Dr M L Singla has been with the Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi, for the past 31 years. Currently the Dean of FMS, as it is widely known, he has made several invaluable contributions to the growth and prominence of the B-school, which is counted among the top in India. Before that, he was with Tata Consultancy Services for a couple of years. An alumnus of FMS itself, he is also an engineer by training. In this free-wheeling and frank chat, Dr Singla talks about the state of management education in India, differentiation among business schools, and the lack of an R&D culture in the country, among others. Edited excerpts:
How would you describe the state of management education in India?
If you really look at it, management education is the current flavour of the country. There are more than 4,500 B-schools in India. However, almost 100 to 150 of such business schools close down every year. But if you look at the demand for good MBAs, this is on the rise, as the industry people believe that the MBAs will be able to help them grow, help them sustain and compete in the market, help them make money or position themselves. Not only the industry, even the government organisations have started thinking like that.
But the fact remains that the top 10 institutes continue to be the top 10 institutes. There’s not much of a churn at that level. So much so that even the top 5 institutes have not been ‘touched’. What this means is that even though we have 4,500 institutes or perhaps more, they are not able to make an impact. Besides many of them closing down, there are private institutes where more than 20% of the seats are lying vacant—even in a city like Delhi. So, while MBA is the right thing, but MBA qualification itself is not enough.
So, what is at the root of this issue, according to you? What is it that is lacking?
A few things. For instance, what differentiates one B-school from another, we need to understand that. One aspect is the physical infrastructure; another is the faculty resources. If you do not have adequate faculty resources, then delivery is not going to be up to the mark. And then, third is the quality of students. If the quality of students is good, they will be demanding and keep the faculty on their toes; and if the faculty is on their toes, they will in turn do a good job.
The fourth thing is the pull factor from the alumni: where all your people are, how much do they relate to you [the institute], to what extent are they willing to take your students into their organisations…that pull factor is extremely important. If your alumni start doing well, you start doing well. So it’s a recursive cycle. And the fifth is, how much are you linked with the industry, the corporate sector.
On that count, one often comes across, say, case studies that are quite old but still being included in the course material or that continue to be taught. Isn’t that a disconnect that exists?
It is easy to make such comments but one often forgets that there is also the interaction of the students with the faculty in the classroom. That is something not as widely known. Have you seen someone teaching a case study of 1950s and still doing a wonderful job? It can happen. It’s not always true that unless you put the most current data, you cannot teach.
We also keep hearing or reading that there are not enough linkages of academia with the industry…
I would like to see how many organisations agree to give the institutions access to their data; this is something which is missing in this country. It is much easier for them to say that there is no linkage, but what is the meaning of this linkage? Not only the access to their data, they also need to give time and keep their commitments in terms of interfacing with the students. Often, the kind of industry people that we (read: B-schools) need, they do not have the time.
At FMS, we try to do everything to involve the industry to the extent possible; for instance, there is a board at FMS where we have picked up five prominent members of the industry. They have regular interactions with the faculty as well as the students. Besides, last year we got more than 200 people from the industry to come and speak to the students.
While the top institutions are better off than most other B-schools, they have to be on their toes all the time to sustain their leadership.
You also teach IT management and technology is one sector where India has been gaining a lot of attention and focus. Still, we have not been able to come up with a Facebook or a Google or any global product or brand in technology. Your comments?
Why only a Facebook or WhatsApp? Have we ever produced a combined harvester in India? Have we ever manufactured a tractor or a bicycle that is our own design? It is a larger question. We do not have the national DNA of research and development in the country.
What should be done in your opinion to change the situation?
The people who have the money should be able to commit more of it for R&D and for building products and brands. Whatever little is being put up by a few individuals is not enough to make a difference. Also, when you want people to create a Facebook, you never ask them questions. You just say: ‘Keep going.’