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Focus on nurturing the VUCA world: Ramesh Bhat, Dean, NMIMS University

Bhat believes the B-school ecosystem faces the massive challenge of attracting competent faculty and resource persons.

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In an Interaction with BW Businessworld, Ramesh Bhat, Dean, NMIMS University talks about the various aspects of B-school education in India.  He also believes the B-school ecosystem faces the massive challenge of attracting competent faculty and resource persons. 

Excerpts:

How do you see the postgraduate management education ecosystem in the country today?The ecosystem of the corporate world in India, as well as globally, is continually shifting to the VUCA world. Post-graduate management education programmes should, therefore, continuously focus on nurturing the VUCA world, ready leaders and managers. Addressing this is a massive challenge for most B-schools. The evolution of future-ready curriculum that enables management students to develop cognitive agility, higher-order social skills, deep analytical skills, and creative solutions to business dilemmas. The B-school ecosystem faces the massive challenge of attracting competent faculty and resource persons, having the capability to develop and execute VUCA world aligned programmes and courses and strengthen robust industry partnerships. Technology and an innovative outlook towards curriculum design and pedagogy can enable the development and delivery of management education that is much aligned to organisational needs.

Are we creating enough potential leaders or simply creating job seekers in this market?
There is a significant focus on ensuring that managers developed by B-schools are job-ready. This objective is too short-term focused and ignores many dimensions of training the students for leadership positions. SBM of NMIMS University believes in creating socially responsible future-ready leaders. Our approach has always been to create a leadership mindset and behaviours through several elements in the MBA programme. Within the classroom, thought leadership is elicited by creating an environment of psychological safety using the participant-centred learning pedagogies. Our student leaders also participate in nation-building through the We Care: Civic Engagement Internship (launched in 2010). The internship provides a unique platform for MBA students to use their creative ideas for the benefit of society. Social projects undertaken by the students in NGOs/social enterprises, government departments, and CSR departments of the public and private sector companies during the internship, make them aware of the existing social realities, social inequities, and the relevance to create social capital to create sustainable communities. An ecosystem of group work, intensive mentoring, and leadership responsibility positions ensures that SBM is not just churning out job seekers but also potential leaders.

With all these reforms, why have the Indian B-schools failed to compete with the world’s best schools?
New thought patterns, being student-focused, and possessing an industry-aligned curriculum are enormous challenges for B-schools. At SBM, we have deeply invested in building a learning environment of mindfulness practices, an intensive group-based project work, simulations, industry partnerships, faculty research, and have also achieved the coveted AACSB accreditation. Our students regularly bag global business challenges, and we are confident of competing with the world’s best business schools. 

Why do we fail to update and overhaul the curriculum in keeping with industry needs?
We are witness to the unusually high-speed change in the market scenario due to numerous factors, both known and unknown. These challenges force B-schools to keep-up and integrate new-age business scenarios into the classroom space. Considering that educational and academic processes focus on building rigour and are built on a bedrock of research and knowledge, this gives rise to a lag scenario, where the curriculum may remain out of alignment with the industry needs.

To respond to and rise above this challenge, SBM partners intensively with industry leaders in its academic processes, such as curriculum development, elective teaching, and focused guest sessions. At SBM, faculty research focuses on current organisational issues, and this is brought into the elective offerings with no loss of time. Further, students at the SBM do several corporate projects during the course. A feedback centric culture has been developed over the years, continuously integrating feedback from students, alumni, industry, academic experts, and the faculty body into the curriculum development and delivery process.

How do we make sure that the faculty is equally at home in theory as in practice?
SBM aims to ensure a creative convergence of academic and practice-based delivery in classrooms. It adopts a twin strategy of hiring faculty with PhDs as well as providing Adjunct or Visiting faculty positions to senior industry professionals. Several of our full-time faculty have senior or board-level experience. SBM thus brings an eclectic mix of theory and practice into the classroom. Our ecosystem allows faculty to gain experience with industry through consulting, training, case study writing, board member positions, research projects, and other partnerships. Sabbaticals are available to faculty members to build up practice-based knowledge and integrate it back into the classroom. 

Technology is evolving fast that it’s difficult to predict what happens one year down the line. How do B-schools prepare for such scenarios?
We are committed to educate and create a generation of management professionals who are not only having a deep understanding of business models but also each of using digital insights in solving business problems. Deep-seated digital transformations in the industry are “given” as we see the influx of emerging and existing technologies such as AR, VR, AI, and ML changing the way we work. We focus on building cognitive agility and awareness and have included courses on cryptocurrency, blockchain, Internet of Things, Big Data, Machine Learning, etc. We aim to help students understand how to use technology for data-driven and technology-enabled business framing and solutions. Hence, pedagogical approaches such as simulations and technology-based learning activities, are adopted successfully. 

In India, the IIMs, and a few other B-schools are progressing well, but the rest churning out graduates who are hardly employable. What’s the way out?
A constant focus on participant-centred learning processes, cutting edge industry-aligned curriculum, strong industry and alumni relationships, research-oriented faculty body, and strong international linkages can be enabling factors. We remain in the top listing of India’s B-schools. Our long journey of achieving AACSB has further strengthened our position and is a true reflection of our robust academic processes. This accreditation, in turn, has led to enhanced job profiles being offered to our students by industry, leading to an excellent placement record year-on-year. These factors may also be helpful to other business schools to progress. 

How often do you inspire your alumni to come back and teach at their alma mater? Do you inspire them to contribute funds to their alma mater?
SBM alumni are well placed throughout the industry and are found to occupy several leadership positions across organisations. Our alumni spend time in helping the students preparing for future careers and placements. There is a process of batch preparation, which typically begins at the start of summer and final placements. Our alumni conduct mock interviews and group discussions, which enables the current students to face the real test. Our alumni also partner with us in delivering and designing courses. 

What more do you expect from the regulator AICTE and the government?
Given the existing challenges, an enabling and supportive environment, where Higher Education Institutes can offer the best in class learning facilities to students, is required to be built. Government regulators can play a significant role here by supporting Business Schools access resources (capital, faculty, international collaborations) that may not otherwise be available. Developing and nurturing qualified faculty for engaging with higher education practices is a need area that can be taken up much more vigorously. Constant development-oriented talks, seminars, exchange of views between the government and B-schools can fast-track the success of Indian Business Schools at a regional and global level. 

How has the role of the B-school director evolved and how crucial is it in taking B-schools into the league of leading global institutions?
The role of the B-school director requires continuous boundary scanning and mapping in addition to extremely strong academic credentials. Creating a healthy, positive learning and feedback based culture oriented to creating future-ready leaders is crucial. Managing change internally and as part of the broader community is another responsibility that Business School Directors/ Deans have to drive. Managing stakeholder perceptions, and ensuring a continuous supply of resources to support the School’s vision is a hallmark of a Successful School Leader.


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