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Indian B-schools Are Seen As Placement Hubs: Ramakrishnan Raman, Director, SIBM

Ramakrishnan Raman, Director, SIBM in an email interview to BW’s Priya Saraf discusses the state of management education in the country

Photo Credit : Ritesh Sharma


Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM) Pune has been imparting management education to its students through knowing, doing and seeing since 1978. It boasts full-time faculty and visiting faculty members from the corporate world. SIBM offers multi-cultural environment to its students and also has an active collaboration with several renowned universities across the globe. The course at SIBM is designed with subjects like design thinking, problem solving, global mega trends, etc. along with management subjects like financial management, organisational behaviour, marketing management and so on. Ramakrishnan Raman, Director, SIBM in an email interview to BW’s Priya Saraf discusses the state of management education in the country.

Why should students choose your school?
The essential strong pillars of SIBM Pune are its illustrious alumni, exemplary students, full-time faculty and numerous visiting faculty members from the corporate and industry. SIBM Pune is a student-driven institute. The students’ council and its members get an opportunity to learn management by knowing, being and doing. With our world-class infrastructure, faculty from universities abroad to teach specific courses at SIBM Pune. We also have active collaboration with several renowned universities across the globe, which gives the students to take credits from universities abroad. Possibly no other B-school offers the multicultural environment that we offer to our students on our campus sprawled on 300 acres at the Symbiosis Knowledge Village, on the outskirts of Pune.

An AIMA vision document says that India should be the second best global hub after the US for B-school education by 2025. Is it doable?
The Indian B-school scenario is different from the global B-schools. In India, students look at B-school as placement hubs rather than looking at them as a place for learning which helps to equip them with skills and knowledge for building excellence. This is making every B-school to boast of placements and package that the students get after graduation. Also, majority of B-schools in India focus on teaching rather than student-centric leaning. Hence it’s a long way to go to achieve audacious objective of India becoming a hub for B-school education.  

Why do top Indian B-schools not figure in the top global B-school lists?
Ranking of B-schools by QS or Times Higher Education gives high weightage to research output by the faculty members. While the western universities and B-schools have emphasized on research the Indian B-schools have largely focused on getting the students placed. Until recently, research was not on the agenda of B-schools. As it is a recent focus it would take time for Indian B-schools to be listed in the global rankings.

How ready are Indian B-schools for Industrial Revolution 4.0?

Indian B-schools are offering courses which can help the graduates get jobs and ride on the Industry 4.0 wave. Courses in Data Science and Analytics is also being offered as electives in Indian B-schools. But with automation and Devops becoming a reality, the number of jobs are shirking and hence Indian B-schools must think “out of the box” to be able to face the Industry 4.0 revolution.    

With entry-level jobs shrinking due to AI and automation, what plans do Indian B-schools have to place their graduates?
Automation and artificial intelligence have immensely impacted entry-level jobs across all industries. Robots that can learn and adapt have already arrived and several entry-level jobs in manufacturing and information technology are being wiped off. As professional B-schools keep pumping graduate students into the corporate world, and entrepreneurship not being a ‘cool’
option for majority of MBA aspirants, some questions that flash at the top of our mind include —

What will be its impact on MBA graduates? Should B-schools re-think, re-create and re-invent courses that can make MBA relevant for the next decade?
Many Indian B-schools are presently working as training and placement agencies providing coolies to the corporate world. To explain it better, let me take the example of an MBA Finance graduate who is trained to become a financial analyst. The corporate houses visit their ‘favourite campuses’ and recruit these financial analysts at different pay packages — which would be based on the school from which the student graduates. New B-schools that offer new MBA programmes constantly look for ways in which they can tweak their programmes to get included in the ‘favourite campus list’ of the corporates while the existing B-schools keep doing their best to remain in the ‘favourite campus list’ and also try to move from ‘favourite’ to ‘most favourite’ category. This rat race has been in place for more than two decades. Once automation and artificial intelligence become ‘effective’, the entry-level analyst job that an MBA graduate does will be done by intelligent robotic engines. This will not happen overnight, but it will be happening in a phased manner. At first, robotic engines would support the MBA graduate in their job of financial analysis and over a period of time, it will eventually replace the entry-level MBA graduate from his /her job. With machine learning and smarter algorithms, intelligent robotic engines will move up the corporate ladder to take up senior versions of the job as well. The irony is that the work done by two dozen qualified MBA financial analysts would be done by a single robotic learning machine.

Now, two basic questions that pop up are — How soon will this happen? And, what should B-schools do to tackle this scenario which will emerge? 
Let me attempt to answer the first question. It took almost a century to see the actual impact of automation in farming and agriculture. Whereas it just took 20 years for us to see the impact that automation had on manufacturing. With automation having its impact on our everyday living and with people searching to know ‘Does Amazon Echo or Google Home suit me better’ we should expect the impact of automation on MBA jobs to happen in a time span of 8-10 years.
To answer the second question,  being “employable” is an inherent requirement of an MBA graduate. The selection process, the pedagogy and syllabi must ensure students are industry-ready and also learn the way industry works. But in doing so, blindly joining the rat race model will be detrimental for B-schools. MBA is not just meant for giving industry training to learners but it is also about equipping students with the knowledge that is necessary for taking the industry beyond, by presenting innovative solutions to the perennial problems. B-schools must ensure that the MBA programme helps the student to continuously learn and apply the learning for bringing a change in the organisation, in society, and the nation at large. In order to achieve this, B-schools must focus on imparting knowledge related to innovation and skills that can help them take the entrepreneurial journey. Structured courses on design thinking and problem solving must become mandatory subjects in the MBA curriculum. In short, the MBA curriculum must not only focus on creating coolies for the corporate world but also give exposure to the emerging aspects of the management discipline and must kindle the fire in the graduates to be job creators and not job seekers.

What measures are Indian B-schools taking to create entrepreneurs instead of just job-seekers? What percentage of B-school graduates turn to entrepreneurship at the outset?
The focus must be given clearly to the MBA aspirant when he / she joins a programme. For example, at SIBM Pune we have a two-year full-time MBA programme on Innovation & Entrepreneurship and there is no placement at the end of the programme. This is conveyed to the students when they join the course and hence there is better clarity. The students must kick-start their startup and we provide all the support to them in the process of doing so. The course has been designed with subjects like design thinking, problem solving, global mega trends, etc along with management disciplines like financial management, organisational behaviour, marketing management, etc. We also provide them mentorship, and incubation facility and help them in getting connected with the investors. Hence, in this programme 100 per cent of students turn to entrepreneurship but in our conventional MBA programme only 2-3 per cent of students opt for entrepreneurship.

Why do top Indian B-schools restrict the class size to 60 or 120 when the global average is much larger?
Majority of Indian B-schools are teacher-centered and “teaching” happens more than “learning”. When we compare this with global B-schools, the approach adopted is “let the participant learn”, hence “learning” is the focus. This makes Indian B-schools to have lesser number of students in the class. For example, in the course on Management Information System that we offer at SIBM Pune, we have 200 participants in the class and the “learning” approach is followed which is appreciated by the students. The learning approach focuses on use of case study and deliberations and discussions which leads to knowledge and value add.

Who do Indian B-school faculty members not publish as frequently as their international peers?
As I have already shared, research is a recent focus for several B-school professors. The prime focus was to teach and take up consulting assignments and also offer management development programmes. With the passage of time Indian B-school professors will certainly publish more.  

Why do Indian B-schools not tailor their curriculum to meet local needs? Why is there always a ‘one size fits all’ approach?

This is already happening when the case study approach is adopted. When Indian case studies are taken, local problems and issues are highlighted which gives an opportunity to the student to apply his / her learning to a local context.

What more should Indian B-schools do to create leaders, and not just followers?
B-schools must allow and give opportunity to students to take decisions and own up the same by delegating and guiding them in some important tasks/ activities. At SIBM Pune, we have the student councils that take up specific activities and right from budgeting and planning to execution all aspects are taken care by them. We consistently practice this philosophy and this helps students to understand the nuance of decision making which is one of the major activity of a leader. Also, lesson in ethics must be made compulsory in the curriculum, this can help in making the students understand and imbibe ethical conduct, which is very important for taking up leadership positions.  

How different are women B-school graduates from their male counterparts, as their numbers remain abysmally low?
At SIBM Pune, women B-school graduates are at par and sometimes even better than the male graduates. The toppers of the class are generally female students and this is the case with most good B-schools across the country. I do not see the number at SIBM Pune as abysmally low as female students are generally 35-40 per cent of the total strength and their number is going up year after year.

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