Management Education Can Become More Specialized By Adding 'Know How' To 'Know Why': Dr Jagdish Sheth

In an exclusive conversation with BW Education, Dr Jagdish Seth, Chairman, Jagdish Sheth School of Management (JAGSOM), talks about the management education scenario in India and more.

Charles H Kellstadt Professor of Business in the Goizueta Business School at Emory University - Prof Jagdish Sheth is a globally renowned academician known for his scholarly contributions in marketing, competitive strategy and geopolitical analysis. He has over 50 years of combined experience in teaching and research at the University of Southern California, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Columbia University, MIT and Emory University. Dr Sheth has also been an advisor to numerous companies including Whirlpool, Motorola, AT&T, WIPRO, Aditya Birla Group, E&Y, Hughes Corporation and others. 

In an exclusive interaction with BW Education, Dr Sheth envisages the outcomes and the impact of NEP 2020 on Management Education along with what the future of the Indian education system holds. Excerpts:

What are your thoughts on National Education Policy 2020 and the possible impact on management education? 

There are three aspects of the National Education Policy (NEP). The first and foremost is the freedom it provides to the student to pick and choose, mix and match different classes from different institutions. In that respect, it reduces the regimentation of the governing bodies such as UGC and AICTE. 

The second major aspect is to encourage digital education in order to make education more accessible and affordable. In other words, there is a democratization of higher education. Finally, it encourages top foreign universities to hub in India so that Indian students don’t have to go abroad to get world-class education and experience. 

The third aspect is to mandate that single discipline institutes and colleges, especially in engineering and management, must become multidisciplinary universities. This is similar to the evolution of Carnegie Mellon and Caltech from engineering to full-fledged multidisciplinary universities. Similarly, Wharton School, Bentley College and Georgia State, which began as commerce colleges, became full-fledged universities. 

The implications for management education will be enormous. First, digital education will generate a much larger reach of qualified students who otherwise cannot come to the campus. Second, the core courses such as economics, behavioural sciences, accounting, finance and marketing can be taught by a single professor across multiple campuses simultaneously. This will alleviate the shortage of faculty. For example, an IIM faculty in Bangalore can offer the class online to all IIM students across several IIMs. Similarly, for non-government institutes such as ISB, XLRI, JAGSOM, and SPJIMR. 

Finally, management education can become more specialized by adding 'know how' to 'know why'. The experiential component is key to management education; just as it is in medical schools and in engineering. 

While NEP advocates multidisciplinary education, IIMs, XLRI, SPJIMR, JAGSOM are all standalone institutions that are not part of a University, how do you plan to align with NEP? 

There are several ways one can align the stand-alone discipline-based institutes or management schools. First, they can become universities by adding additional schools such as law, economics, and information sciences. Second, there may be a consortium of institutes and colleges each with different specializations. For example, a good engineering college can partner with a good management institute for undergraduate programs. Similarly, a good liberal arts college can collaborate with a good business school. Third, a good business school may link with a foreign university but with different disciplines such as public health, agriculture, and social sciences. My new National Education Policy (NEP) offers the flexibility and freedom to become more innovative in cross-disciplinary collaborations.  

What is the significance of upskilling in today's time, and how will it change the future of the work system? 

There are two reasons why upskilling is key to the future of education. First, we are producing smart products and services. This requires smart technicians and smart customer support centres. Today's automobile is literally a mobile computer requiring a skilled technician. It is becoming a new reality across cell phones, banking, and even retail stores.  

Second, digital technology is becoming more affordable with smartphones, the Internet and cloud computing. This will encourage more automation. The capital expenses are becoming more operating expenses. There will be greater automation of jobs where highly hazardous jobs such as sewage tanks and oil tanks will be automated. So will be low wage jobs which the machines can do better, faster, and cheaper. The future of work will be a technology-enabled skilled workforce. It will make greater use of the brain and less use of the brawn (physical labour).  

Considering your association with global management education for more than five decades, how has business and management education reshaped over the years, especially in the last 10 years since the 2008-2009 crisis? 

The biggest change in management education over 50 years is the student composition. The MBA degree was designed for undergraduate engineers to learn the vocabulary and concepts of management by adding two years of graduate education in management. It is the typical IIT-IIM combination. Today, most good universities require some work experience after graduation before they are admitted to a management degree or diploma. Also, today more students are enrolling in management education who are not engineers. They are diverse in their undergraduate degrees ranging from history, music, sociology, psychology, and fine arts. 

Finally and most significantly, many MBA students are working professionals who study in the evenings and on weekends. They enrol in evening MBA or executive MBA programs. With distant learning and digital technology, this segment is growing significantly. The campus comes to the student and it is not limited to degree programs but also extended to non-degree executive education consisting of certificates and digital badges. 

The second major change is that the half-life of knowledge is declining rapidly. It is down to 18 months similar to what is happening in sciences and software. This challenges the notion of a terminal degree. Today, you have to be a lifelong learner and you need to continue education after graduation. With so much content on learning management systems and open access platforms such as Coursera and EdX, one can continue to learn for the rest of one's life. In fact, it is not a far fetch to imagine a YouTube University. YouTube is the most popular platform for people to learn about how to do things.  

B-schools across the globe are being criticized for their limited impact on real-world management practices and limited academic research. What are your views on the same and what can or should ideally be changed? 

Business education was founded on the social sciences model instead of medical and engineering sciences. Furthermore, to become more legitimate they became more scientific by adding quantitative and experimental methods. While the 'rigour' went up, the 'relevance' suffered. At the same time, the real world changed dramatically especially after the first energy crisis of the late seventies, liberalization of trade in the nineties, the collapse of communism, the rise of China and India as large consumer markets and finally the Great Recession of 2008-2009.  

The textbooks lagged behind in their updates. The gap between the real world widened and management knowledge in many disciplines became legacies. This was further compounded by the computerization and digital transformation of enterprises. No one really saw the massive impact of social media such as Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp. There was no internet until very recently and eCommerce was nascent.  

There are several ways management education is adapting to make it more relevant. First, publishers are now online and real-time. There is the democratization of information and knowledge. Google is a bigger library than the Library of Congress. Digital storage is cheaper than paper.  

Second, we are updating the courses more frequently by bringing real-world knowledge as a supplement to the textbook. Finally, we are making management more experiential similar to medicine, agriculture, engineering, and other professional schools.   

What are the advantages and shortcomings of Indian Management Education as it stands today and how can we become more relevant to the needs of stakeholders? 

In education, there are two components: selection and development. The main advantage of Indian Management Education is the selection of students. And the selection process is by and large anchored to merit at IIMs and other private schools. The applicant pool is large, and the management institutes have the luxury of choosing the brightest and the best. What we need to improve is in development. How do you polish that rough diamond so that she or he becomes a good citizen and serves the nation in addition to delivering profits and growth? We had a more developmental approach to unlocking the potential of the students.   

What were your expectations from the Union Budget 2021-22 and how far have they been met? Do you feel that the education sector has been a priority for the present government? 

My expectations for the biggest 2021-2022 were met in three areas: allocate the funds for containing the coronavirus; tax relief for the working and middle class; and investment in higher education with a focus on generating new knowledge especially in sciences.  

My expectations were not met in three areas: more aggressive divestment of very profitable public sector corporations; this would include LIC, SBI, and insurance; very specific initiative of how the world can contribute in making India self-reliant; and what was missing is the focus on wealth creation for the masses. It is not just the income disparity (the Gini index) but wealth disparity that needs to be addressed by public policy.  

How do you visualize the future of education in India? 

I visualize India as a potential education capital of the world. The inevitable rise of Africa and other parts of the world in central and Latin America as well as in Central Asia and Southeast Asia can benefit greatly from affordable and accessible higher education. Many of these countries do not have sufficient colleges and universities. India can become the destination especially for postgraduate education and engineering, management, health sciences, law, natural sciences, and social sciences. If we can create an IT services capital of the world with more than $150 billion, we can also be the education capital.  

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