial tasks. That would ensure that graduating students are highly employable, but that is clearly not the case.
The problem of plenty
Nearly 300,000 students take the CAT and other entrance tests every year. The number of MBA seats in India has grown almost four-fold from 94,704 in 2006-07 to 3,52,571 in 2011-12, resulting in a 5-year compounded annual growth rate of 30 percent. More than 3,500 B-schools offer nearly 2,75,000 seats for admission to an MBA program.
It is interesting to note that while the number of providers of MBA degrees has proliferated, the employability of freshly minted MBAs has dropped. Only 21 percent of MBAs were found to be employable in the latest MeritTrac-MBAUniverse.com report. Just 5 years back, the percentage of employable MBAs was estimated to be 25 percent. That was not a great report card either. Getting a “better” (read high paying) job is the single biggest reason for many students to do an MBA. In that case, improving employability of MBAs should be in the interest of the students to pursue.
So what is going wrong?
No focus on soft skills: The CAT evaluates applicants on quantitative skills, analytical skills and some language skills. That may be a good approach to understand who will be able to better comprehend the material being taught in the classrooms, but it does not test for what the students will need to do after they graduate. Daniel Goleman has long since stated that IQ accounts for only between 4% and 25 % of an individual’s job success, whereas emotional competence (self-awareness, self-regulation & motivation) is twice as important as purely cognitive abilities in the workplace.
Change in the admissions procedure: If the workplace demands emotional competence, is it not natural to screen applicants to B-schools on this basis and then develop these through the curriculum? While the world in which students need to operate has changed drastically, the admission criteria to the program has remained static.
Focus on building depth: Every now and then, some recruiter will walk in and tell the students that they need to get more “practical knowledge” and less of theory. Guess what – the academic institutions are meant to teach students deep theoretical constructs. That should be 80 percent of the input in the classroom. The rest has to be perspectives of how to apply that theory in different settings. A B-school is not a ‘Trade School’ that focuses only on the practical skills. So, there is no need to be apologetic about building academic rigor in the curriculum.
And breadth: Imagine a hospital that hires a freshly graduating medical student who has a broad idea that there “roughly 200 odd bones” (there are 206 bones in adults as we all know) in the human body, out of which he has to focus on operating eight or ten that generate the maximum revenue for the hospital!
In a B-school, for a course on compensation, students must understand all possible principles on which compensation is designed. It is only then that they can understand why their employer should continue the existing model or bring in changes. Depth and breadth of knowledge will help them grasp the issues faster and also equip them to find solutions that have not been tried before.
Rethink curriculum: My recommendation would be to re-examine the curriculum design as well as instructional design to constantly update the teaching methodology and technology used in the classroom. B-schools should prepare students to build learning habits, since most of the knowledge acquired becomes obsolete within the first few years at work. The B-schools should also experiment with students, taking some of the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and then have professors as well as peers assess their learning. Very few B-schools teach students how to hire and coach others, and yet most managers have to hire and coach on a regular basis.
Instructional design skills: Instructional design skills can be a great differentiator in enhancing teaching effectiveness. The common assumption is that every subject can be taught in the same 90 minute segment over 30 sessions. Some subjects may need more time to comprehend while some others may need a different methodology. Teaching in B-schools requires a person to have a cross functional knowledge base. Most professors are still masters of just their own subject.
Curriculum design: Some B-schools have experimented with two different professors teaching the same subject, thus bringing in unique perspectives. For instance, when the professors of Finance and Human Resources teach a course together, it helps students understand the financial implications of the people decisions. It teaches students the human side of a business decision as well. Isn’t that how the real world operates?
Industry perspective: The classroom inputs should get supplemented with practitioners from different sectors. B-schools must incentivize professors to publish findings of their research in well-known international journals.
Leverage technology: If some of the best professors and thinkers offer their courses for free online, shouldn’t B-schools rethink their approach to teaching? Professors could now ask students to attend some of the online classes as a pre-requisite to attending a class in campus to ensure more time is spent understanding the nuances of the subject.
Drawing the analogy of TRP ratings in the backdrop of the above factors, which a B-school must pay attention to, the ratings of management education have been dropping. This could be a great opportunity to re-examine how to re-engage a bored audience.
Think about it.