How Indian B-schools could score an A

Around two months ago, as India’s top business schools sent their latest batch of students out into the corporate world, Ken decided to dig deeper into their placement mechanism. While the usual boasts of near-100% placement and record salary packages still dotted the pages of newspapers, close to two dozen respondents—past students, faculties, recruiters and other industry experts—spoke of rot in the system.

Does placement mean job satisfaction?

We learned that placements did not equal job satisfaction. There was a major problem of attrition among recent graduates, even among the top earners. Many didn’t last six months.

While there are undoubtedly several factors at play here, a significant factor in this problem are the B-schools themselves. Their outsized focus on placements rather than learning; jobs and salaries rather than careers. And while the system is far from ideal, nobody wants to change it. Students have loans to pay, companies have hiring targets to meet, and business schools have a reputation to take care of. A reputation based on salary packages and placements.

So we went back to experts and questioned them about possible solutions to the problems—some if not all—that ail the Indian business school setup.

The general consensus was that just blindly adopting the Western models wouldn’t work in a country as unique and diverse as India. “India is a huge country with very different demographics compared with many nations in Europe or even the US,” says Deepak Chandra. An independent advisor in the learning space today, Chandra was the deputy dean at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, until 2015, a position he held for 12 years.

Chandra and many others, however, believe that many Western solutions could be tailored to work in the Indian business school ecosystem.

No time to waste

The B-school model that has evolved in India is completely different from how it works in more evolved markets such as the US or Europe. And a large part of this has to do with the motivations behind opting for a business school.

Overseas, students in B-schools tend to already have about five years of work experience, opting to attend business schools once they’ve understood what they want in their careers. As such, one-year programs that allow for brisk upskilling before plunging back into the job pool are increasingly preferred.

This is hardly ever the case in India, where the two-year programs have traditionally been preferred over the shorter one. The reason? Students with a three-year undergrad degree or an engineering degree sign up directly for MBA courses without any prior work experience or idea about what they want careerwise.

Incremental Skills

So, while the shorter courses are meant to build incremental skills on top of work experience, the longer courses instill business fundamentals that many without experience may not have.

Experts The Ken spoke with identified this as one of the biggest issues with the Indian system. “If you have close to five years of professional experience, a one-year MBA course is enough. However, it is not adequate when students are not quite mature and enter the program straight from undergraduate studies or with just one or two years of work experience,” says Devanath Tirupati.

Currently, the dean at Ahmedabad University’s Amrut Mody School of Management, Tirupati has had long teaching stints at IIM Ahmedabad and IIM Bangalore.

For many fresh out of undergraduate courses or without much work experience, says one IIM professor, even two-year courses are not enough. He asked to remain anonymous as he isn’t authorized to speak to the media.

ISB is one of the few institutions in India that offers a one-year postgraduate program (PGP). The majority of B-schools have a two-year program, though most also have a one-year executive program. As we move towards a more mature business school infrastructure, however, the duration of the course will have to shrink.