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Using Research Output To Measure A B-School May Not Be Correct: Ramakrishnan Raman, Director, SIBM

In an interaction with BW Businessworld, Raman talks about the various aspects of B-school education in the country.

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Ramakrishnan Raman, Director,  Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM)  Pune, has spent considerable time teaching at B-schools in India and abroad as well as helping corporates in devising strategies to manage risks and setting up systems and processes. In an interaction with BW Businessworld, Raman talks about the various aspects of B-school education in the country. 


How do you look at the postgraduate management education / B-school ecosystem in the country today?
B-school education in India has always been in the limelight for several reasons. Sometimes it is due to the norms that are brought by the regulatory authorities, at other times for not being listed among the top B-schools by THE or QS, and in the last decade for the plump salary packages that the B-school graduates get while they complete their MBA programme from premier B-schools.

The Indian B-school landscape is heterogeneous. At one end of the spectrum, we have B-schools which attract a few lakh applications for a few hundred seats and, on the other, we have B-schools of deemed and private universities, MBA departments of some private engineering colleges and also a few standalone AICTE-approved institutions, which struggle to get applications to fill their seats.

With rankings done by the government and also other global players, which lay greater emphasis on research output, many B-schools have increased their focus on publishing papers in journals and are taking steps to ensure the higher impact is achieved on that front. While measuring the research output will make better sense for engineering institutions or an institution that deals with basic science, using the same yardstick to measure a B-school might not be correct.

The level of awareness of students today is much better than what it was a decade ago. With the advent of social media and its penetration among the masses, students have a great deal of information about B-schools while they decide to join the programme.

Online platforms are offering several value-added courses in the area of management yet they are still not popular among students planning to pursue a postgraduate management degree in India. The prime reason for this is the job opportunities, peer learning and the strong global alumni connect that the B-schools offer to the aspirants which is valued by the students.

With the advent of industry 4.0 and its impact on education, B-schools must revamp and restructure their curriculum — this must be a continuous and dynamic activity and also must bring blended learning as a part and parcel of the teaching-learning process. B-schools must also seriously lookout for strategies to ensure that they do not depend on student fees for survival else this will backfire in the long run.

Are we creating enough potential leaders or mere job seekers in this market?
Several B-schools are creating potential leaders and the proof of this is in the number of senior-level positions that are being filled by the alumni of premier Indian B-schools. Their students are climbing the corporate ladder much faster, with people with 8-10 years of work experience holding senior vice president positions. Many B-schools are creating problem solvers and creative management graduates who are kind at heart, fierce in mind and brave in spirit. They have a never-say-die attitude and hence are well equipped to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Even after reforms, why have Indian B-schools failed to compete with the world’s best schools?
In 1908, when India was still fighting for its independence, Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration established the world’s first MBA programme with around 15 faculty members and 30-plus students. The Stanford Graduate School of Business which is the graduate business school of Stanford University in Stanford was established in 1925. Another example is INSEAD. This was established in 1957 when the Paris Chamber of Commerce decided to start a European business school and after two years it took in its first MBA students and in the year 1960, 52 students from 14 different countries graduated from the school’s MBA programme. 

If we now compare and compete with these schools in the ranking of world’s best B-schools in which research output gets 40 per cent or more weight, then we will never be able to succeed unless we import faculty members from those schools that have already published hundreds of research papers along with millions of citations to join Indian B-schools. But will they join? Will these schools be able to provide the ecosystem that they desire? Will there be pay parity that would be possible? These are the questions to be answered and the real reforms that have to be taken which need “gutsy” leadership and also the clear vision to complete with the global players. There are B-schools that have done this. For example, Nanyang Technological University (Nanyang Business School), Singapore is a classic example which moved from nowhere to 11th globally today and is also ranked first among the world’s best young universities for five consecutive years (QS university rankings).

Hence reforms are introduced by adopting the right strategies only then Indian B-schools can compete with the world’s best schools and make their mark, else this question will remain as it is.

Do we regularly update and overhaul the curriculum in keeping with the industry needs?Almost all premier B-schools in the country constantly update their curriculum and ensure that the current trends and future requirements are met by the curriculum.

How do we make sure that the faculty is equally at home in theory and in practice?
The MBA programme needs people who can teach theoretical concepts and also show how it can be put to practice. Majority of MBA graduates (almost 99.9 per cent of those who graduate) from premier B-schools aspire to join the corporate world and only a very few of them aspire to become academicians. While these students pursue their MBA, they must be equipped with the knowledge and skills which they can use and put the same in practice while they join the corporate world. They must also be imparted with the skillset and knowledge which can help them to lead organisations in the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world. Hence recruiting a Ph.D who can only teach subjects like Research Methodology in the way as it’s explained in the textbooks or just explain the theory of 4 Ps in marketing is never appreciated by the MBA students. 

While the regulatory agencies endorse and recommend Ph.Ds or those with NET/ SET to be recruited to teach in the MBA programmes, they have never made corporate experience mandatory for teaching positions. For example, a professor who has never worked in the corporate world, who does not understand the nuances of managing a supply chain, but has papers published in that area and also has a NET/ SET or Ph.D, will not be able to do full justice to a course in Operations and Supply Chain Management.

Tomorrow’s challenges that are thrown by the business process in a supply chain can’t be handled only by knowing how to solve a supply chain optimisation problem. Students must be given the knowledge in the domain and must also be exposed to the possibilities of applying what they have learnt. 

They must also be encouraged to explore the application. This might make someone to assume that only practising managers can do justice and teach in an MBA programme. But the fact is that when a practising manager takes a session, he or she does not necessarily know the advances in theory and research in that specific domain. Hence he or she only shares the experience and the real-time nuances and the way in which they currently deal them. 

Hence, there is a very slim chance for the students to learn out-of-the-box solutions to the problems that are shared by people from the corporate world. This is the flip side of a course being entirely taught by a practicing manager. The best option is to bring a blend of both (the theoretical expert and the practising manager) to teach a course which can add value to students and also achieve the objective of imparting knowledge and skills which they can use in practice and also lead organisations in the VUCA world.

Technology is evolving so fast that it’s difficult to predict what happens one year down the line. How do the B-schools cope with such a scenario?
The only thing that has been constant in the past decade or so is the change that has been brought on by technology in the business processes. Presently, the pace of change has become faster. Hence instilling the ability to learn fast from the failures of others, creating a mindset where there is no hesitation to reskill, unlearn and relearn, having the right attitude and empathy are some of the key aspects that management graduates have to be prepared for if they have to survive and grow in the ever-changing corporate world. 

In India, with the exception of the IIMs and a few other top institutions,  most B-schools churn out graduates who are hardly employable. What’s the way out?

B-school education is considered a lucrative business by some politicians and businessmen. They look at it as a viable investment opportunity that gives better returns than the share market. Many graduates have a huge aspiration to be ‘managers’, ‘CEO’ or ‘Vice President’ of companies but unfortunately, they don’t make it to the premier B-schools due to the competition that exists and also the limited seats that these premier B-schools offer.

This makes many to look out for schools which also claim to offer excellent placements and showcase the same brands which are shown by the premier B-schools and manage to attract the aspirants. Their fee structure is also low (Rs 4 lakh to Rs 6 lakh for the programme) and also help students to get job offers with annual CTC of Rs 3-4 lakh. These students who opt to join such schools will be considered ‘unemployable’ for the roles that the same companies would offer to a primer B-school. After being polished for soft skills, these students end up taking door-to-door sales job or a job at a call centre and go ahead with their career. There are schools which even allow the students to take jobs after one year of the MBA programme and the second year is just a ‘documentary requirement’ which is managed based on the feedback given by the organisation where these students join. Nothing can be done with this system and it would continue as long as the gap between the demand and supply of B-schools seats exist.

How often do you inspire your alumni to come back and teach in their alma mater? How often do you inspire them to contribute funds to their alma mater?
At SIBM Pune, the alumni interaction is a continuous activity. The alumni are greatly inspired to give back to the school. They are involved right from the admissions stage to the placement process. Almost every week we have two or three alumni coming to interact with the students and share their experience. They also mentor the students in their startup ideas and give valuable suggestions, so that the mistakes that they committed is not repeated by their juniors.  

Giving back to the school is something that cannot be made mandatory. It’s like breaking an egg — only when it breaks by itself that you have life in it — else it can only become an omlet! SIBM Pune is blessed to have a highly connected and inspiring alumni. For example, the 1999 batch had a reunion and they created an endowment fund of Rs 5.75 lakh which will be used to give a gold medal to the best outgoing student. The endowment of this kind is something common and keeps happening at SIBM Pune.

What do you / what more do you expect from the regulator AICTE and the government?

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to regulating MBA education in this country. AICTE would mandate that they must approve the programme even if the program is offered by a deemed university which is in A category and NAAC certified and also approved by MHRD and UGC. Hence MBA is regulated by AICTE, UGC, MHRD and if it’s offered in distance mode then Distance Education Council (DEC) regulates it. This is confusing the aspirants. Hence there must be one regulatory body that should govern and regulate MBA education. Also, the government must move from a “Doubt” mode to a “Trust” mode at least for those institutions which have been attracting millions, who aspire to join them. An audit mechanism would be welcome but the bureaucracy must kill the spirit of innovation that can be brought to the MBA education in this country.

How has the role of B-school director evolved, and how crucial is it to transform a B-school into a leading global institution?

Today B-school Directors must be mavericks who can teach, publish, lead teams, attract grants and must also be the change-makers who ensure that the institution moves in the right direction. They must have a sound knowledge to use technology - else they will not be able to adapt the right strategies which the B-school would need to be successful.  They also must have an excellent network – which become their net worth – which can help them attract the best faculty members across the globe to their B-school.  They must be able to lead by example rather than just being an administrator who runs the show. 

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