There has been an ongoing debate on the need for B-schools to rejig what and how they teach. From being just a glorified placement services cell for top companies, they were being asked rather pointed questions about what they were really imparting as education.
This debate is not specific to India, though Indian B-schools, at least the top ones have had a ride of their lives for the last decade or more. In the article "The Buck Stops (and Starts) at Business School" Joel Podolny points towards several serious issues B-schools need to address starting with a greater emphasis on values-based leadership; while having a greater emphasis on analytics they need to also impart a holistic approach to business problem etc. The article also speaks about the need to defocus from the rankings game. If you thought these were part of an epiphany brought out by the pandemic, you are wrong. This article appeared in the Harvard Business Review more than 10 years ago [June 2009]. For those of you interested in knowing more about the crisis facing international B-schools, I would strongly recommend they also read the book "Rethinking the MBA" by Srikant Datar, David Garvin and Patrick Cullen. This book came out after the financial crisis of 2009 and the issues that crisis threw up.
The pandemic has been a period of serious rethinking at all B-schools. Most of them adapted to remote teaching and learning. Harvard Business School took the lead in organizing a series of "free" webinars in March and April 2020 as most B-schools around the world were wondering what they were going to do.
Much credit should be given to them for taking the initiative in sharing their own learning on teaching remotely. There were special sessions on teaching cases in a Zoom class. Many B-schools in India benefited from these classes. I should add that several Indian B-schools had been teaching long distance programmes for over a decade. But in all those cases the students had to assemble at a delivery center, albeit in 30 different cities. Now you were teaching to a larger cohort of students sitting in their own homes.
When I started teaching D2D (Desk to Desk) in May 2020 I had to ask the class "How do you like these classes?". I was happy to hear that some of them said the classes were fine and were much better than expected. But most of the students felt that they missed the real class room experience. HBS recommends that all the students should have their video on and mic off during the class. Unfortunately, most of our Indian students do not have the wi-fi bandwidth to keep the video on. This is a big disadvantage. But looking at it differently, if the same crisis had hit us five years ago, hardly a small fraction of the students, even those doing pricey MBA courses would have had good enough internet connectivity at home.
As I write this article, all B Schools are still closed and classes are being held remotely. Some of the students have returned to campuses since they did not have the requisite wi-fi bandwidth at home to attend classes from home (this points towards the diverse set of students attending business school education in the country). From all indications classroom based business education may return only in March 2021. We would have gone a whole year with remote teaching/learning.
Moving forward, will the pandemic bring about some serious changes in the business school education in India? I think a few trends are worth tracking.
India has had a surfeit of B Schools and at the last count there were more than 4000 spread all over India.
B-schools had de facto become degree printing MBA factories. They also had become a means of building the respectability of your son or daughter, before they entered the other competitive market. I was also told that in the dowry market an MBA is a must. But this is fading. B-schools around the country are shutting down by the dozens. I think this will gather momentum in the coming years.
One interesting benefit from the pandemic is the desire of parents to keep their wards at close distance.
This could help B-schools in smaller cities to attract talent that may have moved to a bigger city and to a better institution. I know that one of the challenges smaller business schools face, in addition to quality faculty, is quality students. This problem may see some temporary reprieve.
It is now established that classes can be delivered remotely. In the US schools of higher education have been adopting technology to do ‘flipped classrooms’. The students, all living on campus, watch the lecture in a video format and come to class to discuss a problem or a case. This may gather steam in Indian B-school education as well.
One of the special features of teaching from home or teaching from anywhere has been the ability to bring in speakers from all over the world, into the classroom. I know of a professor of international business who invited global experts to each of his 14 sessions. This was impossible in the past. I think this kind of hybrid sessions will become the norm. Even if the class is happening in a typical classroom, the professor may invite an industry expert from anywhere in the world to speak to the class, remotely.
Now that we know that students can attend class from home, B-schools will start offering interesting variations of remote E-MBAs. Several B-schools in India have pioneered the LDP or long distance programmes. We will see new applications of these, both for training and executive education. In the upcoming boom of this kind of business education we will see the top B-schools grabbing a bigger share of the pie as they start eating the breakfast of the smaller B-schools.
It will be apt to end with a quote from Prof Srikant Datar (What Business Schools Will Look Like After The Pandemic www.poetsandquants; Prof Datar is taking over as Dean HBS in January 2021): “In my view, I firmly and strongly believe that the coming out of this crisis we will have all developed a new muscle, a new way of engaging with students, a new way of finding the best aspects of online education to combine it with the model by which we are all physically together [sic]… Maybe finally at the end of all this, we will have learned so much about what a very good hybrid classroom might look like. I feel with a high probability that it will not be the same. We will not go back to what it looked like before”.
The author is an independent brand strategist, author and founder, Brand-Building.com. He is an Adjunct Professor of Marketing at SPJIMR Mumbai and a Guest Faculty at IIMC, IIMA, ISB and MICA. The views expressed here are his own.