MBA at the Crossroads – 1

There are problems with the design of MBA programs but maybe the problems are too deep-set to be solved by a few quick fix measures.

World over, MBA programs (and their various avatars like MA in Business or the PGDM) attract the best and the brightest students from a variety of disciplines. The growth of the MBA phenomenon has been quite spectacular, especially since the 90’s and especially in Asia.

The craze for MBAs has a potential to become a problem for other disciplines as many of the brightest from economics, engineering and the sciences choose to do a graduate degree in business.

In spite of all the great things happening to business education, I feel that it is likely to lose its relevance if the right measures are not taken to evolve business administration as a field. There are some reasons I feel that there are some serious lacunae in the way business administration is developing as a field.

Graduate school or a finishing school?

The graduate business school is in danger of becoming a finishing school. Instead of being driven by rigourous academic programs there is a focus on developing soft skills and attitudes. The accent is on priming the candidate for the job market or maybe even just the job interview. Placement assistance in business schools is far more elaborate and detailed than in other disciplines like the arts or sciences. This problem is particularly acute in countries like India where placement offices are expected to find jobs for all graduating students and companies are invited to the b-schools to conduct interviews.

An added problem is that the students too expect nothing more or less than a job-oriented training. The lure of high paying jobs leads them to pay a tuition which is much more that what they would have paid for a high quality graduate discipline in most other disciplines. For example, a post graduate degree in sociology in JNU would cost a few thousands but an MBA from any of the top private business schools would cost over ten lakhs.

Underdeveloped undergraduate degree

In most disciplines, the undergraduate course is a feeder serves to identify students with an aptitude and interest for the field. Ultimately, undergrad student pursue their specific area of interest in a specialized postgraduate course. In the case of business education, the undergraduate business programs are not used effectively as a feeder mechanism for the postgraduate programs and probably as a result of that, the scope of the curriculum actually becomes broader during the postgraduate program. An undergraduate business degree does not have the same credentials as a graduate degree. I have often heard several professors remark that it is a waste when a undergraduate business major decides to do an MBA. There is also the argument that an undergraduate business degree is a waste of time because the young students have no business experience and all their knowledge will be simply theoretical.

Body of knowledge

Even though there are basic similarities between the curricula of business schools there is no basic agreement on what constitutes basic business administration knowledge and on what is the general scope of business administration as a subject. Also, there is little agreement on what should be taught to undergraduate students and what more should be taught to post graduate students.

Composition of faculty body

Faculty body in many business schools consist of many professors who do not have an MBA or an undergraduate business degree. While it is good to have a mix of people from other disciplines, it might be counterproductive to have so many of them. Over 90% of the faculty members in physics, economics or psychology departments will have with a masters degree in the discipline, so why should business education be any different.

This situation is largely because business schools the world over have been unable to attract MBAs to a teaching career. At the same time, accreditation bodies put pressure on the b-schools to recruit faculty with a PhD. So, universities found it prudent to attract non-MBAs to do a PhD in business. An even more slippery path is the recruitment of professors with a PhD in an associated field like accounting, economics or engineering. As a result, we have a number of professors with profound understanding of a certain aspect of business administration but lacking a holistic or integrative view.

It is time for business schools of the world to get together to formalize the field. It has been in existence for over a hundred years. If the proper steps are not taken right now, the latter half of this century will remember MBAs as a long gone 20th century fad.

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