Beneath the Mask of a B-School

The majority of students in MBAs and similar degrees come to university or institutions, with no particular interest in their programmes and no sense of how these might prepare them for future careers. Their sole motive seems often to improve a CV and get a better-paid job. The choice of a university or institutions is based on its “reputation” which is measured through campus placement records and compensation packages.

Many students spend modest time studying. The average time spent on what is supposed to be full-time higher education has been observed to be as low as 14 to 15 hours per week. This is in addition to spending, on average, 14-15 hours per week in class. Balance of their discretionary-time is spent on socialising with friends, using computers for fun, watching television, exercising, and in pursuing hobbies.

When one asks these students in informal settings why they had chosen to do an MBA, usually there are only two responses: either “to earn as much money as possible” or “don’t know but everyone is doing an MBA”. These two answers seem to illustrate two major problems for contemporary business students more broadly.

One is an instrumental and opportunistic attitude to higher education among many while the other is that many students are drifting through higher education without a clear sense of purpose.

Business-education in particular has become increasingly market oriented. The idea that students are to be regarded as a customer, even in supposedly strictly non-commercial contexts, is becoming increasingly common. This has resulted in a high level of expectations and at the same time has probably contributed to the erosion of work and study morality. There are other pieces to this puzzle as well, including shortages of funding, students working part-time, research-focused academics viewing teaching as something to minimise, large and anonymous factory-like institutions, and expensive accreditation leading to managerialism, standardisation and much “box ticking”.

In a consumer culture, market fundamentalists sometimes believe that consumer satisfaction drives quality but this may lead to a less demanding workload, fairly easy course content, entertainment in class and generous grading plus the allocation of resources by universities and institutions to non-educational arrangements (sports, counselling, career advice and so on). At many places more resources go into “Placement and student service” and administration than teaching.

Business education’s claim to be a competence-raising institution can, like many other things, must be understood as partly illusionary. The expanded business-education sector can be seen as an arrangement of doubtful substance but high on symbolic and signal value. It is a legitimising structure that gives some credibility to the knowledge society’s claims and protects such claims from careful scrutiny.


 

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Mukul Gupta

*Educator, researcher, author and a friendly contrarian* Professor@MDIGurgaon

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