How B-schools cheat business executives doing part-time MBA | Premchand Palety

There is a growing discontent among serious executives who have joined part-time management programmes in some prominent private business schools.

Many of them say they feel cheated as there is a big gap between the profile of the class that B-schools promise in the prospectus and what it actually turns out to be.

I don’t blame these working executives. They are being victimized by a new phenomenon that appears to be catching on in private B-schools: filling part-time Postgraduate Diploma in Management, or PGDM, courses with lots of fresh graduates.

For B-schools, especially in metros, India’s business schools regulator, the All India Council For Technical Education, or AICTE, typically sanctions seats for the part-time programme when the infrastructure—class rooms, computers—is being underutilized in the evenings or on weekends.

This is meant for executives who attend classes after finishing their office work. And, when a working executive seeks admission for a part-time programme, there are some expectations besides getting a degree. One of the most important tends to be that the peer group would consist of other “students” holding responsible positions in companies. The idea being that, besides the normal networking, this kind of group also helps in the learning process of these part-time management students.

Examining cases or doing projects in a team is a norm at B-schools. If team members are of similar intellectual level and with work experience, they can obviously relate much more easily to one another and, as a result, each participant in the class gains from the synergy.

The maturity level of such class discussions also tends to be a different plane. While there is a mix of experience and students fresh out of graduate programmes in the daytime business programmes as well, the skew is clearly towards fresh graduates and so are expectations of both teachers and students alike.

B-schools conducting part-time programmes are well aware of the desired profile of the students in such courses. Consider how the prospectus of a well known B-school in Delhi clearly specifies the profile of prospective students: “The three-year, part-time postgraduate diploma in management (PGDM) programme is meant for young individuals who are working as middle/junior level executives/officers in public or private sector organizations, but have not had an opportunity to acquire formal management education.”

But, this very school is pushing fresh graduates into this part-time programme.

An executive I know signed up for this school’s programme a few months ago. He was shocked to then discover that about 70% of the class consisted of fresh graduates. And, even among those who were supposed to be working, there were property dealers or retailers who said they were “helping” their fathers in the business. Since he had already paid the hefty first instalment of fee for the programme, this executive was trapped.

This executive isn’t alone. Many students in other private B-schools are similarly trapped as it is not mandatory for a school to disclose the profile of all the students admitted/short-listed before collecting the first instalment of fee. And B-schools can get away with such irresponsible behaviour as there is no real tradition of students taking such institutes to, say a consumer court. (The AICTE did say earlier this month that students can ask for a refund of fee, after a deduction of processing fee of not more than Rs1,000, in case the student withdraws before the beginning of the programme and a proportional refund if a student leaves the college after joining the course, though it is subject to the vacancy being filled by another candidate.)

From the faculty perspective as well, it can be very difficult teaching a class with such a varied profile. There is a lot of difference between the pedagogy normally used for teaching fresh graduates and for those who are already working at junior and middle management levels.Trying to balance both would mean one or the other group will not get much out of the programme.

This cheating of legitimate early or mid-career executives stems from the growing market value of having an MBA, unscrupulous managements of some private B-schools and, to an extent, the quota system of the AICTE.

The demand for a management degree or diploma has shot up in recent years both because companies want it and also because media hype about highly exaggerated job placement offers for fresh MBAs. This has increased the pressure on the limited, full-time seats in some private B-schools that have created a name for themselves. Some school administrators, rather than focusing on filling part-time programmes with relevant students, are then taking short cuts by deliberately luring unsuccessful aspirants of full-time programmes.

One well-known B-school in the Capital, for instance, has a quota of 60 seats for its part-time programme, but only has about 20 “genuine” candidates. Ideally, the programme should either be scrapped or run with the smaller class strength. But, to avoid revenue losses, the administration of this school filled the balance with freshers who could’t be admitted in its full-time programme.

The modus operandi is simple. School administrators call most of the students who have applied for the full-time PGDM and then the interview board negotiates a transfer of application to the part-time programme. Since the eventual degree doesn’t mention if it is part-time or full time, getting a part-time MBA from a branded B-school is as good as a full-time MBA for most new graduates, especially those who failed to get into the full-time programme.

Everybody is happy, except the real part-timers who hold day jobs and are paying a lot of money for a genuine part-time MBA experience.

Premchand Palety is director of Centre for Forecasting & Research (C-fore) in New Delhi, from where he keeps a close eye on India’s business schools.