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'Business schools in general are followers'

Last updated on: May 25, 2006 13:08 IST

IMD, headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, ranks second among B-schools offering executive education according to the Financial Times list in 2006. William A Fischer, technology professor from IMD, speaks about the challenges for business education in an interview with Prasad Sangameshwaran.

In a world where change is constant, where is business education headed?

There should be no distinction between business education and any other idea-intensive activity. So my sense is that our job is not to teach, but facilitate conversations between people. I enter the classroom with an agenda, I know the points to be made, but I don't want to ram them down their throats.

When they leave the room, I want my ideas to be their ideas. Engaging people is an effective way of getting their involvement. This may not sound like business education. But basically, I see business education as an experience, where we are not trying to teach skills.

The world is moving too fast. Skills become obsolete. What I want to do is to try to get people to think about, how do they think. Then, they may become more conscious of what they believe and what they think.

Online MBAs are becoming popular. But are they as good as the classroom MBA?

There are a lot of people who live in places where they can't engage in a sort of interaction that I think is probably preferred. Online MBAs have a valuable place for this set of people.

But they are limited in what they do. I think the best online MBAs should be supplemented with an occasional face-to-face team interaction. It should be a hybrid. I don't think any one approach works.

What limitations are we talking about?

It limits what students can share with us. The methodology inevitably limits what fellow participants can get from an individual in one distant country. I think MBA education is a collaborative process.

It's not the faculty and the students. It's all of us together, in the same set moving through an experience. The big limitation is we don't get to meet, interact and understand how each of them think and interact.

In a mainstream MBA course, is there a greater inflow of students from countries like India and China?

If you look at our course content, we limit the participation of students from any particular nationality, because we do not want students to get overwhelmed by any particular geography.

In the past, the danger was to get overwhelmed by the US or to some extent, by the UK. But today the danger to get overwhelmed is from China.

What are the issues that are raised by students from emerging economies like India?

The big issues that they have is to know if their country's model is sufficiently different to do things that are not similar to developed economies. My opinion is, probably not.

They do a disservice by thinking that their country is different. In China, the Chinese think they are different. It's more the bigger differences like the mindset issues, or asking questions like 'are we at a point where we can do it?' and so on.

China and India have accomplishment and ambition at the same time. I think we do ourselves a disservice from putting ourselves into stereotypes of who we are and what we can do.

What are the challenges for business education in the current context?

The challenge is that globalisation is happening very fast and there is no preferred solution. The world is moving faster than academic institutions. I often feel that business schools in general are followers, not leaders.

The traditional academic model, where you do a lot of deep research, moves too slow. The rest of our value chain is moving faster. That is not because what we are doing is bad, but we are moving at a different speed than our value chain.

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