Good industry interface critical for B-schools | Premchand Palety

Industry interface is perhaps the most critical differentiator for B-schools worldwide. It also has a strong bearing on a school’s intellectual capital. In India, the level of interface is very low and there are some misconceptions, too. Public relations work done for placing students such as organizing guest lectures and seminars are often the activity that B-schools do in the name of industry interface.

The critical indicators of the level of industry interface are the number of joint research projects taken up with industry, the number of field cases authored by faculty, the number of live cases that students take up with industry, the number of open management development programmes (MDPs) conducted, the number of consulting projects taken up by faculty and the revenue generated from them, and the frequency of revamping the curriculum and its relevance. Barring a few institutes, all Indian B-schools measure poorly against these parameters.

B-schools need to revamp their organizational structure, systems and processes for effective interaction with industry.

Industry representation

The starting point of good industry interface is the composition of the governing board of the institute, which in my view should have at least 30% of members from industry. In addition to this, industry representation is necessary in the academic council of every area/specialization of the institute to review the curriculum and plan other activities every year. The industry representative should belong to the industry that recruits students from the institute in that particular area. The representative should be active in day-to-day activities of his/her organization and not some retired official looking for a pastime.

Their feedback in designing curriculum and shaping the students is very important. The governing board should meet every quarter and the area meeting to review curriculum and other relevant activities should be held at least once a year. The key decisions taken in every meeting should be documented and the percentage of those decisions implemented should also be recorded.

Corporate relations officer

The institute should also have a corporate relations officer who is responsible for maintaining interaction with industry. This person should be a specialist in his profession and should not be a faculty member, who often does a bad job balancing academic work with the added responsibility.

All faculty members must be active in at least one of the activities that connect them to industry which is consultancy, research projects and training. The institute should aspire to have at least half of its revenue from these activities. For this, faculty members should be given enough space and resources. Teaching load should not be more than four courses in a year. Independent cabins, access to reputed national and international journals, sufficient funds to interact with industry are important inputs needed to enable faculty to build their competencies and reach out to industry.

Field cases

The output of faculty should be measured in terms of cases developed, joint research projects undertaken, consultancy assignments and MDPs conducted. The faculty should author cases by interacting with industry. As of now, most of the cases written by Indian B-school faculty are armchair efforts and not field cases. Institutes should constantly come up with new learning that can be gainfully adopted by industry. MDPs are meant to be a means to disseminate new learning created in institutes among professionals from industry. Unfortunately, many MDPs—especially the in-company programmes—are just refresher courses that are conducted more as a formality to meet the training budgets of industry, and there are unethical practices associated with them. I have come across such programmes where the participants feel it’s just a means to get away from routine work and there is hardly any serious learning.

Some B-schools are known for their “public relation skills” in getting such assignments. Public sector companies are more comfortable offloading their training budgets on government-aided B-schools irrespective of the competence of the faculty. Participation in open programmes, by contrast, is a measure of the quality of the faculty conducting the programme. As participation is not mandatory and is open to all, only persons who feel that they will learn something attend such programmes.

Seminars, workshops, guest lectures and hiring visiting faculty from industry have become means to “network” with industry to ensure good placements rather than learning. Visiting faculty from industry should be hired only for highly specialized electives. They should be practising managers at the senior level. Besides summer internship of eight weeks as is the usual practice, students should also take up live cases with industry under the guidance of faculty.

Good interface with industry ensures that faculty members are keeping pace with the fast changing scenario of industry which is mirrored in the knowledge and skills of students who don’t need much training on being hired.

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.