Why do students queue up to get into B-Schools, especially the more well known ones ? And why are some B-Schools more well known than the others ? Both questions are in fact two sides of a more fundamental question - what value does a B-School bring to the table ? and the answer to both questions can be found in the placement history of B-Schools in general and specific schools in particular.
Students join B-Schools because they believe -- and in many cases, quite rightly, that it is a ticket to a high paying job and some B-Schools are more well known than others because their students end up with more, better or higher-paying jobs.
But why blame B-Schools for this trend. In the 70s, 80s and even as late as the 90s when unemployment was the dominant feature of the economic landscape of India, students would throng the gates of the Engineering schools because because that was seen as the most sure shot ticket to a good job. Students who had neither the inclination nor the aptitude for engineering scrambled to become engineers because of the job prospects. Today, when other opportunities exist in the field of finance, retail, media, life sciences, entertainment, the collective memory of the Indian psyche still drives students to engineering -- but the craze could be ebbing somewhat.
But the craze for a badge from a B-School continues unabated and to keep up with this demand we have an increase in the supply of B-School seats, both at private schools as well as at public sector schools like the IIMs and IIT, plus of course the corresponding expansion in the ancillary industry of CAT-coaching classes.
Which brings us back to the question ... what role does a B-School play ? or rather let us ask a related question : what role should a B-School play ?
Does a B-School add value to a student ? Is he or she taught anything that is of use to the company that hires the student. Any B-School would like to believe that it is adding a lot of value to the student in terms of knowledge and capability but a quiet and anonymous questionnaire among students might reveal some startling facts. Quite a few students tend to have a very poor view of most of their teachers and view the fact that they have to sit through their classes as the price they must pay for getting that ticket to that great job !
So is the view in many of the companies that recruit these B-School students. But if they do not really care for what is taught in B-Schools why do they pay higher salaries to these students ? One widely accepted answer is that these B-Schools provide a good screening tool ! Students who have managed to crack the CAT, JMAT, XAT or similar tests -- whether by aptitude or by hard work -- are just the kind of people who are likely to thrive and prosper in the corporate world. Thus the B-School is not a place that adds value to a student but an effective screening tool that makes the job of selecting employees easier !
Thus from both perspectives -- that of the student and of the recruiter -- the B-School is nothing but a placement agency, but is that what it should be ? Placements are important no doubt but should B-Schools not raise themselves above this mundane role of screening-and-placing students and consider something more substantial for themselves ? For example should B-Schools not play a role in creating new knowledge ? in terms of business models, best practices and in terms of new technology. Should they not establish themselves as centres of thought leadership and guide the national debate on economic and social matters ?
Unfortunately, each and every B-School in India today, including the best known ones, have reduced themselves themselves to the level of placement agencies. At best some of them have managed to elevate themselves to the level of teaching shops -- that teach some tools of the trade, like linear programming and balance sheets.
What is really missing is the big leap of imagination, of innovation, of ideas. Is it not the time for some of the B-Schools to step forward and plug this gap ? And strangely enough once this happens, once we take our eyes off placement and salaries and focus on genuine thought leadership, placements and salaries will fall in place, on their own -- and not be the tail that wagged the dog !