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What’s wrong with the Indian MBA?

The Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, and the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Calcutta, are the only Indian b-schools in the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking 2018, which includes 100 institutions. Strange for a country with 5,500 MBA colleges? Not at all, it turns out. For quite a few reasons.

The Indian MBA has many weak points. But its Achilles’ heel is the poor quality of the curriculum and faculty, according to Bakul Dholakia, Director General of the International Management Institute, New Delhi. It is not about physical infrastructure at MBA colleges, but about the curriculum and how the curriculum is delivered, he was quoted in The New Indian Express as saying.

Dr. Dholakia says that universities and colleges have failed to review the management curriculum from the point of view of the corporate sector, which requires the best of management talent to meet its dizzy targets. The inadequate curriculum has led to b-schools churning out mediocre MBA graduates whom the industry finds unemployable.

The quality of most MBAs is so low that the bottom 2,000 of the about 5,500 MBA colleges in India are unable to find placement for even 15 percent of their MBAs. Companies can only hire the best available candidates and try to train them, which is, for the most part, a job that the b-schools should have done.

Corporate chieftains worry that many MBA colleges depend on a textbook approach and impart only bookish knowledge. They are yet to adopt the case-study model that is used in the top management schools in the West. There is also very little interaction with the corporate sector before the syllabus is designed.

In any case, a one-size-fits-all outlook to curriculum fails to accommodate the needs of companies of different types and sizes. Academics observe that there is no point in all colleges teaching the MBA course as if their students are all going to work for the top 100 companies in the world.

B-schools are yet to see the wisdom in dovetailing their curriculum in such a way that their graduates can serve not only international companies, but also national, regional, and local companies, which have their own unique business strategies.

Another bugbear is the poor quality of faculty at institutions below the top 20 or 30. Some colleges resort to recruiting unemployed students from their previous batches as teachers. Obviously, these “teachers” lack corporate and teaching experience and rely on textbooks and notes collected from their time as MBA students. The only (short-term) advantage is reaped by the colleges, which can make these teachers work long hours at low salaries.

A quick-fix

But the quality of MBA aspirants rushing to grab a seat somewhere and their motivations are equally alarming. For many of them, an MBA degree is the last resort to save their academic credentials and fulfil their career dreams.

On realizing that they have no interest in engineering or other degree disciplines that they chose or, more likely, were thrust upon them, b-schools are now greener pastures, and an MBA is a ticket to a white-collar job and “success in life.”

Asked about their choice, they are quick to say they are “good at managing people,” though this may sound suspiciously like “I must be good at something!”

Headhunters for the corporate sector say most MBAs have set their eyes far too high, without a practical perspective of what the industry can offer them. For example, small and medium industries require management talent, but the MBAs that they invite to interviews ask for very high salaries that these companies cannot afford to pay.

Similarly, IT professionals want their work experience to be taken into account for management positions, without realizing that recruiting companies are looking for leadership skills, not expertise in IT, and that the big bucks can only come with work experience in relevant positions.

The motivations of many MBA aspirants are shaped by b-schools’ claims that their graduates secure jobs with annual salaries of Rs. 12-15 lakh at campus interviews. MBA aspirants don’t realize that this is only a part of a business gimmick that seeks to justify their annual fees of Rs. 3 lakh to Rs. 5 lakh.

After graduating, a large percentage of MBAs end up with meagre monthly salaries of under Rs. 1.2 lakhs. Students find out only too late that they have been duped. But recently, many have begun to see through the “MBA wave,” and falling admissions have forced many so-called b-schools to close shop.

However, the damage has already been done: the spurious MBA colleges have already managed to create a large body of undertrained, impatient youth. A study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce of India has found that 92 percent of b-school graduates are unemployable. This study, too, exposes lack of quality-control measures, poor infrastructure and faculty, and outdated curriculum at MBA schools.

But there’s another major problem: most MBA aspirants shouldn’t be even considered for admission to the full-time MBA course as it is meant for candidates with work experience of at least a few years.

Leave alone work experience, many MBA applicants don’t have a good academic foundation either. The educational qualification for MBA admission is only 50 percent marks in graduation, and candidates who scraped up a degree can easily gain admission to a lower-rung b-school as long as they can pay the high fees.

However, because these students were never properly trained to be scholars in their previous schools and colleges, even the best MBA institutions may fail to work their magic.

In the midst of a poor curriculum and untrained teachers, application of knowledge or creativity has no place. Having been encouraged to learn by rote in school and college, they are unable to immediately apply their knowledge or achieve creativity, which is what an MBA is expected to learn to be able to handle issues at their workplace. With the MBA curriculum being what it is, students are seldom challenged on the innovation/creativity front.

This lack of innovation and initiative is probably one reason why most MBAs don’t become entrepreneurs. Very few among them are likely to say, “I want to start my own business. I feel I will be good at it.” Clearly, managing other’s investments is a more attractive option.

The next item in a long list of deficiencies is a lack of communication and presentation skills, crucial attributes of business managers, according to a recruiter quoted in a WSJ article. Students who cannot interact effectively may fail to get good jobs even if they have high academic scores. This will lead to a shortage of quality managers, which is not good news for the country.

But things may change. The All-India Management Association has prepared a strategy paper with suggestions for improving the quality of management education and make it the second-best after US by 2025. An ambitious target? Probably. But worth achieving some day? Certainly.

Are Foreign MBA programs any better?

Is an MBA worth itWhat about foreign MBA programs? What major advantages do they hold over the Indian MBA?

Their main pluses are clearly their multinational faculty, research facilities, global recognition, and cultural diversity. As for faculty, Western nations attract the best talent from the world over. Research facilities are excellent at most b-schools, with excellent libraries and access to the best journals.

As academic standards are sacrosanct in most reputed institutions, companies all over the world regularly hire students from these schools. Diversity on the campus is a given: not only professors but also students from various countries enliven the learning experience.

However, the flip side is that a foreign MBA has it’s share of problems too, enough to deserve a whole book (check out ‘Managers, Not MBAs’ by Henry Mintzberg). For starters, it comes with a heavy price tag. An Indian student would have to continue to work abroad to repay the huge education loan taken for the MBA study. There’s also the downside of not getting sponsored for a work permit. If all this fits in with your plans, then a foreign MBA is the way to go.

On the other hand, if living in India is what you like, then you need to gain admission to a good b-school in the country and try to build a fulfilling career in your own land.

There are excellent programs in India as well as abroad. But neither option comes with any guarantees. For those with the right capabilities who know how to approach the degree as a calculated risk, the rewards are plenty.
Resources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

7 thoughts on “What’s wrong with the Indian MBA?”

  1. Hi Sameer,
    Read your book, “Beyond the MBA Hype”;it really makes the process a lot more easier. I am taking that exam in a week’s time from now. Assuming that Ill get a score in the range of 670-700 (i dont want to sound overconfident; this is my average as per the mocks) ; which 5 US Full time MBA programmes do you think i should apply to?

    Thanks and Regards

  2. HI Sameer,

    I agree with the above mentioned shortcomings of Indian MBA programs which precisely why I am targeting top US B schools. I am pursuing B.Tech in Civil Engineering from IIT Roorkee and currently in my final year (CGPA: 7.5 / 10.0). I recently passed the CFA Level 1 exam (June 2016) and also completed a summer intern from a boutique Investment Bank in New Delhi focusing on fund raising for early stage companies from prominent Angel Investors and VC funds. I am planning to work in IB for the next 3-4 years. But, since bulge brackets don’t recruit at IIT Roorkee, I will most probably end up in an unknown boutique IB firm through off campus/networking efforts.

    I am targeting Harvard, Columbia and NYU Stern in that order of preference after 3-4 years of work ex in IB. I am targeting these 3 schools in particular because I want to shift to investing/investment management/hedge funds after my MBA and these 3 schools have the highest number of alums in this field. My question is what are my chances at these B schools, given I will have pre MBA IB experience but not at big brands like GS, MY or JPM. Can you suggest any other career path in this situation that can boost my chances.


  3. @Rakshit: Thank you!
    @Ganesh: Here’s an article that may help you shortlist the right schools:

    For reference, here’s a list of average GMAT scores for the top business school:
    @Rahul: Among the reasons top business schools value bulge bracket brands is because of their stringent selection criteria. As you’ve pointed out they recruit only from a few institutes on their list.

    But other than brand and pedigree, what also matters to business school admission officers is the role and the quality of work you’ve done. Not getting into a bulge bracket firm shouldn’t discourage you from applying to the elite bschools.

    We helped an IIM grad 2 seasons back for his second MBA application (always a tough scenario going back for another degree). He had a finance background in a boutique (no-name) firm. But his accomplishments were good and his GMAT was strong. He got into Columbia with a partial scholarship.

    In contrast to his profile, there was another candidate (from your alma mater – IIT Rooree) who worked in a bulge bracket firm, but in an operational /technology role and only for a little over 2 years. She had a high GMAT score. She got into an Ivy League MBA program with full-scholarship.

    Bottomline is – there’s no standard formula to crack into the elite bschools.

    Four years is a long period of time to build your profile. Do your best in whichever firm you get into and maximise the impact with whatever resources you have.

  4. Dear Sameer,

    I have done my MBA in MIS and i am a computer professional. but now i am not getting any benefit of my MBA from India

  5. Hi, I have done Bcom and PGDBM(part time course) in marketing. Applying MMS(part time course) in marketing. I have experience of 5 months in pvt co. as a PRO and 5 months in mkt research(was freelance work).

    Which will be best career opportunities for me? Is digital marketing has good scope to work in corporates and to work as a entrepreneur in digital marketer?

    What are the other good opportunities?


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