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The devaluing of the B-school degree
Kanika Datta | April 10, 2003
There has been much consternation for the past few months because of the relatively poor placements that business schools have recorded this season. Is this a sign of a deepening recession, everyone asks? What will happen to the scores of students who have taken steep loans and were banking on good jobs to repay them?
The fact that B-school placements have become such a big deal in recent years points to a major flaw in the country's education system. Think about it. Till the nineties -- except for the professional services like auditing and law -- a graduate or, at best, post-graduate degree was considered the minimum qualification needed to acquire a job in a corporation.
There were exceptions, of course, like Hindustan Lever that mostly recruited its executives from the mainline B-schools or the Indian Institutes of Technology, thereby unwittingly grooming generations of CEOs for a whole range of grateful smaller Indian corporations.
Those who attended the few prestigious B-schools of which India boasted at the time were very much the bright minority of the management fraternity.
It was only after economic liberalisation that a B-school degree evolved into the minimum qualification for employment. Even the smallest corporation was willing to pay a premium to hire a B-school graduate, spawning one of India's fastest-growing businesses.
Today, there are more than 800 recognised B-schools in India. A young entrepreneur called Satyanarayan R minted money simply by spotting an opportunity and becoming the first crammer for the demanding B-school entrance test.
All the institutes have more or less the same formidable syllabus crammed into a tight time frame, which has earned Indian B-schools the reputation of being boot camps compared to their US counterparts. The differentiator comes from the quality of faculty.
Yet how much of this so-called higher education has really helped corporations hire a better standard of people? Not much, as first-hand impressions from HR professionals will tell you. More specifically, a survey done in 1999 showed that the majority of the students and professors thought that the quality of Indian management education had to change and that the quality of teaching needed to improve.
The biggest flaw, students said, was that the syllabus lacked focus on entrepreneurship. Executives who have attended both Indian and overseas B-schools say there is not enough emphasis on HR in the former, even though it is an important emerging area for management.
Clearly, no one is getting optimum value from the B-school boom (except perhaps the B-schools themselves). So why has a B-school degree become the minimum qualification? This is principally because the conventional education system -- for those who can afford a decent education that is -- does not equip its students adequately to handle the new demands of competitive business.
Instead of focusing on skills and developing intelligence, the Indian university system emphasises the accumulation of information and rote learning. This is particularly true of the liberal arts.
Yet ironically, the bar is being raised every year. Students completing a schooling that requires minimum marks in the nineties to gain admission to a decent college are not necessarily better educated than their counterparts were in the sixties and seventies.
Of course, in those days the weaknesses in the Indian education did not matter since corporations operating in cosy protected environments didn't really need "intrapreneurs" or executives who could think on their feet.
B-schools in India today are not just providing an education in business and management, they're fulfiling the function that schools and colleges are supposed to do, of teaching young people to think and analyse.
It is telling that overseas, a B-school degree is something that is acquired after two or three years of working. Thus, the average age of the B-school student is 28 in the US compared with 21 in India. Indeed, the blue-blooded B-schools in the US insist on some years of work experience as an entrance qualification.
In other words, a B-school degree is designed to enhance and supplement an executive's education, not merely become a baseline -- and an expensive one at that -- for employment.