The purpose of management education is to provide knowledge, both theoretical and practical. This knowledge must add value to any managerial decision a person takes in the interest of whoever she or he is serving. However, most institutions only prepare individuals for managing the business. In India, management institutions only deal with the organised sector of the economy and primarily- the corporate form of business organisations in the organised sector. The focus is therefore extremely narrow. Management education institutions including IIMs in India had to face a number of challenges in the initial years. Many companies were not open to the idea of management education. A lot of promotional work by faculty, including the introduction of management development programmes, summer internships, and employment for the first few batches in the industry turned things around and prepared the ground that popularised management education. Today, the difficulties and challenges are different. Management institutions are grappling with increased numbers and serious student, faculty, and organisational issues. Perhaps going back to the basics and reviewing the initial purpose of management education could provide some useful insights.
Management in the form of formal education or as a discipline can be traced back to the late nineteenth century. When it started, many people believed that it could not be taught in classrooms because it must be based on experience and understanding of markets, technology, and the environment. When the first MBA programme started in Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration in 1908 with 33 students, only 8 returned for the second year (Schlossman et al., 1994). However, despite the scepticism, management education rose to prominence and demand for management courses gradually increased. The numbers and variety of institutions worldwide cropped up. Management education in India started in the 1950s. The initial efforts were deeply motivated by the Nehruvian vision of industrialisation. India of Mahatma Gandhi’s dreams resided in self-sufficient villages, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru dreamt of a modern and industrialised nation. He firmly believed that India’s progress in the coming years would be based on a strong foundation of an industrial, economic and social infrastructure and managers would be required to manage it. The extant commerce programmes were not considered at par with management programmes in the United States. The Indian government did not give a very specific mandate to the institutions when management education started in India, but efforts were directed towards education that was relevant to different sectors of the economy. This was the reason that IIMs were named Indian Institutes of Management and not Indian Institutes of Business or Indian Business Schools. The impressions of this idea are evident in articles, books and speeches from the pioneers of management education in India. TT Ram Mohan, a professor at IIM Ahmedabad, wrote about Ravi Matthai who was their first director, “Mathai saw clearly that to focus merely on business would limit IIMA. It would also expose it to charges of being elitist in its orientation. IIMA's ambit needed to be wider: it would be an institute of management, not just a business school” (Ram Mohan, 2007).
In the early years, institutions were aware of the need to be relevant to all sectors. The Centre for Management in Agriculture (CMA) was set up in IIM Ahmedabad in 1963 to work on an under-managed but socially important sector like agriculture. When IIM Bangalore was set up in 1973, a conscious effort was made to pay attention to the public sector. However, these were only a few sporadic attempts and over time, business development rather than societal development became the agenda. The curricular, pedagogical and organisational models were a replica of models in western institutions, particularly American, which primarily focused on business.
By limiting the spectrum of management education in India, institutions have limited job opportunities for students. Opportunities for developing viable business models and creating shared value in different sectors, even the ones related to societal development, are not given much consideration. Creative and innovative thinking is not encouraged or even becomes part of the vision for management education. Every student wants to do the same thing. There are very few entrepreneurs and everyone is looking for a job in investment banking and consulting. Money making is the centre of attention and the holistic development of individuals has been relegated to the background. Students find it difficult to relate to a wide variety of problems. There is competition as well as frustration among them. The loss is not only for students but also for the economy as a whole. There is a lot to explore with respect to societal concerns, social progress, government, agriculture, non-government and other non-business sectors but most of the institutions have trod the same path. The pioneering institutions set examples and others followed. The fundamental characteristic of management education is that it is all-pervasive and not limited to one sector. Management is highly interdisciplinary. Its subject knowledge must be based on diverse ideas, frameworks, theories, cases and examples. Uniformity is detrimental to its existence. The existing uniformity in institutions, which may have resulted from the ease of operation, leadership vacuum or ineffective regulation, has made management education lose its essence.
Management education ideally should prepare students for a dynamic and ever-changing world economy. The purpose should not be limited to understanding and serving the corporate sector, especially in an agrarian economy like India. It must prepare the person holistically with an enhanced analytical understanding, decision-making and problem-solving capabilities, leadership skills, and humanistic values. This would require changes in the curriculum, pedagogy and mix of faculty from a variety of disciplines teaching theoretical frameworks as well as cases traversing different sectors. This would require institutions with an identity and a certain position and status in the market to be set up. Incremental changes to existing institutions could be implemented by opening centres in institutions to support innovation with the help of knowledge holders from different sectors, local market tapping for summer training and projects and research collaboration with non-business sectors. The ability to inculcate a multi-dimensional view and improved horizon among students and carve out a niche and a path to follow with a clear sense of purpose shall be important determinants for the success of management institutions in times to come.
The article was first published in print in the Asian Management Review in the year 2014. It draws from my doctoral work on Post Graduate Management Education in India.
Ram Mohan, T.T. (2007). Ravi Mathai the living legend. The Economic Times, December 13, retrieved http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2007-12-13/news/27667696_1_john-mathai-iima-vikram-sarabhai (accessed 10 June 2014).
Schlossman, S.L., Robert, E.G., Michael, S., & David, G. (1994). The Beginnings of Graduate Management Education in the United States. California: The Graduate Management Admission Council.