The bags are not completely unpacked and I am yet to recover from jetlag. Venkat, my better-half, shows a couple of messages on WhatsApp that I am yet to check. Then, as if on cue, he shows me a news article that says that admissions to MBA this year are expected to plunge to an all-time low. Vasu, my cousin’s son calls me from Chennai to inform me (albeit a bit sullenly) about how he has been given the pink slip by a famous business school in Chennai. Reason? Poor student enrolments are causing nightmares to educational institutions and faculty members alike. Luckily for Vasu, he has been moonlighting as a soft-skills trainer and so he need not worry about securing a full time job immediately. Vasu had joined a business school in his early 40s after leading a peripatetic life as a sales manager in HP. It was not difficult for Vasu to segue from a busy career in sales to a somewhat dull career in education.
Do not get me wrong, dear reader. Teaching has become extremely mundane. Every institution, in the process of collecting (not selecting) students, has internalized a philosophy of treating students as customers. Pleasing students is the main agenda. Business schools do not flinch to appoint teachers to teach management subjects at a paltry sum of Rs15,000 – Rs20,000. If you pay peanuts, you will only get monkeys – so goes an old adage. But in an era where job security is fast becoming a mirage and job losses are becoming the order of the day, unemployed people are accepting any job offer that comes their way. It does not make sense to sit at home, twiddle your thumbs and wait for that “ideal” job which may never materialise.
Business school owners will think thrice about improving the basic infrastructure in their institutions; however, they are prompt to collect feedback from students. This is actually a decoy or a red herring to divert the attention of students from pressing issues. In one of the middle rung business schools in Bangalore (that launched a private university amidst much fanfare by encroaching on half of the farmland by buying them at dirt cheap prices) the placements are pathetic; 80% of their students have not been placed despite the fact that they have completed Semester-IV (the final semester) and of the 20% who have been placed, the jobs are in real estate firms.
The promoters are intelligent enough to collect feedback about teachers but never once do they talk to their students about the infrastructure/ library facilities / placement opportunities. Some of them hire retired and out-of-work HR professionals who call themselves self-styled educational consultants. These consultants have a rather enviable job of going around the institution and randomly noting down feedback from students – mostly about their teachers. Then they document every silly observation that the students make and prepare an excel file. After submitting such a fatuous report, they also submit a bill for Rs50,000.
In one business school in Mumbai, the educational consultant (who is in his 80s and knows the promoter for almost three decades) visits the campus annually and even though he is short of hearing, he listens to the students and adds his own masala to the students’ carping so that only the negative aspects of the teaching faculty are documented. The promoter uses this to pare down the annual increments to the teaching staff.
I hear from my colleagues in other cities that the situation has turned from bad to worse. One director in a business school in Pune, apparently, addresses MBA students as “children”. No prizes for guessing that she was the principal of a school owned by the promoter for almost 15 years and then her closeness to the promoter’s wife got her the job as the director of the business school. Saccharine oozes when she addresses the students as “my dear children” and her valedictory addresses are speeches copied from “The Speaking Tree”. Ludicrous as these may appear, it won’t be a surprise if this lady is promoted as a Chancellor in the near future.
Private universities are mushrooming in cities like Pune, Bangalore and Chennai. Availability of vast tracts of land, easier hassle-free procedures in securing accreditation and a truckload of marketing promotions are ensuring that gullible students fall into the trap. Otherwise, how do you explain engineering students opting for “Aeronautical Engineering” and “Petroleum Engineering” when the college does not have a decent lab facility?
Critics have been trenchant about Prakash Javadekar’s ill-defined and ill-timed regulatory reforms that are in no way in sync with the realities on the ground. No college pays 4th, 5th, 6th, or 7th commission and this man talks about 8th pay commission. The situation is pretty much morbid. None can deny it. All the so-called reforms in higher education are not only skewed but there has been lots of demurring about the arbitrariness with which such announcements are made.
One of my bright students has now entered teaching after completing his PhD from IIT-Chennai. We had a chat after a long time on Skype. He is based in Bangalore and told me the glum scenario there.
Apparently, Bangalore University is controlled by academicians with political clout. Two years back there was a scandal in which students were asked to pay Rs 8000 for a software programme that was poorly conceived and implemented. All students were declared passed to appease them. Now the University has got trifurcated but chaos still prevails. Uncouth academicians rule the roost.
At the post graduate level, the question papers are set with straightforward questions like the question papers at the degree level. There is no accountability. There is no one to question these stalwarts. Some of the question papers are full of glaring spelling errors. Apparently the process of correcting these papers is worse. Faculty members appointed to correct answer papers (they are literally forced to comply by their respective educational institutions) consider this akin to cleaning the Augean stables. Students who join such a course scoff at the question papers and fill the answer papers with rubbish – confident that no one is going to read the answers anyway.
What exacerbates these issues is the attitude of students who gain entry in a business school either by paying astronomical amounts or securing admission under the “reserved” category. Most of the students who are either from rural areas of Karnataka, Kerala and North-East are lured by the job market in Bangalore. Earlier the demand outstripped the supply. But now the situation is fast changing. MBAs are only getting call centre jobs or bank jobs where they are assigned to do data entry. Even accounting firms need MBAs to file tax returns for their customers – a job that does not need an MBA degree in the first place.
I would like to make it clear that the situation is not unique to only the garden city. It is equally depressing elsewhere. Eligibility norms are so diluted that a student who gets 50% marks is assured of admission in a business school. These students behave like customers and their focus is on anything but learning. So when they pass out of business school, they do not even have the bookish knowledge. To compound matters, they are also extra-sensitive, unwilling to listen to any sort of advice. So, when they go for interviews, they are in for a rude shock. Some of the MBA post graduates do not have the competence to even write a simple email. This results in poor employability of these students and placements drop. When placements drop, it leads to a negative word-of-mouth publicity and this adversely impacts fresh admissions. When admission numbers whittle down, faculty members are shown the door.
Companies are now preferring B Com (Honours) students for finance/ accounting jobs. Earlier MBA (Finance) students were getting jobs as equity research analysts but even that opportunity is lost now thanks to the poor ability of the students who lack the knowledge of even basic accounting principles. Ask them what do they mean by “leveraging” or “Net worth” and most of them will draw a blank. It is also a sorry state of affairs that many students are forced by their parents to pursue an MBA course. Unless drastic changes are made in the higher education system, the MBA course will find its popularity dwindling gradually. Who wants to pay a king’s ransom as fees and end up sitting at home?