Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Reinventing b-schools

Do b-schools add value? How do we make b-school education more relevant?- these questions are fated to join the death penalty and globalisation as perennials in debating circuits.

The latest issue of the Economist (May 10, 2007) carries a longish feature on how business schools are trying to adapt to contemporary demands. The story is long on detail but short on concrete ideas. What are b-schools up to? The Economist story mentions the following:

  • Instead of the well-worn method of teaching functional subjects, such as marketing, strategy, accounting and so forth, students who are now completing their first year at Yale are taught with eight courses that each address different themes, such as the customer, the employee, the investor, competitors, business and society, and innovation.
  • HBS has introduced a popular new course in “leadership and accountability”.
  • Post-Enron, most business schools have introduced or have beefed up their teaching of ethics, often under the banner of leadership.
  • Many schools are trying to increase the practical side by giving a greater role to business, including inviting business people to speak to students.
  • A growing number of business schools are teaching the long-neglected subject of entrepreneurship.

Frankly, that doesn't seem like an awful lot of innovation to me! Yale's new pedagogy sounds like old wine in new bottle. Leadership and accountability issues have been flogged to death. Teaching ethics....... yawn. Inviting practioners into the class-room- happens all the time, often with poor results. Entreprenuership courses?- we have these at IIMA. Seems to me the more things change at b-schools, the more they remain the same.

The story seems to have missed out on what I believe are important innovations at top b-schools in the US:

  • An enlarged focus on internet-based learning with a whole lot of materials (lecture notes, data, exams) being made available to students when a course is on.
  • Developing elective sequences in the second year that focus on particular careers- investment banking, consulting, media, venture capital, etc.
  • Greater focus on internationalisation of the curriculum- bringing in themes related to globalisation and overseas, including emerging, markets.

My impression is that these three innovations have made a big difference to b-school programs. For Indian b-schools, the challenge is to bring in the larger regional, that is, Asian context, into curricula.

As for that hardy perennial- whether b-schools add any value or merely act as screening systems for identifying raw talent- I thought an IIM-B director had a fitting response. He told recruiters that he would put up the list of selected candidates on day one. Firms that believed that the two-year program did not add value were welcome to come in and recruit on day one. I'm told there were no takers!

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