Restructuring MBA

It is now 60 years since the Ford Foundation and Carnegie Corporation report of the early 1960’s led to a new model for MBA programmes. This model widely adopted by top universities and still considered the conventional model for most programs today globally, introduced students to functional areas of business in their first year of study, whereas students then specialized in particular areas of interest in their second year. Just as a medical education without some kind of laboratory practice appears to ring hollow, the emerging MBA education model seemed unsatisfactory to the extent that it remained disconnected from real-world experience.

Whenever business schools or Management institutes, as they are more popularly called in India, have felt threatened by the heightened barrage of criticism over their irrelevance, they have taken ad hoc measures to counter this criticism, usually by adding new courses to their MBA curricula. While these types of curricular changes may appear responsive to the criticism that business schools have received of late, the fact remains that an MBA education as most commonly conceived of today fails to equip students with the skills, tools, and mindset that are required for them to succeed in both the current environment and the emergent future. Frequently, institutes have taken the “Social Butterfly” approach, attempting to casually expose students to as many disciplines as possible without spending time to develop deeper knowledge and understanding of the core disciplines. The result has been a widening of curriculum usually compensated by loss of depth in the core disciplines of business.

A study of the educational backgrounds of 2010’s Fortune 500 CEOs showed that only 174 of the 500 CEOs have MBAs, while 59 have law degrees. About 200 of these CEOs have no graduate degree, and 19 of these CEOs have not earned any college degree including 15 who are college dropouts. (D. Bradshaw in Financial Times, 15 November 2009, “The Business of Knowledge”). A  UK Commission for Employment and Skills study estimated that, out of 4.8 million managers in UK, only one out of every five managers had any kind of management education. [B.Burnsed in US News and World Report, 3 January 2011, “Where the Fortune 500 CEOs went to college”]

Most Management Institutes in India have tried to replicate the internal structures of the first set of IIMs which had imitated the then existing structures of their American mentors of the 1960’s. The world has changed over the last 60 years and the Indian Management Institutes have come of age in their own right.

Time has come when business management should become a profession analogous to medicine or law. Such professionalization would be based on a recognized body of knowledge and a wider commitment to the public good.

In short, a new conception of graduate business education is in order, as the current model for MBA programs, in all its different varieties, is widely perceived to be failing to deliver. If Management Institutes fail to renew themselves, then new educational venues will assuredly arise and meet demands that the large number of existing Management Institutes are no longer able to satisfy for students.

COVID-19 crisis provides a good opportunity to Management Institutes to reflect on their internal processes and structures and carry out the ever essential corrections, modifications and redesign in order to remain agile, lean, efficient and effective.

A Core of Academic knowledge which is essential for Conceptual Clarity of Decision Domains in Business Management needs to be inculcated. Management of Business comprises of comprehensive, integrated and entangled decision making encompassing the academic disciplines which are identified as –

  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Marketing
  • Operations
  • Survival, Growth and Sustainability

These are Core Academic Disciplines which a management institute should focus on and in-source the delivery of knowledge.

Since business operates in a context and there are academic disciplines which can improve the efficiency in decision making, Contextual Awareness and some dexterity in Decision making skills may help. These would be Non-Core Academic Disciplines for a management institute though they are, in their own right, large and core academic disciplines elsewhere. Non-Core Academic Disciplines, essential for Contextual Awareness and Decision making skills are identified as –

  • Accounting
  • Behavioural Sciences
  • Data Sciences & Information Systems
  • Economics
  • Geo-Politics and Socio-cultural Systems
  • Language & Communication
  • Legal Systems
  • Social Entrepreneurship
  • Statistical Methods & Operations Research

A management institute should focus on borrowing and outsourcing the best possible knowledge delivery in these disciplines but refrain from the lure of growing its own timber in these domains.

Typically, a 2-year MBA programme attracts younger, inexperienced, fresh from college graduates who have not likely had any prior experience or exposure to the principles and practice of business management. A postgraduate course like the MBA, for such students should follow a BUILD-UP model; wherein, building of context should precede building of concepts of business management.

In general, a 2-year MBA programme can be structured as 960 hours of contact; of which nearly two-thirds should be devoted to Core Academic Disciplines and only one-thirds should be devoted to Non-Core Academic Disciplines. A design template for such a structure is as below:

tab1

Normally, a one-year Executive MBA programme attracts students with 5-7 years of experience at workplace, after a college degree. They come to the MBA courses equipped with direct or indirect experience and exposure to the principles and practice of business management. An MBA for such students should follow a BREAK-DOWN model; wherein, the prior experience is conceptualized and concretised holistically before being broken down to its parts and context. In general, a 1-year Executive MBA programme may be structured as 640 hours of contact.

tab2

The MBA as most commonly taught is outdated and does not provide students with the knowledge, skills, experience, and mindset they need to lead organizations through the complexities and demands that largely define twenty-first century life. Hence, it is time for business school faculty, administration, and advisory boards to engage in some necessary soul-searching and self-examination, so that Management Institutes may collectively determine their future direction.

Management Institutes or B-schools need disruptive innovations in the MBA industry that comprise fundamental, nonlinear changes, something akin to personal computers replacing mainframes or Smartphones replacing personal cameras.

Implementing this new model will not be easy, for it is replete with revolutionary change. Making this or any other new model viable requires dynamic leadership at the level of the management institute and the support of regulators, universities of which the management institute is a constituent, advisory and governing boards, and above all the faculty of the business school. The obstacle to innovation is the unwillingness of business schools to abandon their current programmes and attendant established practices of teaching, systems for rewarding the faculty, and pools of students that an institute attracts. Such change appears frightening to many within the academia.

In fact, the most difficult task would likely involve winning the cooperation of business school faculty, who often are comfortable with the inertia of existing arrangements. Nonetheless, the entrenched traditions related to faculty-department-structures and teaching norms will have to be challenged for the survival and growth of management institutes.

(First Published 18.06.2020)

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To ensure the quality of the discussion, comments may be edited for clarity, length, and relevance. Comments that are overly promotional, mean-spirited, or off-topic may be deleted.

Published by

Mukul Gupta

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

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