The MBA degree as we know it has been in the doldrums for a while. Increasingly, as jobs across both traditional and new-age industries place less emphasis on graduate programmes, online courses become easily available, and specialized short-duration certificates gain popularity, young people question the value and need for what is almost always an expensive degree.
Furthermore, as the effects of Covid-19 accelerate ed-tech adoption, it is clear that traditional education will require a re-think. In particular, MBA programmes that were already seeing a decline in applications in many countries, now see themselves questioning the status quo.
The value of an MBA, however, in my mind cannot be diminished just yet. The Xavier School of Management (XLRI), founded in 1949, the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad, founded in 1961, and more recently the Indian School of Business (ISB) in 2001, along with other prominent business schools in India, have groomed and developed many of our country's current as well as emerging corporate leaders.
As a recent graduate myself, I believe one of the MBA's most defensible propositions is the case study method. The form of instruction — where every concept and course is taught via the study of a real business or leader at a specific point in time, rather than via textbooks and lectures — is now prevalent in most MBA programmes both internationally and in India. It is an incredibly powerful way of preparing students for their future careers. The act of reading 500 cases over two years, being exposed to different companies, problem statements and leaders at different points over the last century is an enormous education in and of itself.
Regardless of whether the underlying concept (whether that's a method of accounting or a marketing framework) being taught withstands the test of time, the case study method does give you an appreciation of some unflappable truths of business that will outlive any trend. Often newly-minted MBAs walk away with an intuitive understanding of disruption having studied the well-documented declines of Kodak and Blockbuster (which were disrupted by digital), and India's iconic family automobile, the Premier Padmini (that felt the heat as India's economy opened up in the 90s). Case after case, one thing is clear, sitting on your laurels isn't an option — and today, that stands true for management schools as well.
At Nykaa, we are blessed to have over a hundred MBAs from diverse programmes including but not limited to the IIMs, ISB, SP Jain Mumbai, IIFT, IMT within India, and several others from programs in Hongkong, Australia, the UK and the USA. Two strengths, I consistently see across MBAs is a willingness to speak up and strong networks that are beneficial for job placements and business. I attribute the former to the format of the course, in which developing an opinion, even if it's a contrarian or half-baked point of view, is continuously encouraged. And the latter, to the strong networks that are crafted, emphasized and promoted by the programs.
A less-spoken about benefit of the degree is that many students report significant personal growth. The environment exposes students to a wide range of ideas and diverse professors, peers and alumni — all of which broadens a student's outlook. For some, an MBA gives them a better sense of their purpose, for others the courage to leave a field they were not truly passionate about, for others it hones their confidence, and for some it is a moment to reflect on their leadership style. For young people searching for direction and meaning, the MBA can also be a pivotal part of their life journey.
However given the pandemic-induced shifts in the landscape today, for MBA programs to stay relevant, incorporating the latest trends into the curriculum will be mere table stakes. While business history will always provide lessons, programs would be remiss to not reflect on the disruptions of this past year itself — from rapid vaccine development, to retail bankruptcies and the acceleration of digital.
Beyond this, MBA programmes must continue to sharpen their in-person proposition. The case study method is an impactful value-add for those universities that have not yet incorporated the format; and for those who already have it, continuing to sharpen the cases and instruction quality will be important. Creating strong interpersonal experiences between students, professors and alumni will be another way to differentiate over online options. After nine months of work-from-home it is clear that there is only so much of a bond that can develop amongst peers over the internet.
But perhaps the most exciting opportunity for MBA programmes will be to craft a life-long experience for its students rather than one limited to one or two years. Today, all professionals can vouch for the need to constantly learn, unlearn and relearn given the rapid pace of change. MBA programmes can be part of that life-long journey by providing a series of propositions after the in-person course. These could include virtual top-up courses for alumni, virtual off-sites to bring the network together, regular commentary on trends and a continuous digital stream of inspiring speakers. Interestingly enough, the precise tool that seems to be disrupting the universities, may well be the preferred choice of dissemination for this next phase of engagement — that is all digital.
The author is CEO of Nykaa Fashion, and part of the founding team of Nykaa. She has an MBA from Harvard Business School.