Perceptual Authenticity of B-Schools

Business schools train their students in specialised fields: management and economics. Over time, their alumni often reach high positions in the business world. Higher visibility of a b-school is often a result of the age of the b-school coupled with its presence in the media – whether earned or bought.

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More often than not, increase in visibility of a b-school is also triggered by unpleasant incidents like questionable administrative overheads; mal-practices of teachers and students like plagiarism; moonlighting and conflicts of interest between private consulting and research by the professors; allegations of misconduct by alumni in management positions; offenses against academic and social integrity; and so on.

Of the 3000 plus legitimate (within the legal framework) b-schools in India, some 300 of them have visibility beyond their location.  The legitimacy is provided by the approval to their existence being granted by AICTE, an institution with deficient capacity, suspect calibre and lack of imagination at least in so far as the Business-Management education is concerned.

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Many among these B-schools have been making “me-too” investments in topics such as ethics, sustainability and responsibility. Naturally therefore, these values have begun to act as elements of their own public self-description. It is only fair that both the public and the media check these schools and their representatives, especially school leadership and professors, against these self-imposed high standards.

Positive news from the private sector has become rather a rare phenomenon in the last few years. In the media, top managers are often presented as technocrats maximising their company’s wealth and their own earnings. A failing top manager is an easy prey for the journalists. The rhetoric of ethics, sustainability and responsibility is not lived up to in research, teaching and practice, and b-schools can easily – and rightly – be reproached with paying lip service to key values of the 21st century.

Most of these “top” b-schools operate in a space that is remote from social realities of the country. They function like closed entities. They try to set high admission thresholds for students and thereby promote “elitism.”

Barring an exceptional few, most of these B-schools have been in a rat race of seeking accreditation from “Gora sahib” agencies. In confirming to the expectations of such accreditation agencies, many b-schools are insanely chasing “internationalisation” as called for by and others which is taking its toll. For “internationalisation” a b-school is expected to have a considerable share of international students, international professors and even international administrative staff. This raises a social and political question whether a b-school should chase “internationalisation” when contact between “normal” citizens of the region, their students and graduates, and the b-school is rather limited.

These are not merely theoretical propounding.  There are interesting cases like the Management Development Institute in Gurgaon which is a pioneer in seeking and succeeding in obtaining the AMBA accreditation from UK. While the b-school is third time reaccredited by AMBA, it has suffered deterioration in its domestic accreditation by the National Board of Accreditation (NBA).

Most IIMs are chasing international Accreditations like the EQUIS, AMBA and AACSB but none of them is willing to be subjected to NBA. Within the domestic system, they are the “Bada Sahibs” who control the NBA, dominate its policies and systems but never undergo self-tests. And then there are the coveted b-schools like the FMS or the IIFT or DMS-IIT which seek no accreditation, domestic or international, yet succeed through protecting their social legitimacy.

Many of the B-schools of high visibility are capable of handling normal questioning from the media. They may not be prepared for a serious problem, very often starting with a single and sometimes minor issue, in which social and public media identify a narrative pattern that can lead to scandal.

If a business school has an excellent national and international reputation, delivers relevant results in research, and attracts talented students, it will be able to cope with negative headlines over a certain period of time. However, bad news can severely harm a weak brand. Given the right light, more public scrutiny should increase the social legitimacy of b-schools.

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Advertising to children in the schools

Children in India spent more than Rs 220 Billion, given to them as pocket money during 2016. This amount was more than the GDP of 52 small countries which included Maldives and Bhutan.  Cartoon channel Pogo had conducted a survey on the pocket money of the kids in the country. The ‘Turner New Generation 2016’  study was conducted in all major cities and also places with more than 1 lakh population. This study had covered 6,690 respondents, including 7-14 year kids and parents of 4-14.

As per this study, 52% of the kids were receiving pocket money. The average pocket money received by the kids was Rs. 555/- per month. This amount had doubled over the last four years since a similar survey conducted by Pogo in 2012 had estimated the average pocket money of kids at Rs. 275/- per month then.  (https://www.financialexpress.com/economy/pocket-money-of-kids-in-india-more-than-gdp-of-52-countries-says-pogo-study/757331/ )

These children were not only buying products as toys, clothes, candy, and snacks but also saving up for big ticket purchases.  Children were found influencing the purchases made by their parents for microwave ovens (57%), washing machines (58%), refrigerators (62%), televisions (68%), mobiles (64%), cars (66%) and even the choices of travel destinations (78%); which may add up to at least Rs. 3000 Billion in parental purchases. 71 percent children had personal mobiles as well as other electronic gadgets with them. (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/wealth/spend/kids-pocket-money-up-100-since-2012-turner-international-india-study/articleshow/53238075.cms)

Children are buyers themselves, they are major influencers of their parents’ purchases, and they are future adult consumers. As future adults, children are potential consumers for all goods and services. Children therefore attract many advertisers.

During the last 50 years, Indian children got their own foods/snacks and clothing brands and such high-ticket items as video games and other high-tech products besides dedicated TV networks.

New advertising strategies aimed at children steadily proliferate. Linking their products to educational goals, advertisers have reached into the schools by sponsoring such activities as literacy programmes, reading projects, anti-drug campaigns, and communication skills training, while rewarding students for good performance with coupons for products and free meals. In-school advertising and examples of in-school commercialism can be put into four categories:

  1. In-school ads that can be seen on hoardings, on school buses, on scoreboards, and in school galleries. In-school ads include ads on book covers. Advertising is also found in product coupons and in give-aways that are distributed in schools.
  2. Ads in classroom materials include any commercial messages in printed materials or video programming used in school.
  3. Sponsored educational materials include free or low-cost items which can be used for instruction. These teaching aids may take the form of multimedia teaching kits, CDs/DVDs, software, books, posters, reproducible activity sheets, and workbooks.
  4. Contests and incentive programs bring brand names into the schools along with the promise of such rewards as free pizzas, cash, and points toward buying educational equipment, or trips and other prizes.

Although some educators defend the use of commercially produced materials as a way of providing useful supplements to the curriculum or as a way of raising funds and building needed bridges to businesses, other educators oppose it, fearing that market values may, for the most part, take the place of democratic values in the schools. Those who defend the trend argue that commercialism is highly prevalent throughout our society and a bit more advertising in the schools should not adversely affect students. On the other hand, many educators do not want to participate in offering up students as a captive audience.

In dealing with the issues of in-school commercialism, a three-pronged approach may be considered:

  1. Reviewing all sponsored materials and activities and holding them to the same standards as other curriculum items.
  2. Pursuing non-commercial partnerships with businesses and rejecting the notion that it is ethical to bring advertising into the schools to provide materials or funds to bolster dwindling budgets.
  3. Beginning the teaching of media literacy in elementary school, to help educate children to be critical readers of advertising, propaganda, and other mass-mediated messages, while helping them gain the skills to be intelligent, aware consumers.

With the expanding presence of advertising targeted to younger and younger children, schools have become involved in serving up students as captive audiences to advertisers. It is time to pause and reflect on the appropriateness of various kinds of connections between businesses and schools, and the influence those connections might have on the integrity of education in a democracy. Although traditionally there have been links between business and education in this country, commercialism in schools has recently skyrocketed. The overall goal of collaboration between businesses and schools should be for business leaders, educators, parents, and government officials to work together “…to embrace practical, responsible approaches that will protect the educational integrity of our school systems.

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AICTE: A Regulator Which Failed Management Education

All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) is a noble ideal but a flawed institution. AICTE, an advisory body established in 1945, was converted into a statutory and a regulatory body in 1987. In nearly 30 years of its statutory existence, AICTE has not been able to achieve anything of significance in pursuit of even one out of its three mandated objectives (1) Promotion of Quality in Technical Education (2) Planning and Coordinated Development of Technical Education System; and (3) Regulations and Maintenance of Norms and Standards.

AICTE has only emerged as a licensing body (legacy of license/quota raj of Industrial Development and Regulation Act carried over to the field of education) approving setting up new Technical Institution offering Technical Programme at Diploma/ Post Diploma/ Degree/ Post Graduate Degree/ Post Graduate Diploma Level in the disciplines of Engineering and Technology, Architecture, Town Planning, Management, Pharmacy, and Applied Arts and Crafts. There is a major outlier in this scheme of things which causes a major policy aberration. While most programmes seeking approvals in Management are at the Masters or postgraduate level; they are at Bachelors or undergraduate level for rest of the disciplines. Even in terms of ‘design-thinking’ engineering and technology is a ‘craft of rationality’ while management is a ‘craft of irrationality.’

AICTE has recently created a buzz around ‘out-come based learning objectives’ and National Board of Accreditation has become the noise-amplifier for the buzz. Out-Come Based Education is a concept more suited to upper-secondary-level vocational skills training and lower-tertiary-level technical education and surely is out of place in any post-graduate education. It is disheartening to note how blindly and mindlessly, this buzz is being pushed around. It is equally disheartening to see how Gurus and teachers fall on their knees before the Ministers and bureaucrats in the Ministry of Human Resource Development to catch their eyes. It is even more disturbing to see the Ministers and bureaucrats enjoying their Gurus and teachers going supine before them; for it leaves a feeling that these Ministers and bureaucrats were never educated. This is happening in a land where we take hypocritical pride in teaching our children –

“गुरुर्ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णु र्गुरुर्देवो महेश्वरः। गुरु साक्षात परब्रह्मा तस्मै श्रीगुरवे नमः॥”  and

“गुरू गोविन्द दोऊ खड़े, काके लागूं पांय। बलिहारी गुरू अपने गोविन्द दियो बताय॥” 

May be the NCERT and the MHRD should purge such content from the textbooks? May be those who did not receive such education rise on to become successful Ministers and bureaucrats and others are left behind to be subservient Gurus and teachers who would prostate and beg before the new Gods of Indian democratic society.

Keeping all operational and leadership issues like dys-functionalities and corruption aside which have become the hallmark of AICTE, major policy and design flaws like over-dependence on Engineering and Technology disciplines in staffing and leadership positions; and treatment of delivery of education as an assembly line operation have resulted into more than 11000 unviable, small-scale, multiple factories producing ‘technical manpower’ which has no ‘fitness for use’ by the industry and society. [Just for reference, USA has less than 1500]. Is it not a truly socialistic distribution of licenses and advocacy for “Small is Beautiful” (apologies to Schumacher 1973)?

The biggest victim has been “Management” discipline and it has also been the biggest challenge to AICTE itself. For “Management” discipline, AICTE is already dead because those whom it was designed to regulate have resisted it by any means necessary. Through legal intervention, “Management” discipline has blunted every attempt by AICTE to regulate the admission tests, session-dates, fee-structure, curriculum, work-loads, and duration and nearly every other process in Management programmes. AICTE can do nothing about Institutions like the ISB Hyderabad-Mohali and Great Lakes Gurgaon who do not bother to seek any approval in spite of the law which prohibits such delinquency.

It would have been far better to keep ‘Management’ discipline out of the purview of AICTE and entrust this domain to a separate and another body which could be called the “All India Council for Management Education” or better still confer similar statutory powers as were conferred on to an erstwhile advisory body AICTE to the similarly existing advisory body, “All India Board of Management Studies” which was sort of amalgamated within the AICTE.

The AICTE’s leaders have, in addition, not held themselves to particularly high standards. They indulge in nepotism, curry favours from the institutions they licence and never forgo a chance to preside over the social events of their licensees conferring undeserved legitimacy on to them. “Conflict of Interest” does not belong to the lexicon of this institution. Even worse for its credibility are the allegations about a culture of bribery and misdoing by the staff of AICTE who do not take action on genuine complaints made against delinquent institutions but are happy to make life hell for others on receipt of political nudge. People making allegations may be no angels; still, the evidence deserves an impartial review.

AICTE is ineffective, unaccountable and overly political. In practice, All India Council for Technical Education is a failed institution.

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Delayed Education Policy* विलंबित शिक्षा नीति**

Today’s world is signified by the mutual union of two important trends: faster development of technology, and faster growth (and better reach) of information and knowledge equally. Linear Progress – go to college first; get a bachelor’s degree; then earn the first job where you can learn job-based skills; and then only go and become a productive employee- this arrangement is no longer sufficient. For the graduates to arrive at the very first job, equipped with special disciplinary or subject-matter skills, job related skills, and soft skills is increasing, since they are now expected to be up and running on the day of their arrival.

Many recent surveys show that 70-80 percent of students graduate without special job skills. Employers complain about the lack of preparation for even entry level jobs. About 70 percent of the employers say they are not able to find people with the skills needed for entry-level jobs. The traditional model of higher education, focusing on the development of educated citizens – even if not completely broken still, is not far from breaking.

Adjustment of the higher education system to the labour-employment market, nimble and flexible education programs, customised delivery of education according to the needs of the individual, creation of right personality traits and the ability to focus better, combining academic experience with lifelong learning, these are the top-priority action points which are apparent even without the so called extensive analysis by the ‘group of experts.’

Moving forward from the discipline focussed higher education to the inter-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary education was the development witnessed in the last century. In the 21st century, academic curriculum will need to focus on effectively integrating skill development with disciplinary knowledge.

Competent, enabled, efficient and effective higher education system needs equally competent, motivated, efficient, innovative, curious and committed teachers who are in a perpetual mode of learning. It is necessary to improve teachers’ qualifications and competence rather than diluting the established norms of entry to the vocation. A policy adventure of the recent kind wherein just to enable easy entry into higher education jobs, even the entry level marks for SC/ST candidates for admission into PhD programmes were scaled downwards is just dirty politics. Such kind of policy disposition will be suicidal for the future of the country.

We want to a send a manned-space-mission to the moon in 40-45 months but we cannot make a National Education Policy in 18-20 months – What an irony?

Or is it that being in politics needs no education and therefore good education is never a political priority, notwithstanding the fact that education space is always captured by the politicians.

* The Committee to design a new National Education policy was setup by the Ministry of HRD on 24.06.17. Extensions in its tenure have been granted on 27.12.2017, 06.04.2018, 20.06.2018, 28.08.2018 and 31.10.2018. It is so unfortunate that the policy makers never undertake any proactive policy making; and when they do get down to reactive policy making, by the time they make a draft policy, the world has already move so far ahead.

 

** Hindi version follows below:

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विलंबित शिक्षा नीति

दो महत्वपूर्ण प्रवृत्तियों के आपसी मिलन से आज की दुनिया परिभाषित है: प्रौद्योगिकी का तेज़ विकास, और सूचना और ज्ञान के समान रूप से तेज़ विकास (और बेहतर पहुंच)। इस दुनिया में एक  सीधी रेखा में प्रगति – पहले कॉलेज जाओ;  फिर स्नातक उपाधि पाओ; फिर पहली नौकरी ढूंढो जहां नौकरी-आधारित कौशल सीखने को मिले; और तब जा कर एक उत्पादक कर्मचारी बनो,  यह व्यवस्था अब पर्याप्त नहीं है। स्नातक के लिए अपनी पहली नौकरी पर विषय विशेष में प्रतिभा, नौकरी से संबंधित कौशल, और मानवीय कौशल के साथ ही आने की मांग बढ़ रही है, क्युंकि नौकरी के पहले ही दिन से घोड़ॆ समान दौड़ने वाले कर्मचारी की आवश्यकता है, ना कि नौसिखिये की।

अनेक हालिया सर्वेक्षण में बताया गया है कि 70-80 प्रतिशत स्नातक विशिष्ट नौकरी कौशल के बिना ही स्नातक हो जाते हैं। यहां तक ​​कि प्रवेश स्तर की नौकरियों के लिए भी तैयारी की कमी की शिकायत नियोक्ता करते हैं। लगभग 70 प्रतिशत नियोक्ता कहते हैं कि वे प्रवेश स्तर की नौकरियों के लिए भी आवश्यक कौशल वाले लोगों को नहीं ढूंढ पा रहे हैं। शिक्षित नागरिक के विकास पर केंद्रित उच्च शिक्षा का पारंपरिक मॉडल – अगर पूरी तरह टूटा नहीं है तो भी टूट के कगार पर है।

उच्च शिक्षा तंत्र का श्रम-रोजगार बाजार से समायोजन, तेजी और लचीले शिक्षा कार्यक्रम, निजी आवश्यकता के अनुरूप शिक्षा दे पाना, व्यक्तित्व भाव उत्पन्न कर अकादमिक अनुभव से सम्मिलाप करना और आजीवन सीखने पर अधिक ध्यान देने के साथ बेहतर करने की आवश्यकता है।

पिछली शताब्दी में विषय से आगे बढ़ – अंतःविषय, बहु-विषय और विषय-अतिरेक शिक्षण के विकास को देखा गया। 21 वीं शताब्दी में, अकादमिक पाठ्यक्रम में कौशल विकास को प्रभावी ढंग से एकीकृत करने पर ध्यान केंद्रित करने की आवश्यकता होगी।

उच्च शिक्षा तंत्र को सक्षम बनाना है, तो शिक्षकों का सक्षम होना बहुत आवश्यक है। शिक्षकों की अहर्ताएं और माप-दण्डों को सुधारने की आवश्यकता है, न कि अनुसूचित जाति-जनजाति के शिक्षकों को अधिक अवसर देने कि चक्कर में जैसा हाल ही में मलिन और सरल किया गया। इस तरह की नीतिगत छिछोरपन देश के भविष्य के लिये आत्मघाती होगा।

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Hello B-Schools! This is your Wake Up Call !!

The World Development Report 2019, of which a draft has now been placed in the public domain, is focussing on ‘The Changing Nature of Work’ and contains some uncomfortable truths.

It is true that in some advanced economies and middle-income countries manufacturing jobs are being lost to automation. Workers involved in routine tasks that can be “coded to machine language” are most vulnerable to replacement. However, technology provides opportunities to create new jobs, increase productivity, and deliver effective public services. Through innovation, technology generates new sectors or tasks. The forces of automation and innovation will shape employment in the future.

Innovations are changing the basis of competition in many markets. This is also changing the business-critical roles — jobs which enable businesses to be differentiated for their competitors and deliver success while executing the business strategy. Businesses will be forced to rethink the talent they will need to play these business-critical roles in the future.

Investing in human capital is the priority to make the most of this evolving economic opportunity. Three types of skills are increasingly important in labour markets: advanced cognitive skills (such as complex problem-solving), socio-behavioural skills (like team work), and skill-combinations that are predictive of adaptability (e.g., reasoning, self-efficacy). Building these skills requires strong human capital foundations and lifelong learning.

For business schools, the implications are huge. If these changes are to take place in less than a decade, the challenge for business schools is to develop courses, programmes and initiatives that will align with business needs. Following decades of enthusiastic support, business schools now find themselves under attack for being irrelevant, inconsequential or of little real value in developing business leaders who can make a difference.

India’s complex economic environment, rising social expectations and fluctuating ideological shifts in the political space coupled with changes in student demands, technological advances and a cumbersome regulatory environment, and it’s clear that business schools are hard-pressed to structure a coherent formula to address all of this. Understanding the role of artificial intelligence in the future of work and creating flexible options for students with careers is not easy and makes the task of developing courses that adapt for these rapidly changing demands is daunting.

By positioning themselves as a partner for inclusive development, business schools could enhance their social licence among citizens and societal stakeholders. The business community views some of the business schools, unfortunately only a few of them, as beacons of excellence. A concentrated, coherent and thoughtful engagement with society and the business community could yield favourable results. Other challenge includes dealing with the “commoditisation” of management education through “Micro-specialised-Masters” supposedly designed to address “specific” needs. Unless business schools manage costs in a leaner way, adopt more efficient delivery models, examine educational-tourism as a potentially lucrative revenue stream and form strategic collaborations, they will find it harder to fashion a winning strategy to address the long-term needs of business.

Expect the ‘pecking-order’ and the face of business schools to look very different indeed by 2028.


 

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No More the Quality of Education, It’s the Calibre of Students that is Making the Institutions Premier

What is the probability of an aspirant getting admitted in to a top IIM or a top IIT? No marks for guessing – it is less than one percent. Stated in other words, assuming (suspiciously) that the entrance exams JEE and CAT are capable of evaluating what is being sought to be evaluated, the probability that one who has been admitted to a top IIM or a top IIT belongs to the positive outlier zone of the mean calibre of the applicants.

Unfortunately, the same is not true for the calibre of the faculty who teaches at a top IIM or a top IIT. The education and teaching imparted is nearly as good or as bad as it is at the other top-ranked peer institutions. [this ranking of institutions as premier, tier-I, tier-II etc., is a caste system leading to an interesting aberration in the job market where employers end up hiring institutions rather than individuals; but more on this institutional caste-system some other time]. Not many would have the courage to acknowledge it in public, but many stakeholders associated with these so called top-rung institutions do acknowledge in private about quality-problems with the process of imparting education at their institutions.

Part of the quality problem is due to a low level of requirements in many subjects and the below average capability of the faculty engaged in such delivery. For the most part, the only, crucial, form of evaluation is assessments of student, which are more an expression of student satisfaction rather than a reflection of the quality of the education provided. There is an in-built incentive for mediocre teachers to use less-demanding course content or not be strict or demanding in assessments of performances of student. If the students are paying substantial fees there is an additional pressure to ensure that “the customers” are satisfied and to avoid reducing the market by failing students with weak results.

Institutions, programmes and courses that have low standards achieve a high student completion rate and are rewarded accordingly. Courses, specially the electives, that have a reputation for being demanding may also be less appealing to students and lead to fewer applicants.

It might be supposed that many institutions want to maintain high standards in order to improve their reputation with employers and ambitious students. But “student satisfaction” is not the same as high standards in terms of qualification output. A study of students’ ratings of lecturers’ show that people on courses assessed to be easy rather than difficult gave higher scores to their lecturers.

Another problem is lack of motivation amongst student to acquire knowledge. Their motivation for hard work at the pre-admission stage is in seeking the admission. Once admitted, failing in the programme of study need more delinquencies than the inadvertent effort put in here and there that suffices to succeed. The students in the institution are motivated only to grab the crème of job-offers that flow in quite unaffected by a limited study-input of many students but by the momentum of ranking and reputation.


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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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Conversion of B-schools into Businesses

Business Schools were set up in late 19th century as vocational trade schools. The studies of the Ford Foundation and Carnegie foundation had provided 64% of all grants to US universities both for new initiatives and for existing institutions and thus their money has had tremendous influence over the direction of education.

After the Second World War, both the Carnegie and Ford Foundations felt that business schools needed to professionalise and grow beyond their origins. Importantly, in the midst of the Cold War poor-quality business education was seen to threaten the health of the economy, democracy and the American way of life. The studies of the Ford Foundation and Carnegie foundation of 1959 led to their transformation from practical institutions into academic behemoths.

Schools were to professionalise, with faculty holding doctorates and producing graduate-level academic publications; students were to be taught quantitative methods and behavioural sciences – and only those academically qualified were to be admitted. Business schools all over the world started reinventing themselves to comply with such new expectations and the strings attached by the donors. And, while not obviously stated but clearly understood, schools were to have an anticommunist, pro-business and clearly capitalist orientation. This is the b-school model that India emulated.

The “storm” of rankings changed everything. In simple terms and for better or worse, the advent of rankings in 1987 marked the dawn of the era of business schools as businesses with the rules of the game laid down by the Foundation Studies. The U.S. News & World Report published a reputation survey of b-schools. Business Week published the first full business school assessment in 1998. Today there are other rankings provided by – Bloomberg BusinessWeek; Forbes, Financial Times, the Economist, and the Wall Street Journal.

India would not lag behind and there are now a plethora of rankings including those by Business-Today, Business India, Business World, ET, Business Standard, AIMA, MBAUniverse, Outlook, Careers360, and so on. Few people may remember what it was like before the rankings. It was a time when business schools could actually focus on improving the quality of their schools’ educational offerings. Discussions about strategic marketing were confined mostly to the marketing curriculum. PR firms were hired by businesses, not business schools. Most business schools had sufficient facilities, but few buildings had marble floors, soaring atriums, or plush carpeting. IIMs were affordable for most students, and even top MBA programs were accessible to students with high potential but low CAT/MAT scores.

What they teach and how they teach has lost focus for the leadership at b-schools. Instead, they are chasing the new indicators of quality and success for b-schools as being determined by the rankings –

  1. applicant rejection rates (how difficult is it to get admission),
  2. placements (how quickly, how early, how many aspiring recruiters, number of job offers per available student and at what emoluments),
  3. rankings (playing upon the better ones out of so many available and suppressing the inferior ones as biased),
  4. Infrastructure (marble floorings, air-conditioning, cafeteria, LCD projectors, books in the library,
  5. Advisory councils (reflecting affiliations rather than the capability of the constituent members)
  6. faculty (their credentials rather than ability and availability to teach).

B-schools are now businesses with business-to-customer marketing practices in chasing students and business-to-business marketing in chasing potential recruiters. Executive education and consulting was always about business-to-business marketing.

B-schools are on the path of evolving into trading exchanges for the managerial-talent.


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Leadership Challenge for Indian Universities

In common with most of the public services during the last fifty years, higher education has felt enormous pressure on collective and individual morale, and suffered above average incidence of the impact of low morale (in, for example, extremely high – or extremely low – rates of turnover, and in the rates of stress-related illnesses). The objective causes of such problems are fairly easy to determine, and most can be traced to the effect of underfunded expansion multiplied by increased external scrutiny and accountability. Similarly, critics wishing to lay the cause of increased stress on management practice often ignore the evidence of stressors that start outside the workplace – or those that are, at least in this era, shared by other major employment sectors (such as reduced compensation – even in parity with civil services). None the less, morale is a key component of internal culture in higher education, and hence needs to be carefully analysed.

Maintaining the correct balance between quality research and learning/teaching, while the unit of resource continues to decline inexorably, is one of the key issues facing us all. The way around is the quality of leadership of the University. Management is about survival and ensuring the status quo. Leadership is about growth.

 

Management versus Leadership

There is an important difference between these two concepts. Stephen Covey, who has made a fortune out of his books revealing the habits of successful people, put it well when he said: “Management works in the system, leadership works on the system”.

Higher Education is a collaborative and structured dialogical encounter across asymmetries of authority. It is based on candid conversation that does not coincide with structures of power. How could educators be subordinated subjects of an educational system and yet become authoritative agents of educational leadership?

The key function of a Vice-Chancellor is to lead the University: to harness the social forces within it, to shape and guide its values, to build a management team, and to inspire it and others working in the university to take initiatives around a shared vision and a strategy to implement it. A Vice-Chancellor’s job involves both management and leadership, but the latter is more important than the former. A Vice-Chancellor should be an influencer and an enabler rather than a regulator and a controller.

 

Leadership and Change

Universities are not about ‘change’ – they are temples of knowledge tended by middle-aged men in crushed trousers who understand the laws of the universe. Universities aren’t part of society, reflecting the needs of the population – the sun-splashed ivory towers stand today as they always will. If we close our eyes, it will always be 1947 or 2017!

At the core of such cynicism is the issue of loyalty. Traditional academics do not regard themselves so much as working for a university as working in it. Asked for information about identity with various causes, they are likely to express greatest solidarity with the interests of a discipline, a slightly lower sense of fellow feeling with the (academic) members of a department, and only then a glimmer of ‘membership’ of the college or university. This value hierarchy is being assaulted over the past decades from a variety of fronts: from the changing map of knowledge, with its corrosion of disciplinary boundaries; from the emerging inter-professionalism of the academic enterprise – teaching as well as research.

Environment at the University needs to be one that fosters action to achieve excellence. All actions should be guided by a set of principle values. Values would ensure ethical actions. Actions without guiding values run the risk of trampling over the human and social good even if they produce the outcomes sought. There would need to be two sets of values – one that guides human collegial interactions and the other that would guide decisions and actions.

Principal values that the University needs to uphold in its interactions would be –

  • Love (and not poverty of intimacy)
  • Service of others (and not poverty of spirit)
  • Joy (and not poverty of loneliness)
  • Peace (and not poverty of sanctity of life)
  • Critical openness to reality (not illusions)
  • Strength (of morals and integrity)
  • Courage (of soul and character)
  • Faith and Trust (in us or we and not me or I because we is collective me only)
  • Tolerance (to Cross-cultural differences)

The key values that the university would need to uphold in all its work would be –

  • Integrity: Everyone is in favour of integrity, but it is often forgotten that integrity is simply another word for wholeness.  Most professional ethics problems arise not from a calculated design to act contrary to law, but through the inability to recognize boundaries and cope with unexpected stresses and pressures.
  • Equity: is about equality of opportunities. The university should be able to create an environment that provides equal opportunities to all its constituents – equal opportunities to learners to benefit from what is on offer, equal opportunities to its academics to perform their jobs and grow professionally and personally, equal opportunities to all stakeholders to guide and shape the course of evolution of the university.
  • Fair play: is abidance to the established standards of decency, honesty, rules, customs and law in conduct of affairs. The university should be fair and gracious in actions and responses directed towards all its benefactors, customers and competitors.

 

Crafting an Enabling Environment

A supportive environment (soft infrastructure) is composed of four key elements: the managerial team; systems of decision making; systems for communicating; and systems for appraising and rewarding staff.

  • Managerial Team: If the Vice-Chancellor is going to spend most of his time leading, then he needs to recruit others to do the managing. He needs to put together a group of managers who have sufficient coherence to work together as a team, and sufficient competence and power to manage the change. And having appointed these people, he must delegate as much of the problem solving, committee chairing and other work to them as possible,
  • Systems of Decision Making: To lead change successfully, one needs a decision-making structure that can respond rapidly to internal and external initiatives and pressures. This invariably means making the decision making structures less hierarchal and complex. One needs to delayer, decentralise, and devolve,
  • Systems for Communicating: Many change initiatives fail because the vision and the strategy are not adequately communicated to the staff whose commitment and support are crucial to their success. Normal methods of communication – internal newspapers, meetings with heads of school – are important, but the “informal” – management-by-walking-about – are the most important. As John le Carré has observed, “a desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world”,
  • Systems for Appraising and Rewarding Staff: Academics cannot manage by “exhortation”. One needs to change their behaviour – and, ultimately, attitudes and values – so that they support, rather than undermine, the vision and the strategy. Having appraised individuals and units, they need to be motivated by recognising and rewarding achievement not only by thanks, praise and status but also by money. Hence some resources need to be allocated – which will always be scarce – to units and to individuals on a performance-related basis.

 

Management of Growth

All Vice-Chancellors need to manage:

  • Federalism: Impress upon the Government that not all its universities can provide same kinds of outcomes and outputs and that there would be differential rates of growth amongst different universities towards realisation of national vision. Persuade the Government to permit a shortage on the monetary surpluses if the need be, until new recruitment and development initiatives have begun to yield dividends,
  • Faculty: Enhance the academics’ current ability to deliver on the vision of the university. Attract talent from all across the world and simultaneously invest in ‘growing your own’. The faculty needs to infuse a lot of fresh blood from across the world and become a visible player in the global labour market for academic talent,
  • Freshers: Recruit students who are attracted to the vision of the University; without compromising with the need to serve the local community, recruit the best from all over the world, and
  • Funds: Persuade benefactors of university to provide financial support, both to reduce the pressure on bottom-line in the short run and to replace tuition as the primary source of operating revenue.

 

In Conclusion:

Excellence is the state or quality of excelling that earns honour and respect from people. Moments of excellence can happen by default when the rest fail and only one succeeds. That is not sustainable excellence or excellence achieved but only a stray episode coming through a stroke of luck. The university should strive for sustained excellence at all times rather than some moments of excellence coming through by chance.

Making change work takes several years because successful change is sustainable change. Changes do not become sustainable until they are anchored in the culture – the core values – of the institution, and this does not occur until the changes have been demonstrated to work and to be superior to the old approaches and methods. Cultural change comes at the end, not the beginning, of transformation processes.

But past is where one comes from. It is the future that one lives in. Rather than wait for the future to unfold, the academic institutions need to focus on inventing the future.

 

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This is Part-4 of the series: Leadership and Management of Institutions of Higher Education

Part-5 of the series follows soon

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Already published-

Part-1: Setting Priorities for Indian Universities

Part-2: A Quick System Check for Indian Universities

Part-3: Designing Growth for Indian Universities

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Designing Growth for Indian Universities

Moving on a trajectory of sustained high growth, India is going to encounter a complex and turbulent environment. If the universities wish to play the stellar role in leading the Indian transformation, they will have to proactively engage themselves in their own growth.

Having established the institutional priorities as discussed in the preceding Part-1 of the series: Leadership and Management of Institutions of Higher Education – captionedSetting Priorities for Indian Universities,” a realistic and pragmatic assessment of institutional Capacities and Capabilities would be required (also discussed in the preceding Part-1).

 

Options for an Indian University:

At the very fundamental level, the options for growth available to a typical university are only four-

  • Build and operate additional capacity at the existing site or even expand geographically to multiple sites including franchising/licensing its name (Scale-up)
  • Move up the value-ladder of higher education by focusing more on post-graduate education and research (scope-up)
  • Innovate and/or expanding the diversity of disciplines and subjects (other services or activities – diversification) or around modes of delivery to reach out globally (Multi-service and multi-segment)
  • Adopt a Hybrid option (low-risk, low focus)

Any Indian University theoretically competes with other universities within the state for the moment. As the university in question grows in stature, taking into account its aspiration to be a leading university in the country or the world, it will in future compete with universities around the country or even in the world.

The options for growth can be evaluated against a 2×2 decision matrix, keeping in mind the internal capability of the University in terms of its ability to replicate/transfer its service know-how and the relative strength of the competing universities.

Presentation3Lkd 

Making the Option Work

A university would typically combine a number of different faculties of knowledge (Science, Commerce, etc.) and schools/departments within a faculty (say faculty of social sciences may have schools of Economics, Sociology, Political science, Psychology, Anthropology, History and so on; while faculty of humanities may have departments of Ancient and Modern languages, Literature, Philosophy, Religion, Art and Musicology and so on). These faculties and schools will have similarities as well as variations in their approaches to the management and delivery of a range of academic programmes and projects. While this multiplicity of approaches and delivery systems embedded within the structural and functional arrangements reflect the richness of the university, in many ways it may produce a number of impediments.

The university would need to become a complex adaptive system (CAS) focussing on the interplay between itself and its environment and the co-evolution of both. In such systems, the different faculties and schools would act as the agents of the university. It is the scale of analysis that indicates who the agent would be; an individual, a project team, a school, a faculty or the entire university. These agents would have varying degrees of connectivity with other agents through which information and resources can flow.

Agents would possess schema that are both interpretive and behavioural. Schema may be shared amongst the collective (e.g. shared norms, values, beliefs, and assumptions) that make up the university culture, or may be highly individualistic. Agents would behave so as to increase “fitness” of the system that they belong to either locally or globally. Fitness is typically a complex aggregate of both global and local states within the system. Such systems are network of sub-systems. Network systems don’t have a head or a tail. They don’t have a centre either.

Behaviour in a Complex Adaptive University will be induced not by a single entity but rather by the simultaneous and parallel actions of agents within the university itself. Thus, the university will be self-organizing if it undergoes a process . . . whereby new emergent structures, patterns, and properties arise without being externally imposed on the system. Not controlled by a central, hierarchical command-and-control centre, self-organisation is usually distributed throughout the system. In other words, the behaviour of the university will be emergent. Emergence is the arising of new, unexpected structures, patterns, properties, or processes in a self-organizing system. These emergent phenomena can be understood as existing on a higher level than the lower level components from which emergence took place. Emergent phenomena seem to have a life of their own with their own rules, laws and possibilities unlike the lower level components.

Simply stated, each of the faculty and schools would be autonomous in their actions yet all of them would be glued together by a common vision and values.

 

Actions for Growth

There are three very simple enablers for growth – universities need functional AUTONOMY to chart their destiny, they have to acquire MASTERY over what they do and intend to do and they need a PURPOSE for their existence and guidance of their actions. Interestingly, these enablers operate in both the sequences – without a PURPOSE there is no direction; without direction, the MASTERY is undefined; without Mastery the university cannot exhibit any expertise to chart its own course thereby not being able to seek AUTONOMY, worried about lack of Mastery, the government would hesitate to grant AUTONOMY.  This sequence is not a vicious circle but a double helix spiral.

Pursuit of Growth would call for resolute leadership for unflinching and sustained efforts focussing on:

  • Transformation – a profound and radical change of character and little resemblance with the past configuration or structure that orients the university in a new direction and takes it to an entirely different level of effectiveness. No ‘turnaround’ would work.
  • Engagement – with all the stakeholders – so as to create in them an emotional connection such that their dispositions and behaviours towards the university are positive. The employee feels mentally stimulated to see how their own work contributes to the overall university performance; the opportunity of growth within the university; and the level of pride an employee has about working or being associated with the university.
  • Enterprise – Entrepreneurial activity to carry out the transformation;  such activities must be accompanied by initiative and resourcefulness rather than demolition and dictates.
  • Performance – accomplishment of the task measured against preset known standards of accuracy, completeness, cost, and speed.
  • Infrastructure – basic and usually permanent framework which supports a superstructure and is supported by a substructure. It includes at the minimum, administrative, telecommunications, transportation, utilities, and waste removal and processing facilities. The coating of fresh paint on superstructure without reinforcing the sub-structure is an eyewash and futile.

The prospects for the Indian Universities over the next decade are bright to say the least, as the world in general and India in particular takes on an agenda of economic growth through innovation and enterprise. The enterprise part of this global quest for growth calls for skills in science and technology, social and economic management, and the enrichment of human happiness, the basic knowledge domains of any university.

The way around is the quality of leadership and management of the University. A clear distinction between the two terms is very important. Management is about survival and ensuring the status quo. Leadership is about growth.

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This is Part-3 of the series: Leadership and Management of Institutions of Higher Education

Part-4 of the series: Leadership Challenge for Indian Universities –  coming soon

Part-1 of the series: Setting Priorities for Indian Universities – already published

Part-2 of the series: A Quick System-Check for Indian Universities – already published

 

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