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BW Businessworld

‘The classroom is far from obsolete’

Rishikesha T. Krishnan, Director, IIM Bangalore, India’s leading B-school, in an interaction with BW Businessworld’s Navneel Maji, talks about B-school education in general and IIMB in particular, classroom teaching and its relevance, short-term and medium-term measures necessitated by the pandemic to compensate for as well as supplement classroom learning, among other things. Excerpts:

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How has the business environment changed in the last few months? What aspects have permanently changed and warrant new orientation? 

Business has changed in multiple ways. The need for employees to congregate in specific “office locations” to get work done has been called into question. Disaggregation of this type is likely to accelerate the growth of the gig economy. Adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies, particularly related to automation, has been accelerated. Consumerist trends have shown a decline as individuals seek more meaning in what they are doing. The longer the pandemic continues, the higher the likelihood that these trends will be difficult to reverse. 

What are the strategic drivers for business now? 

Most businesses are now focused on survival and preserving cash so that they can take part in the revival of growth when it happens. Exceptions to this may be companies meeting essential needs (e.g. FMCG) or technology companies whose demand remains robust. 

How is your school poised to thrive in this new normal? 

In the short term, IIMB’s priority is to offer the best possible educational experience to all our students attending classes online due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, we have made special efforts to upgrade our digital education infrastructure and the digital teaching skills of our faculty. Our students have appreciated these efforts. In the medium-term, we need to blend the asynchronous courses designed for our MOOCs platform with synchronous learning on digital platforms to offer integrated digital learning experiences to supplement our classroom learning. 

What would be the new expectations of companies that recruit from B-schools? 

Companies that recruit from B-schools are likely to look for candidates who can cope with contingencies and manage well in a VUCA world.

What are you doing to stay ahead and re-visualize your institution? 

IIMB’s vision is “to be a global, renowned academic institution fostering excellence in management, innovation and entrepreneurship for business, government and society.” As we look ahead, an important priority for IIMB is to further enhance our impact. We have multiple platforms that can enable us to do this: 

• The outstanding research capabilities of our faculty and specialised research centres offer us a significant opportunity to do contextually-relevant rigorous research that can contribute to addressing India’s myriad managerial, economic, societal and environmental challenges. 

• Engaged Digital learning by blending MOOCs with synchronous learning as a way of reaching out to thousands of new learners. 

• Our new campus near Anekal provides the opportunity to nurture innovative leaders and entrepreneurs through new academic programmes in the most picturesque surroundings in keeping with IIMB’s mission.  

What are the major changes in the curriculum? 

IIMs are fairly flexible; we didn’t have much difficulty in adapting to online classes. Of course, we had to take some steps, such as we needed some technology improvement, the faculty needed to understand the technology and a little training and orientation, but at IIM Bangalore we were able to do it quite fast partly because we already have invested a lot in online education thanks to our MOOCs platform, and so for the last six years or so the faculty has already been engaged with online. 

Obviously the Covid-19 pandemic has raised questions about many aspects of business. Just last year when I was teaching my Strategy course, we discussed case studies on the airline industry and Airbnb. We never imagined that the airline and hospitality industries would be in such dire straits just six months later. 

Issues related to supply chain management, contingency planning, employee health and safety, and business continuity management have come to the fore. I am sure these topics will figure more prominently in our curriculum in the days ahead.

Will there be an impact on campus education in the changed scenario? 

Faculty members and students derive considerable value from the classroom learning process. So, not surprisingly, there were apprehensions when classes moved online. Notwithstanding the fact that we have made our online learning experiences as good as possible, we expect that students will still see value in face-to-face classes once the pandemic recedes. This will be particularly true for subjects which require intensive discussion and debate. So, the classroom is far from obsolete, it will come back with a bang once the pandemic is over.  

Where will your school be in the next five years? 

IIMB has been an innovator in many respects. We have a complete bouquet of degree offerings in management. Our incubator, run under the aegis of the NS Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, has a unique positioning in helping hundreds of qualified individuals start their first venture. We are the national leader in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) with more than 40 courses in management offered on the edX, Swayam and IIMBx platforms. We follow a tenure track system to attract the best-qualified research-oriented faculty. In five years, I hope IIMB will have a strengthened portfolio of MBA programmes; a good undergraduate programme at our new campus; at least one degree programme with mass appeal running on the MOOCs platform; deep impact on policy; and an even stronger reputation for high quality research than it has today. 

What are your three predictions for the future in management education and B-schools? 

Management education and B-schools will continue to be important in India if they can adapt themselves to the changing environment. The schools which will do well are those that not only adapt their curriculum but also their teaching methods keeping the delivery technologies in mind.