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It’s no news that the current generation of students evaluate different MBA programs and institutes based on their ROI (Return on Investment), or to be more specific ROE (Return on Education). Unfortunately, for the majority of these MBA aspirants, their role models are also graduates earning fat salaries at big corporate establishments. As a result, their dream companies are automatically the ones that pay the maximum, even if they have to borrow to pay their directors and other top-tier employees.

How many times have we heard about directors drawing fat bonuses while their companies are bleeding money?

Who doesn’t remember Lehman Bros Holdings Inc., the highly leveraged company that collapsed in 2008? It was one of the best paymasters in the industry.

The projection of B-schools as placement agencies can also be attributed to how media overplays their placement record, by often publishing misleading data. Such overemphasis on placement over the past few decades has resulted in changing the mindset of the students as well. If we look at the top Indian management schools, the quality of their students has deteriorated with each passing year. Students as well as their families are often of the opinion that getting admitted to a specific business school serves as an automatic ticket to a high-paying job.

Right from the moment they enter the B-School campus, the focus of students is on bagging a high salary job rather than improving their skills and capabilities. Ask any fresher in a business school and s/he’d readily confess placement weighing heavily on his/her decision to join that specific institute. This is also the reason why many people, including students have started viewing management institutes as merely placement agencies, instead of centres of excellence and temples of learning.

It has also led to the creation of an environment where moneymaking takes precedence over social responsibility, ethics and hard work.

This placement syndrome is so heavily ingrained in the minds of aspiring MBA students that their response to why they would like to join a specific MBA institute is often about how that school holds an excellent placement record, with top MNCs and corporates recruiting from them.

It’s rare to find students these days who would talk about joining an MBA institute to empower themselves for endless opportunities in the future; students that would pay heed to the rigorous academic process, innovative curriculum, reputed faculty and the quality of the academic infrastructure. This syndrome is further fueled by the broader societal outlook that equates the success of a management program with the weight of the pay packages it fetches for the students.

The onus of changing this perception lies with every party involved in the game including the business sector, management schools as well as the students. However, the change will come from the institutes first. The business schools enjoy an elevated status in the society and have conventionally been perceived as catalysts of change. Hence, it is very crucial for them to put in honest efforts to alter the public opinion of them as placement agencies. Learning at core is a process that changes a student’s overall personality and behaviour. Therefore, it’s important for management institutes to create an education ecosystem which encourages students to think analytically, stimulates their curiosity to learn and prepares them to meet any setbacks and challenges in life. Students should become capable individuals who can apply classroom teachings effectively in real life situations.

A holistic approach is needed in design and delivery of the MBA programs. Business schools should work hand in hand with corporates to develop and periodically review/update industry relevant course curriculums. It should be grilled into the students that management education is not a two year affair that yields a fat paycheck, but is a lifelong pursuit.

After multiple crises such as that of Enron Inc., it became fashionable to teach ethics and social responsibility as a subject in the management schools, although many seasoned educators doubt if ethics can at all be taught in a classroom environment, particularly at the MBA level. The best way to impart ethics into the students is through promotion and creation of an ethical culture in the management institution itself. Until the faculty and management themselves serve as role models for the ideal ethical behaviour, the students cannot be expected to learn anything meaningful in this regard. The faculty members must regularly counsel students and help them channelise their energies towards development of growth-oriented and virtuous learning mentality. Corporates on the other hand can do a lot when it comes to teaching social responsibility to the students.

Lastly, it’s important for students to understand that a well-structured learning process and the quality of learning will naturally enhance their placement prospects in the future. Hence, their focus should be on the former rather than the latter. Even studies have proven the positive correlation between academic rigour and better placement opportunities.

No matter what the popular public perception might be, business schools must refocus their energies on nurturing lifelong learners instead of merely being channels of delivering well-paid jobs. Once this alignment is right, the jobs will come on their own, as a natural by-product.

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