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B-school courses far from 'real'

By Abhishek Bhatia
January 26, 2005 07:20 IST
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Whether it is irrelevant case studies, or faculty with little industry experience, B-schools are far removed from real life.

Let me confess. During my days at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, I did not attend too many classes. So I can't speak with great authority on what it did not teach. But the few classes that I did attend reinforced my belief in what's written below.

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Some people may consider it a litany of complaints, but to those who can appreciate some off-the-cuff feedback, I hope it sounds like a clarion call for some overdue changes in our management education.

The root cause of much that is wrong with our MBA programmes is the complete removal of the realities of life on our campuses.

It is a problem that is manifested in many ways, be it professors who lack industry experience, or case studies that will never be applicable to more than 1 per cent of the students.

Case studies don't make careers

Take, for instance, the career options for today's IIM graduates. Most likely, they're seeking jobs in sectors such as investment banking, telecom, IT services, insurance and FMCG.

They'll take on a variety of roles including project management, business processes, marketing and corporate finance. Just how is a case study on a US manufacturing company set in the 1980s going to help them?

Those that are of relevance are taught with an emphasis on "what is the right answer", whereas all of us in business realise that a decision is right or wrong only in hindsight.

The aim should really be to focus and judge the thought process of the students for its vision and detailing and not necessarily the end result.

Real problems demand real solutions

The emphasis on theory, something that every Indian student has been evaluated on since the day he wrote his first exam, continues to plague him even as he is ready to enter the real world.

So much so, that everyone becomes an expert on what one should do in a given situation, but are left flapping when asked how to do it, particularly in the context of the overall workings of an organisation.

A premium on work experience, internships and in-company projects would add a much-needed dash of realism for these students.

The first P of the real world: People

By far, the most important teaching of the real world is the importance of people skills. Being a manager is as much about dealing with peers, superiors, those across functions and vendors and customers outside the company, as it is about knowing and understanding your job.

To know how to do your job with no idea of how to work with the people who will help you do it is akin to knowing how to fly a spaceship but having nobody to run the countdown.

Although the B-schools that I am familiar with hypothetically encourage teamwork, the rating is still done by the professor.

There are no ratings by peers; no assessment of an individual's functioning in a team -- aspects that have immense bearing on one's performance in the real world.

Speak now, or forever hold your peace

Another real-world skill that has the potential to make or break careers is the ability to communicate clearly and succinctly. I have come across fresh graduates who can write a 40-page project plan overnight, but cannot communicate its objective in two sentences.

But it is the complete opposite that is required in the corporate world, where executive summaries and short snappy slogans are the norm.

Not surprisingly, it's an unhappy scenario, and, I suppose, one that has its roots in the urge to churn out reports that are graded by their thickness or verbosity.

The situation is even more dire when it comes to verbal communication. Sentences with more "uhs" than words are common, and beating around the bush even more so. Well-conceptualised presentations are delivered poorly, leaving the audience bored and confused.

When people have little time and even shorter attention spans, you either make your point at the first go or else talk to empty chairs. But our esteemed institutes seem to instill a completely opposite discipline (or the lack of it?).

Tragically, some of the smartest students often fall behind when it comes to job-pickings for this very reason -- they just cannot clearly explain their accomplishments and ambitions to the recruiters.

Certainly, B-schools, or at least their career guidance cells, should be able to guide students on skills beyond making the perfect CV.

The world is your oyster

Which brings me to the next point. In today's global village, communicating with people means being able to speak their language. The biggest business opportunities for many companies lie in rural India and in regions like China and west Asia.

But our institutes continue to churn out monolingual graduates, with little regard for the fact that the job they take up might require them to speak fluent Mandarin and understand the Chinese way of life!

Whether it was German or Japanese a few decades ago, or Spanish today, there has always been a time and need to offer these courses, not only for their intrinsic value but also for signalling a global mindset, which is now so much in demand.

Abhishek Bhatia is director, marketing, Prudential Malaysia. He graduated from IIM-C in 1998. The views expressed here are personal
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