Business schools are never disconnected from business practices and the challenges of leadership, says Anjani Jain, 59, acting dean at the Yale School of Management (Yale SOM). A winner of numerous teaching awards, the former faculty of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania is an alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad, and the University of California, Los Angeles.
In an interview with Forbes India, the India-born professor speaks about management education in the time of disruptive technologies and anti-immigrant sentiments. Edited excerpts:
Q. What are the top trends that have emerged over the past few years in business and management education?
The internet, coupled with advances in mobile technologies for computing and communication, and concomitant developments in the capabilities of software, is transforming businesses globally and opening new possibilities for both innovation and disruption.
While the pace of change has perhaps increased in the last few years, technological change has been a persistent driver of business for many centuries. For instance, the advent of rail, mass manufacturing, telephony and television was no less consequential to business in the last century.
What remains invariant is the core of management education: To understand both competition and cooperation among firms, to manage both people and operations in organisations, to achieve goals effectively and efficiently, to understand customers’ needs deeply and serve all stakeholders well, to procure and manage capital and other resources efficiently, and to pursue strategies that seek competitive advantage through innovation, partnerships and a clear understanding of both market and non-market forces. The here-and-now context continues to evolve, but the need to understand the fundamentals stays constant.
Q. Lately B-school graduates are aspiring to become early entrepreneurs instead of pursuing careers as high-level professionals. How are management schools preparing for this change?Most schools have augmented their curricular and co-curricular educational offerings related to entrepreneurship. Yale is a good example of this where the portfolio of courses at SOM and the co-curricular opportunities throughout the campus for venture creation and incubation have multiplied several fold in the last few years [through initiatives such as the Program on Entrepreneurship, The Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, and Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale].
Q. What needs to be done to strengthen the connection between business education and practice?
Business schools are never disconnected from business practices and the challenges of leadership. The faculty’s engagement with business organisations through teaching and consulting often informs their scholarship and course development, but business schools should not make degree programmes mere simulations of the business world. The opportunity to understand the conceptual foundations of decision making in different domains of business, and the role of business in society at large, is uniquely the province of business education and should not be compromised.
Q. As technologies such as cloud and cognitive computing are disrupting businesses and services, how much of ‘management’ in the future would be that of ‘technologies’ than ‘humans’?
My answer to the first question states my position on this. The only other comment to add is that economic growth throughout history has been coupled with greater labour productivity and the concomitant shift of human capital to challenges that require greater cognitive ability, expertise and nuanced judgement. This shift may accelerate somewhat, but it is not fundamentally different from what has occurred in the last several centuries.
Q. How are B-schools making the best use of digital technologies? What more can be done?
Business schools will continue to deploy digital technologies in their design and delivery of educational programmes, but this is not likely to be at the leading edge of knowledge creation. What will matter far more is the faculty’s thought leadership.
Q. How far have global eco-political moves like Brexit, protectionism and anti-immigrant rhetorics affected students’ interest in pursuing management education in the West, particularly in the US?
The rise of economic nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiments, regardless of their locus around the world, are detrimental to economic prosperity and peace. I hope this will be a short-lived aberration.
Q. What are the differences between management education in India and the US?
Indian business education has been strongly influenced by the American model and is of high calibre at India’s top-tier institutions. There are many prominent global business leaders whose formal education has been entirely in India. Increasingly, Indian management education is beginning to provide a more global perspective to students because both the faculty and students bring more international experiences.
Q. How can India improve its management education to match global standards?
The main role for the government in higher education should be (1) to encourage and fund research and doctoral education (because there is a serious shortage of faculty), (2) to make it easier for both public and private institutions in India to attract top global talent, especially on the faculty, and (3) make it easier, with sensible regulation, for high calibre international institutions to have a greater presence in India.
Q. What can B-schools in the West learn from Oriental Thought?
I don’t think there is such a thing as Oriental Thought. India has given the world wise thinkers and scholars and there are enduring works of literature and philosophy that still have a great resonance with our lives.
But I do not believe top-down attempts to impose a particular intellectual tradition on higher education will be fruitful. Academic programmes do reflect differences in intellectual philosophy, but this is best left to faculty within the institutions.