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Wake up, B-schools

For a country which has had a history of management education of over six decades, it is unfortunate that no Indian business school is anywhere near the top 10 global institutions measured by various rankings. The China Europe International Business School or CEIBS, set up 20 years ago in China, beat the 53-year old Indian Institute of Ahmedabad (IIM-A) by a long margin to feature at the 11th place in the Financial Times‘ Global MBA Ranking 2015, released earlier this week, and 17th in the Bloomberg Businessweek Ranking 2014. In contrast, IIM-A has climbed up slightly to the 26th spot (30th in 2014) in the FT Ranking. The Bloomberg Businessweek Ranking had taken into account only 17 international B-schools (none from India) against 100 considered by the FT.

The two other Indian B-schools which figured in the FT list have had mixed results in recent years. While the Indian School of Business climbed to the 33rd position from the 36th in 2014, IIM-Bangalore – which secured a place in the chart at the 68th position last year – has slipped to the 82nd rank. Those in favour of the status quo argue that the criteria employed by international ranking agencies do not fit the Indian design; but that’s defeatist logic. It is a well-known fact that many Indian business schools – including the leading ones – falter on even the basic parameters of faculty, research, accreditation and students mix.

India has the largest MBA market in the world. According to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), regarded as the benchmark for business-school quality among the academic community, India tops the chart in terms of volume, followed by the US and the Philippines. But only three Indian business schools have AACSB accreditation. In China, 15 schools have been accredited by AACSB. Similarly, only a few have the other two key global accreditations – the European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS), or the Association of MBAs (AMBA). India needs an accreditation body which deals exclusively with B-schools to enhance their quality. Currently, the National Board of Accreditation (NBA) looks into different technical education institutions including business education. India must draw the right lessons from China, which set up its own MBA accreditation system in 2012-13. Another option is to create three tiers of management institutions, in which the best 25 to 30 B-schools could be asked to focus solely on pedagogy, generating international quality research, accreditation, ranking, global faculty and students exchange. The mid-tier schools could focus on teaching to produce managers that industry needs. The third tier could look at integrating skills education with management programmes. In fact, 90 per cent of the 3,600 MBA programmes running in universities and their affiliated colleges treat the MBA as merely another post-graduate programme, instead of focusing on skill development and improving employability of their graduates.

The IIMs in particular have indeed a lot of catching up to do in other spheres as well, as they seem to be content in what many call comfortable mediocrity. They need to focus on thought leadership instead of over-reliance on borrowed wisdom from case studies of businesses in developed countries. India has a robust corporate sector, and developing country-specific management theory should not be rocket science. The other problem is attracting quality faculty from all over the world through higher salaries – a point articulated several times by IIM-A Chairman A M Naik, who persuaded Ashish Nanda from Harvard Business School to join as director but only after the latter agreed to “serve his country” by making a huge economic sacrifice. Relying on patriotism can hardly be a viable proposition on a larger scale.

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