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Letters: The 'business' of education

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This refers to the column “Students as customers” (Worm’s eye view, December 29). Such situations arise when any educational institution is run by a person who has nothing to do with education, except to treat it as a cash cow. In the last decade, this has been the trend in several business schools in India. Small-time entrepreneurs – who earned profits in different ventures like real estate, sale of automobiles, sweet shops, insurance broking, and so on – have entered the education sector by opening business schools. They are likely to treat students as customers. On the other hand, in government-funded institutions or institutions supported by genuine educational trusts, teachers are guided by a strong belief that students are products of the institution and need moulding, and hence, do not consider them as customers. This is also true for premier business schools.

Author Philip Delves Broughton, in his book What They Teach You at Harvard Business School, talks about his life as a student in the premier business school. In one instance, a student tried to imitate his Chinese-origin teacher in class in the way he pronounced “capitalism” as “kaa-pi-ta-lism”. He was immediately asked to leave the class. Although students pay millions as fee, it doesn’t stop teachers from resorting to expelling a student from the class. In another instance, a student complained to the Harvard Business School administration that he was not properly heard and he was treated as a “customer”. When the dean heard about the case, he clearly told the student that he was more a product than a customer, and the institution has the right to mould the student the way it wants.

In the Indian context, an interesting instance is of the setting up of the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA). It is said Verghese Kurien, in the capacity of the member on the board of management of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, suggested that students should serve in rural areas. An industrialist from Ahmedabad, holding a cigar in his mouth, said, “So, Mr Kurien, you want our graduates to go to rural areas and milk cows?” “No, you continue to teach them how to smoke cigars,” Kurien replied. He then resigned from the board and set up IRMA.

Treating students as customers may be needed in the case of services such as collection of fee, provision of services in hostels, and so on, but it should not be the case for real education. All major business tycoons in India especially talk about their association with premier B-schools with pride – be it in the form of attending a “senior management programme” or as members of the board/committee – because of the value of education in these institutions.

Mohali

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