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SITUATION ANALYSIS :
Ever since the spurt of business schools in India there has been a continuous debate whether the pedagogy of these institutions lays too much emphasis on rote learning and theory, rather than approaching the difficult subjects from a practical angle.
The proponents of this school of thought strengthens the argument by citing examples that fresh business school graduates are really "industry ready" and have to be trained by the employing company before executing various jobs and functions.
My purpose is to research Business Schools and try to find out if this problem could be solved if the various business schools adopted a pedagogy that was practically oriented.
In order to aid me in this study I propose to visit carious business schools and companies to find out the same. I have prepared a tailored questionnaire for this purpose. I intend to conduct a number of interviews with students, faculty and industry personnel as Ill for this purpose.
I hope that this research will help B-Schools as well as companies and will indeed help to prepare "industry-ready" business graduates.
SIGNIFICANCE OF PROBLEM :
The problem of whether an MBA course should be theory centric or practical oriented is one of much concern as it orientates a student to the business and corporate environment accordingly. Classroom knowledge will teach a person all the concepts, but the question is how well he will be able to apply it in business situations at the work place. In our country I observe that a lot of back office work is outsourced to us, while decision making remains outside the country. This is probably because of our culture of rote learning and slogging. i.e. we learn to do a particular task with precision. However, decision making ability requires more reasoning ability. This also explains why many students who can afford education abroad do take it up. Hence the quality of our business graduates and how ready they are to face the business world would be judged by their kind/nature of the education imparted during the MBA program. So what is the importance of such learn-by-doing methods of learning and how are they beneficial to students? To answer this question first it must be understood that with purely theoretical methods of learning or bookish learning, students would be left full of knowledge but with questions unanswered such as "What is it for?" or "Where do I use it?". Thus, they would not know where to apply it. Hence, it is such learn-by-doing exercises that will help students fully develop their potential. Role plays are usefull on account of the following reasons :
The creative aspect of the exercise will make it seem more like play than like work.
The pressure to solve a problem or to resolve a conflict for their character can motivate a student far more than the sort of pressure that they usually face preparing for an exam, and it is far more typical of the pressure that will be on them in real life.
Role-playing exercises are particularly useful in courses for non-majors to emphasize the intersection between science and daily life.
Or I have group/class discussions that would provide the following benefits:
To understand a subject or topic area more deeply.
To explore ideas.
To exchange information.
To expand and clarify your knowledge.
To improve your ability to think critically.
To improve your language skills.
To increase your confidence in speaking.
A discussion can change your attitudes and ideas.
A discussion can helps a group make a particular decision or come to a conclusion.
A discussion gives you the chance to hear the thoughts and ideas of other students.
Another important, though cost and time consuming method of learning, are field trips. This is an extremely useful method of learning as it gives students a hands on approach by way of visiting companies and directly observing their operations and practices.
The research conducted can be said to be applied research due to the fact that it is being applied to a real life problem situation. It is also an exploratory research as I am trying to clarify an ambiguous problem. E.g. I know that MBA program is theory centric but how does it affect a student in terms of educational welfare and what is a student's view of it , is what I have uncovered.
I used primary data for the purpose of this study by giving out questionnaires personally or via e-mail. Three different sets of questionnaires Ire prepared for the students, faculty and working people of MBA background. These questionnaires Ire distributed at various colleges, distributed to working people and faculty. The responses Ire checked for inconsistency and errors, and after which they Ire entered into the database.
The methodology principally used for the study was primary data. All the findings and analysis presented in the report is based on the responses got through the primary data. The questions were a mixture of open and closed ended questions. The advantages of using questionnaires were :
Cover large sample.
Simple questions, easy to fill up.
Privacy in answering.
LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY :
With regard to sampling, the sample was probable as all respondents though random were within the set of MBA students, faculty or working population. Editing and coding of data involved correction of erroneous numerical values (outside range), wrongly answered questions due to misinterpretation etc. The sample comprised of students, faculty and working population. I chose working population as I felt that they would have a good idea of the applicability of their study content at their work place. Faculty's opinion was considerable to determine the weighting structure for the course.
With regard to Data analysis, various kinds of plots such as Bar plots, pie charts, doughnut charts and computations such as averaging and mode have been used to present the same.
INTERPRETATION OF FINDINGS:
As more and more people look towards business schools for a degree or diploma there is a school of thought that advocates that such courses are too theory centric and that such courses leave a lot to be desired in terms of practical application of the various theories taught.
Knowing a theory is one thing but being able to apply that theory in various business situations is another. The purpose of this research paper is not to attack the syllabi of such institutions but rather to figure out whether that syllabi if it was supplemented with a practical approach would be a more holistic way of learning for students in these courses.
For the purpose of this research my mentor and I came to a conclusion that for best results I would have to interview and conduct surveys from not only present students but also from lecturers of such institutions as well as executives who are armed with such degrees or diplomas.
I felt that picking such a sample would give me the clearest picture and help us move forward without any bias. For this survey I interviewed 60 students, 10 lecturers and 30 MBA graduates from the industry. Apart from students of my college I also targeted students from some of the best business schools in the country.
While the results of this research paper may not be able to speak for the global scenario I feel that the results of our sample definetely address the situation in the country, as the results include data from both universities and autonomous institutes across the country.
I was lucky in my research as the respondents turned out to be a healthy mix in terms of specialization, educational backgrounds. This I felt was important to avoid a perceptual bias. Consider for example a student of hotel management background who would have had a largely practical orientation during graduation. Such a sample respondent would see the course as more theory biased and vice versa in case of another kind of student say, from a B.A. background where the course would be very theory centric. No one particular stream stood out with each of the major streams of Science, Commerce and Engineering each contributing for about 20% of the total size. People from the Arts stream as well as Hotel management accounted for 10% of the sample. Hence the mix of graduation backgrounds helped level out the results and maintain consistency (Illustrated in Fig. 1).
I also had a healthy mix in terms of students who had work experience versus fresh graduates. Again in this regard, students with work experience would have a different attitude towards the course as opposed to those who did not.(Illustrated in Fig. 2). A person with work experience would have a tendency to view the course emphasizing more on theory as they would have already applied some of the concepts at their work place and vice versa. However, viewed from another perspective, it would also be advantageous to have respondents with work experience, as such respondents would better have an opinion with regards to the applicability of the course content to a work scenario. With regards to work experience 47% of the sample had prior work experience as compared to 53% who joined fresh from college or after a break from college.
Fig 1 Fig 2
The sample included both students of the first as Ill as the second year. As the figure below shows upto 12 months include first year (about 40%) while the remaining 60% are second year students.
Fig 3 Fig 4
From the second year students the break up of their specializations was as follows. 43% of the pie went to Finance and Marketing was 26%. While 22% students opted for Human Resource while the remaining 9% of the students opted for operations as their specialization. One road block that I hit in this regard was that our own college offered dual specializations. For the purpose of this study I classified a student depending on that subject that he was pursuing more credits in. One thing to be noted is that none of the respondents had an equal number of credits across two specializations leading us to believe that students tend to major in one subject while treating the other subject as a minor.
With regards to lecturers the sample size consisted of lecturers and professors from various fields as I felt that responses from a wider spectrum of lecturers and professors would impact the final conclusion in a positive way.
When the respondents were asked if the current course was up to expectations 70% of the total respondents answered in the affirmative. This could be on account of two reasons. Either, the students who responded affirmatively were without work experience, or it is within expectation that the course would have a rote learning aspect to it, which is characteristic to many other course structures in the country as well. Or considering that 70% of the respondents stated that their courses met their expectations I felt that students themselves are more interested in a theory centric based approach rather than a practical approach to learning. Hence, it could be noted that the results of our study are double edged.
When I asked the respondents how much their respective college emphasized on case studies, term papers and presentations and in each case the respondents felt that very little weight was given to these areas by their respective institutions, both as part of the course structure and also from an evaluation point of view, as the figures below suggest.
Fig 5 Fig 6
Typically in the above figures, Theory and assignments would suggest direct theory or its application (fig.5). However, Role plays, case studies and class discussions suggest practical application at a work like situation, which is given lesser importance in teaching. Also, from an evaluation standpoint, I see that Theory is given a clear majority of importance with 60% while Presentations and term projects stand lowest at 10% each. These figures Ire arrived at by taking the mode of various individual responses. Eventually, students tend to align their study with respect to the evaluation scheme, which means that students would also give more importance to theory and less to practical application, due to the large importance given to theory.(Fig 6)
Rating Fig 7
The respondents were questioned as to what extent did they benefit in particular areas in the course, on a scale of 1 to 10.(Fig 7) Knowledge and Knowledge application ranked highest at 7.1 and 7 respectively. However if I corelate this result with Fig. 5 , I find that this knowledge application is largely in direct theory such as exams or tests or written take-home assignments.
Class discussions and Role plays/case studies have still taken the back seat. Hence, the knowledge application is by and large in case of written work and not so much in case of verbal-nonverbal activity. In fact, on the same note,it is interesting to note that language development viz-a-viz an MBA has scored the least at 5.62. Also self-discipline,skills and reasoning ability have scored below 6.5. Again, skill development would primarily be cultivated through verbal/non-verbal activity such as outdoor projects, class/group discussions or role plays etc. which are other methods of learning. Hence, if I compare these results with our findings in Fig 5, It is not surprising to note that, self-discipline (Attitudes, confidence etc) and language score low on benefits in the program.
It may be repeated that, the only knowledge application is by and large from an examination standpoint, but this does not lead to wholesome learning as many untapped areas remain.
Another mention must be made on the importance of field trips in the education system. Field trips give a student a hands on approach to education. While it was observed from surveys that about 84% of the colleges did conduct field trips for students, it was also found that
Fig 8 Fig 9
In most cases (about 75%) the frequency of the same was roughly once in two months, which was averaged accross colleges. Given that there typically exist a total of around 21-24 subjects annually in a typical MBA program , this is a fairly small number of field trips. Hence it would help if this figuire were to increase.
I also asked students to opine on how an MBA program would benefit them in the long run. Of the four basic options given, "career" got a majority of 36%. This is indicative that by and large, students join an MBA primariliy to act as a career booster, which is not an unhealthy trend as the industry today demands an MBA for better and higher prospects and positions in the organization.(Illustrated in Fig 10)
However when compared to knowledge, fewer respondents felt that it would enhance their knowledge than their career. The area that scored least was "Personally" which included attitudes, discipline, language and other such factors.
As far as working people's responses go, they felt largely that the MBA program should be more practical oriented. A Working individual's response would be very consistent with what actually happens in the corporate environment. The respondents felt that theory studied was definitely applied at the work place. However during the course, more emphasis must be given to practical activity and what they felt was that, the course should be made to suit the needs of the industry i.e. do activities that largely approximate work related activity.
Based on the research, the question remains as to which areas of the program have to be improved. Some suggestions are mentioned under:
Taking environment change into consideration:
With the business context continually changing, it is essential that the MBA curriculum must keep CSR into consideration.
Accomodating to the corporate world.
Students having just passed out from an MBA will be able to faster accommodate to a corporate environment if they are given a practical approach as they would have already known many of the key practices and procedures used. Hence adaptation time would be lesser.
Risk Management :
Higher degree of risk management is needed to be incorporated into MBA students. This would help them better understand the vitality and uncertainty of business decision in a corporate environment rather than in a college environment.
Â Business policy and strategy, leadership, and entrepreneurship and change management, as Ill as external risk factors, business ethics and, finally, creativity and innovation need to be imparted as part of the program to provide sustainability across situations and time. This can be well achieved through practical focus in the pedagogy.
Hence the MBA curriculum structure will have to be amended to include certain aspects that would help students move away from rote learning to a more practical approach of learning such as:
Increasing the number of field trips and guest lecture frequency.
Incorporating soft skills delivered through professionals.
Move corporate academic collaboration and study of real world cases
Other improvements could be to redesign the course weighting structure given to various areas. Faculty respondents were asked to opine on the possible weighting scheme (Fig 11):
I find that emphasis on theory has reduced by 10 to 60%, while instead more emphasis is to be given to term projects taking it up to 20%. This now implies that a total of 40% would be dedicated to applicative kind of areas (Presentations, case studies, projects etc.) which is where the student learns to apply knowledge and not rote learning. The faculty was also in favor of a teaching pedagogy that was more practical oriented or at least an optimum blend of both. Having such a system of grading would also force students into applying more of their learnt theory.
On conducting the study, it was found that most of the respondents preferred a practical oriented course to a theory intensive one. Some others felts that a blend of both was the right way to go, in proportions of 40% theory - 60% practical or 30% theory - 70% practical.
There have been many opinions given by the students, but the most common one is that there is no use studying theory if I don't know how to take that theory and use it in our day to day lives. Besides giving their opinion, they have also suggested ways on how you can make the course more practical - oriented. Some of the opinions and suggestions are listed below.
Visit SME and help them out with enhancing their business like in the case of general stores, cab drivers association and short term projects for SME in consultation with the lecturer.
More live projects should be conducted so that students can actually get a hand on real working in a corporate environment, rather than just study theory for the sake of exams. They also feel that entrepreneurship is the most important aspect missing in youth today and it would definitely help you personally to start up something of your own and be independent.
Current affairs have to be strongly included in the course.
An MBA course should be entirely redesigned to be practically-oriented so that I can experience scenarios that I will face when in a company. They feel that most of the theory I learn is irrelevant and has no significance in practical use.
Also a year round internship would help you learn theoretical concepts as Ill as give you practical exposure simultaneously.
The data collected from faculty members reflects the similar opinion as that of working people and students. In their opinion, an optimum blend of both will help allow students to fit more freely into the real world. Suggestions put forward are:
Incorporating soft skills delivered through professionals
Enhancing the frequency and relevance of guest lectures
Ensure that students come in with a minimum of 2 yrs of work experience so that they move away from rote learning to a more applied base of study
More corporate academic collaboration and study of real world cases
To sum it up it I can conclude that colleges need to redesign the course to accommodate more practical-oriented activities so as to better prepare students for whatever lies ahead.