India is uniquely positioned to change business education worldwide while spurring economic growth at home, writes Tim Westerbeck
As business leaders try to navigate and rebuild economies savaged by the global meltdown, business schools around the world are rethinking leadership and how to train the next generation of managers in the midst of unprecedented challenges. It is not time to tweak what has been done before. It is a time for reinvention of management education. The reinvention may well be led by India, where explosive growth in demand for management training has opened the door to massive growth and innovation in the business school sector. I heard firsthand many of the newest ideas and opportunities being discussed by the elite of Indian business schools, government officials, and corporate leaders in August in Delhi at a global conference called Rethinking & Rebooting Indian Management Education, and also had a chance to visit with individual deans and faculty from a diverse array of institutions. India has a one-of-a-kind combination of location, culture, and demographics. Like a developing nation that skips the messy stage of telephone poles and patchworks of wires and goes straight to high-speed wireless, India has the opportunity and motivation to leverage the lessons learned by the Western world's business schools, and create a management education system that will spur economic growth—and become the ultimate state-of-the-art laboratory for global business education innovation. Following are six opportunities India has to reinvent management education in a way that can catapult it to the forefront of leadership and management training worldwide. 1. Skip the academic silos phase. The world-class Indian engineering education system, the business education sector, and private enterprise can join forces as part of a national initiative to mine the rich intellectual capital of India—and harness the palpable entrepreneurial energy of the massive Indian population. Cross-disciplinary educational programs will foster new levels of innovation and opportunity. 2. Serve locally but train globally. Leaders of Indian management education are quickly realizing that they must look outward as they train business leaders. They can't be provincial. It will not be enough to focus on educating Indians for India. Business schools in India can design themselves as global institutions, building globally distributed educational programs and deep partnerships around the world right from the start. 3. Establish deep partnership with business. India's corporations must become true partners in building the management education programs by supplying ideas, knowledge, capital, financial investment, and on-site experience for students, enabling them to learn in real-world situations. They must also understand that to build truly world-class institutions, academic institutions must have the independence to "speak truth to power" (or funders) to unlock the deep value they are able to bring to Indian society. 4. The world is the campus. Distributed, online, distance, hybrid learning—whatever term you choose—India has the opportunity to use technology to reach massive numbers of people over incredible distances and to bring together new ideas, cultures, and thought-leaders like never before. The Western world is struggling with this approach and many schools discount its effectiveness and credibility. Building on its world-class IT knowledge, India has the opportunity to show the world the true potential of technology-based learning. 5. Ignore the rankings. The business school establishment in the West has been hamstrung by the popular rankings—forcing institutions to look and act the same to fit the established concepts of what it means to be "top-tier," stifling innovation. Institutions should be encouraged and incentivized to focus on their strengths, to represent themselves accurately to students and employers, and to let a diverse and vital system of institutions emerge. Government policy, rankings, and accrediting systems that inevitably will emerge should reflect and support this approach. 6. Embrace all forms of management training. The innovation, energy, and desire to serve the market shown by private-sector Indian enterprises is truly breathtaking. While the "for-profit" sector in the U.S. in particular is getting a black eye, India can be smart about ways in which the entrepreneurial energy and focus on innovation brought by all educational institutions can ultimately benefit students, employers, and a society that needs new models to meet its enormous need for business education. There are quality challenges here, no doubt, but my recent experience suggests these shortcomings are being addressed by business school and government leaders. There is a big push in the West to reinvent its business schools, converting a system that has been vilified for promoting selfishness, greed, and lack of ethics to one that recognizes the value of sustainability and social responsibility as a moral and strategic imperative. India is in the remarkable position of skipping over the mistakes of the past and building a management training system that will incorporate these values and strategies from the start. Schools in the West would do well to watch and participate in what is happening in the subcontinent.