(A small piece of 600 words I wrote for a competition here. Slightly average piece of writing, but this was meant for the preliminary round of a speaking competition, so I tried something like this. I still felt it was good for a quick read, so I have put it up.
The topic was "Premier B schools: Places of Learning or Placement Agencies?")
We don’t Need No Education, Show Us the Money?
I was exposed to the species called MBA (PGDBA to be precise, but then again technicalities... tut tut) quite early on in life. My father is an MBA and we used to go along for the family “get-togethers” for the alumni. Stereotypically, the conversations consisted mostly of tracking the career paths of classmates. Interestingly also, frequent references were made to concepts taught in class by such and such faculty, which the alumni of not-so-premier B schools did not have access to. Stories were recounted of how the Premier B school alumni were heads and shoulders above the rest because of this.
This raises the chicken-and-egg question: Did the alumni do well because of the knowledge or because of the competitive pressures they felt? Does the brand value arise because of the student or the learning?
While preparing for the CAT, I read interviews of successful alumni who said that while most of the academic stuff they had studied became obsolete after a point, the greatest takeaway was the alumnus network and the confidence of having made it into an IIM.
Also, don’t students come to the IIMs for the huge packages that graduates get? How much of the classroom learning is relevant for the jobs that pay these high packages?
Finally and most importantly, the actual placement situation works something like a feedback mechanism. Individuals who demonstrate above average levels of drive or talent are selected into these institutions. Since a filter has been applied, companies find it easier to recruit from here.
Therefore, premier B schools derive their importance from functioning as effective placement agencies. Right? Wrong!
Let us take a step backward. When caught with basic questions it is always best to resort to first principles. How did it all begin? Much of management education has its philosophical roots in Frank Taylor’s Scientific Management where he demonstrated that the use of logical, mathematical methods in daily life could bring about great changes in productivity. It got a further boost when Dantzig demonstrated the immeasurable benefits that Operations Research could bring to war efforts and later to corporate profits as well.
In both cases, fundamental principles from essentially “pure” subjects like mathematics, psychology, and economics were integrated to obtain insights that could be converted into mindblowing commercial benefit. Management degree programs arose to satisfy corporations’ demands for people who could think like this. Therein lies the solution! Further consider two more arguments.
IIM Bangalore’s brand value is well established now. To those who say that B schools are placement agencies, I pose a question. Let us replace existing faculty, keeping the admission process intact. By their argument, placements should not be affected appreciably in the long run as the filter has not been affected. Even the most misinformed person will point out the absurdity of the argument.
Also, despite the ups and downs in the Indian Economy or the Global Economy, the demand for MBAs from students has not diminished appreciably. If the students come solely for the placement, then the IIMs would have seen times when they were not in demand. However, there is abundant anecdotal evidence that indicates that the IIMs were always in heavy demand, even during the “Hindu Rate of Growth” years.
To sum up, the placement is a manifestation of the relevance of the learning and quality of the students. There can be no doubt whatsoever that alumni and students of premier B schools obtain their value primarily from the learning experience and it would require exceptional naivete to think otherwise!