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Will B-school teachers rise to the challenge?

In 1998, American biologist E.O. Wilson, is an influential book, pointed out that the greatest endeavor of the mind has been and will be the attempted linkage of the sciences and humanities. He called it “consilience”, borrowing the term from the philosopher William Whewell, and described it as a “jumping together” of knowledge across disciplines. Fragmentation of knowledge, he argued, has been a big stumbling block in our attempts to provide holistic solutions with greater certainty.

The walls of scholarship erected around academic disciplines to provide focus and depth have, inadvertently or otherwise, barred cross-fertilization of if ideas. As a result, the solutions that we formulate for key issues remain short sighted and possibly inconsequential, or worse, harmful in long run.

Take the case of two fields of studies -business education and liberal arts. In most universities these discipline are far moved, which is unfortunate as there is immense potential for joining hands and to shape the minds of students to look at issue with multiple lenses. This is the process essential for generating critical insights on complex issues.

Today, the world that management graduates step into is increasingly, to borrow the military expression, VUCA- volatile, uncertain,complex and ambiguous. The dots that need connecting has increased exponentially. Issues that were non-existent a few years back are heated topics of discussion in boardrooms today.

For instance, Google’s issue with data privacy are no longer just a ‘customer’ issue. The contours of this problem touch multiple uncharted areas: contested definitions of privacy, what constitutes ethical use of data, regulatory oversight of data usage and storage. A map to navigate terrains like these, which are what the future holds, does not exist. It has to be created.

Current business education provides useful tools to grapple with these issues, but most of the financial, organisational and and strategic framework are, as an Aspen Institute report(Charting a new course for next generation business leaders,2018) pointed out, tied to the logic of the marketplace and typically short-term oriented.

A typical case study that is used in business schools would describe the organisation, the problem  situation, and financial and non-financial data relevant to the situation. It would expect the students to arrive at a decision that would help the shareholder maximize value.

No doubt, it helps to sharpen analytical skills. However, for wicked problems we face today there is need to go beyond. Maybe, question what shareholder value is and at whose expense is it maximized, how might this solution look for a different stakeholder, does the solution have within it seeds for future problems and how to connect or contextualize the current solution in the light of learning from other subjects .

In other words, what students need in development of multiple perspectives, synthesis of views, engagement with ethical frameworks and dilemmas and creativity-skills that liberal art disciplines offer.

Some attempts have been made at business schools to incorporate disciplines like ethics, environment and business history into the curriculum. They are useful to sensitise the students and are good first steps. But, they remain as stand-alone courses. Or they are seen as another course to be completed for successful graduation.

The structure of these courses is, as Anne Colby and others in a carnegie Foundation report on business education write, like a barbell-academic disciplines on both ends, but with a slender connection. However, synergy can be derived only if disciplines get together.

There are trends that show the way. The aspen Institute report documents some of these innovations. For instance, some universities have created course pairing or curricular pathways that encourage students to look at one big topic, say ‘corporation’ from multiple lenses such as business law and political theory.

Some others offer an interdisciplinary capstone course that encourages students to synthesis learning from multiple disciplines and apply it to a real-life problem. These courses are jointly taught with faculty members drawn from across the university. But, having taken a step in this direction, it also has to be recognized that thee are numerous challenges in this journey.

Resistance to change is a key challenge. Entrenched disciplines and academicians often find it difficult to come out of their territory to explore something new. Turf wars and personality issues can come in the way of co-teaching courses.

The eternal perception war of the superiority of the ‘hard’ courses(for example, quantitative or mathematical) versus the ‘soft’ ones will be an obstacle. Consilience is going to be hard but it is inevitable and importantly, it is desirable. If students have to be taught how to think holistically and how to connect the dots, teachers need to be able to do both well and be comfortable doing so. Co-teaching-and that just does not mean dividing the course between two teachers-is the best way to set example to students.

Changing our own belief structures is critical prerequisite to changing the institution’s belief structure. All change must start from within to have a lasting impact.

-S. Raghuraman and V. Ananthga Nageswaran



‘Bharat Mata got freedom in 1947.  ‘Dhan Laxmi’ (Economy) got freedom in 1991.  When will the Sarawati (Vidya mata) get Azadi?’  asked an eminent educationist of India.  And that question is being asked by many educationists in the country today. This simmering restlessness, though it appears to be with the AICTE and educationists has wider implications hitting the very basic foundation of division of power between the Central and State Government. Though both are bogged down with political issues, at the moment, the issue affecting the youth will burst like a volcano, if not dealt with wisdom and maturity. The symptoms are already in the surface. Only the other day the CM of Tamilnadu, has already demanded that the subject ‘Education’ be shifted to State List, in front of Mrs Sonia Gandhi and she has responded positively.

 Education, of course, has become a ‘commodity’ as it is priced, marketed and fulfils a critical need.  At the same time the Govt. anxious to protect the consumers seems to be moving towards primitive justice system. In the process, it is hitting at the very basic rights ensured by the constitution of India and reinforced by the Supreme Court of India. Forgetting the ‘revolution’ brought in the field of education by the private sector in the country ,  arbitrary actions are  abundantly taken by authorities to abuse those educationists who have invested millions of rupees through the maxims of true entrepreneurship.  Ignoring the fruits of these bold initiatives by the unaided private sector, which has been responsible to solve the major manpower crisis in the industry, the whole system is subjected to brutal and senseless rules in the name of protecting the people. This ‘overreach’ of authorities’ caused insecurities and brought bad name in India. If the Govt. of the day itself says that we are corrupt, when the Americans and Europeans are showering praise on the success achieved by Indian Education System where to go and cry?

Responding to the hue and cry by scholars in this field, the Government of India appointed a National Knowledge Commission headed by Sam Pitroda, who submitted around 300 recommendations on 27 focussed areas covering a range of aspects of knowledge paradigm and the Yeshpal Commission on renovation and rejuvenation of Higher Education also submitted its report. One of the recommendations was to dismantle the ‘control raj’ for which certain existing systems were to be dismantled.    The country thought that, Shri Kapil Sibal, the Union HRD Minister is a blessing in disguise. . . . . at last a great luminary in the field of Law will be at the helm of affairs in the HRD Ministry and things will change.  He too raised our expectations by promising the country that he will implement the reports of the commissions within 100 days.  But Alas, he too all said  and done, fell flat to bureaucratic pulls and push’s. After all he too is an individual with just 24 hours with too many problems in hand.  But then, that is how democracy works.  Everyone who wants to become a hero, needs villain.  And the people in the technical education easily became the scapegoats for creating an euphoria amongst the public.   History is repeatedly witnessing this kind of target marketing activities. The quest for Govt. control is historic one. Adam Smith, the father of Capitalism wrote about that in his book ‘Wealth of the Nation’

Mrs. Indira Gandhi inserted the word ‘Socialist’ in the Preamble of our constitution, during the ‘Emergency’ and more stringently imposed the license raj moving one step ahead of her father Pandit Jawharlal Nehru.  PV Narsimha Rao, whom the Congress would love to ignore, was forced to initiate the process of dismantling the License Raj as the economy was crawling & dying.  Then came the NDA saying, ‘Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahi’ and appointed Arun Shourie as, a special minister for Disinvestment for public sectors.  Will the HRD Ministry learn some lesson from these dramatic changes in our own history?

The members of the constitutional assembly deliberated loudly on issues which are sensitive to the unity of the country and kept the ‘Education’ in the concurrent list.  And the state governments were, of course, meeting the needs of education. Need based education is not restricted to class rooms or to a systematic structure. The first well known organised ‘guild system’ was skill based and existed in small village.  Pandit Nehru, a great visionary, started the IIMs not under any control systems, as we see today. The pioneers of management education in the country… XLRI was established in 1949 and they still offer a PGDM programme. When the first MBA degree was offered by Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management(IISWBM) in 1953 AICTE was not there.  The AICTE itself came into existence only in 1987 more to regulate; regulate with budgetary support; regulate with expertise; regulate with support, because the tax payers money was allotted to them to do so. The AICTE is responsible for proper planning and coordinated development of the technical education in India. But the ‘positive ‘ role has taken a back seat; and the ‘powerful’ role has moved forward. Therefore a lot of clarities are required to be offered by the Govt.

The Aurangabad Bench of Mumbai High Court, quoting various pronouncements, states that ‘Right to establish an educational institution of its choice on permanent no grant basis, is a fundamental right guaranteed to all the citizens within the meaning of Article 19(1) (g) of the Constitution of India.  That fundamental right, however, cannot be confused with the right to ask for recognition of the school’. Though related to Schools, the judgement elaborately quotes Supreme Court judgements on Management Education. The point is, when the Govt. in no way helping, why should create insecurity everywhere? Is education is privileged to be honoured with ‘license raj’?  Is the industry involved in the affairs of the decision making at top level? Can’t the HRD Minister have Consulting Groups comprising of corporate stalwarts in a big way? Why can’t the various committees in AICTE have proven leaders from the field of Management Education? Is uniformity a desirable one? Why should not the unaided B Schools enjoy the same freedom like the fully aided IIMs? Are not these ‘aided IIMs’ also under the structure of a trust at par with 100% of unaided private B – Schools? If these IIMs created by Government at a cost of Rs.500 crore or so, and are still being funded need a certain fees to enhance their educational abilities,  how do the ‘unaided’ private B-Schools will be in a position to offer quality education for a lesser fees?  Should not these private B – Schools quest to raise to the level of IIMs?  Or is it the view of Govt. that, IIMs itself are sufficient for the country?  Is it correct to give different treatment to similar kind of B – Schools that is the aided IIMs and unaided B – Schools?   Is it a right stand morally or legally?  Or is it because whenever the Govt. try to do something, the IIMs protested with media support and others had no God fathers to take up their cause?  These are not questions but the tears coming out of the eyes of those who really want to do some great things in this field.

Why should the AICTE target mostly those who advertise and witch hunt? Is it not selective victimisation?  Will the AICTE certify that, they are having at least a complete list of various kinds of B – Schools operating in this country with and without the approval?  How many times are we supposed to send the same land document and trust deeds and so on that to certify by a first class magistrate?  Did the AICTE or the Law Ministry issue any instruction to the judiciary to authenticate volumes of papers year after year?  Is AICTE responsive to the various communication being sent to them from various corners and are they really equipped to handle this kind of massive workload?  Why always ‘Suspicion’ and not ‘Trust’?  Black sheep’s are always there in every system but that does not mean that, the ‘scholarly’ AICTE should turn into the investing agency every time rather than the facilitators?

Management Science is a ‘Situational Science’.  It is the well-educated 20 years old graduate students who go for Post-Graduation.  If these people can have the right to vote, let us not to underestimate their understanding capabilities.  They are intelligent enough to know where they are going to do their Post-Graduation and to gain what kind of education or placements.  There are laws to deal with these cheating and the system is automatically operating.  As long as there are no proven allegations of either of malafides or unfairness, non-transparency or exploitation, the state should not interfere.  Each B – School has its ‘benchmarks’ and unique culture which have evolved over a period of time which has helped in the grooming and training process of students.  That is why TISS has its own eminent position amongst the B – Schools; ISB offering one year programme has emerged as one amongst the best B-Schools, though unapproved and the honourable HRD Minister presided over their Convocation.  It is the market forces and the competition among the B-Schools which will enhance the quality standards.  It is the spirit in the minds the educationists to innovate and excel which will accelerate the quality standards in management education not the enforced laws which are framed arbitrarily.  It is high time that, true leaders are brought in at helm of affairs so that, the conflicts, the confusions and uncertainty amongst the B – Schools are eliminated.  Control system never succeeded in the long run.

The mindset of the Nation can be aptly described from the words of what Mr. Anna Hazare said recently in Delhi “There is no faith left in politicians and bureaucrats and it is time that people be allowed to decide what they want”.

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