Management education at a crossroads

Enrollment is declining in number and quality. Faculty members find challenging to motivate students in the classroom to get engaged in the learning process.

Dr. Bharat Singh Thapa

Management is the fastest growing faculty in education for the last two decades in Nepal with the proliferation of types of programs. Educational institutions in the country have been producing a large number of management graduates who are deemed essential workforce in organizations and industries in Nepal and abroad. At Tribhuvan University, 179,871 students are studying at 795 campuses throughout the country in 30 management programs. The university has been enhancing and upgrading existing management programs by adding features such as making the Bachelor of Business Studies (BBS) program from 3 years to 4 years and changing the Masters in Business Studies (MBS) program from the annual to the semester system. Besides specialized programs in Finance, Marketing, and Leadership, and sector-focused programs in IT, Banking, Tourism, Hotel Management, and Mountaineering, among others, have also been introduced. Similarly, 10 other Nepali universities and more than 50 colleges affiliated with foreign universities offer a wide variety of graduate and post-graduate programs in management. In the meantime, out of 533,558 students in the higher secondary level, 226,476 are students of management studies; this is 42.50 percent of total higher secondary students.

Keeping this attraction of students and receiving the trust of society is really challenging for universities in Nepal in the coming days. The recent decline in enrollment and graduation rate, as shown in Table 1 and Figure 1, increasing tuition fees and the rapidly changing business world have raised many questions for educators. Does a management degree add real value in enhancing the required blend of competence and character among students? Which university’s degree in management adds the most value? How to attract the best and brightest students in programs and remain a leader among all faculties? What is the future direction of management education?

KDB of Management Education
Even though management graduates are large in numbers, there is a critical shortage of managerial leadership in the Nepali corporate sector. Harvard Business School Professor David Garvin says that management education needs to have the right combination of three dimensions- Knowing, Doing, and Being. Knowing is all about knowledge, theories, and concepts of management. For example, what is BCG Matrix? What are the elements of behavioral finance? The second component is ‘Doing’, meaning that students should be able to apply the knowledge in real-life situations, i.e., skills. Determining the competitive position of a company by applying Porter’s five force model, carrying out company analysis, preparing a persuasive company presentation, and conducting employee performance evaluation are some of the skills that management students must develop. Most importantly, ‘Being’ has been thought out on the premise that business management is not an individual activity rather it relies on society, culture, government, and the planet as a whole. Therefore, it ensures values, integrity, responsibility, self-awareness, and a sense of professional identity.

Innovation in Program
The world around us is dynamic and is changing rapidly. We are living with paradoxes, surprises, and ambiguities. Digitalization, integration, artificial intelligence (AI), deregulation, financial crisis, pandemic, nuclear family trend, wars, inequality, internet of things (IoT), climate change, etc., are present-day realities. These changes have profound implications for management education. Especially, this is going to affect the types of students’ intake, competency of faculty members, curricula, teaching pedagogy, and institutional capabilities of universities and colleges to create a great teaching-learning environment. Appreciating the change and designing alternative programs, for instance, one-year skill-based focused diploma courses in undergraduate, and one-year, executive and part-time programs at the graduate level that are gaining popularity internationally, is an urgent need of Nepali universities.

State-of-the-Art Curriculum and Pedagogy
A few significant changes have been brought in curriculum and teaching pedagogy in BBA and MBA programs yet they are not adequate. Core courses to acquire basic knowledge of management, functional to understand the business functions, the capstone to gain integrative thinking, analytical to develop analytical skills, and seminars, practicum, independent studies, internships, electives, and research projects for developing specific skills needed to run organizations have been incorporated in latest curricula. Likewise, in pedagogical aspects, little innovation is made, such as case studies, fieldwork, group projects, business simulation, and role play are highly talked about methods in management education. The case method cultivates learning by encouraging students to think of what they would do in the situation that the manager faced in the real organizational context presented in the case narrative. It aims to creation of a new way of thinking about enduring business problems. On the other hand, field study provides opportunities to practice what students would actually do in various managerial situations that are expected to reduce the gap between management theory and practice. Quality and quantities of their use in programs vary largely across the universities and campuses. Due to poor design and ineffective delivery, students feel the repetition of the course and its contents while perusing higher degrees (MBA/MBS) in Nepal. Moreover, BBA and MBA programs in foreign university-affiliated colleges have added challenges to quality and competition among management colleges in Nepal. In upscaling the overall education system, continuous improvement, and innovation in the teaching-learning process should be made by universities and colleges through organizing faculty development programs, faculty-directed field studies, designing experiential learning projects, and multi-disciplinary collaborative research.

Employability of Graduates 
The standard of management education is appraised based on the employability of its graduates. How many companies offer jobs? what is the starting salary of a graduate? and how many graduates innovate startups? are major criteria to assess the management degree. In addition, the impact that graduates can create in society through their ideas and initiatives is an important benchmark of program success. Graduates require to solve cutting-edge problems faced by businesses, organizations, and society creatively. Increasingly, organizations demand graduates with knowledge of necessary soft and hard skills in management so that they can think about business issues critically and make better decisions. None of the management colleges and universities are seriously accountable for ensuring that students are properly equipped with the skills and capabilities to prepare for the changing landscape of business. Additionally, large employers in Nepal continue to rely on a traditional degree requirement as a primary means of determining job candidate employability rather than evaluating real competency to get the job done.
A recent Cengage survey (2022 June) of Americans who graduated from a two-year/community or four-year college in the past five years found that nearly one in five (21 percent) reported that their college education experience did not provide them with the skills needed to perform their first post-degree job. Likewise, nearly two in five graduates (39 percent) felt underqualified for roles because they had some but not all of the skills listed in the job description. Such surveys are rarely conducted in developing counties like Nepal.

On Choosing College/University
In addition to rich curricula and competent faculty members, a college with an excellent employment track, open to offering skill-enhancing non-credit courses, and having a meaningful corporate collaboration, is highly commendable for potential students to join the program. Of course, is it worth paying the cost of a degree? is also an important question that one must assess before admission.

The Way Forward
Management education is at crossroads. Enrollment is declining in number and quality. Faculty members find challenging to motivate students in the classroom to get engaged in the learning process. They are also not teaching beyond knowledge or academics. On the other hand, due to the global pandemic and other black-swan events in the world’s economy, and their pervasive effects, a significant shrink in worldwide job markets could be observed. Society is highly concerned about the returns on their investment in higher education. The opportunity cost for completing the degree is increasing and the perceived value is decreasing. To address these issues and more, the following actions are recommended:

Management education in Nepal started some 68 years back (on September 2, 1954). However, high growth and development of management education were observed only since the late 1980s when the government of Nepal adopted liberalization policies and a large number of financial institutions came into existence. The faculty of management also has been continuously innovating new programs and teaching-learning processes. However, a student-centered and transformational learning environment is still lacking. Very often industrialists express their dissatisfaction with management graduates. It is very common to listen that “management graduates do not know the very simple fundamental of management. They can describe theory but do not know how to apply it”. Our management education must be reevaluated to better prepare students with employable skills. Universities and colleges should collaborate with employers to align their offerings with the skills needed to perform jobs in the real world.

The faculty of management should initiate the real assessment of the “knowledge, skill and attitude” needs of organizations and design the programs accordingly. Essentially, about 60 percent of the courses in management programs around the world are similar. University should develop the remaining courses that cater to the needs of Nepali businesses. In regard to adopting foreign textbooks, Nepali professors should coauthor to provide an ample amount of Nepali business problems and context in the book as India has already experimented with it successfully.

University should be committed to continuous improvement, innovation, and change management programs. It is high time to conduct an independent academic audit of each program and the colleges affiliated with different universities. The institutional capacity of universities to monitor the quality at colleges should be developed.

Management faculty is involved in course development to address the new needs of businesses and organizations. With regard to this, a team of HBS professors suggested eight unmet needs of management education (Table 2) based on rigorous research work that should be persuaded by course developers while doing research.

In fostering integration, there must be integrative research initiatives, primarily in Economics, Law, Statistics, Health Care Management, Environment Science, Medicine, Engineering, Education, Social Science, and Psychology, among others. It is also advisable to establish linkage with government agencies, the private sector, development agencies, and other universities.

Finally, management education will never be irrelevant but fresh thinking is required to design curriculums and devise the pedagogy which is important to produce managers and leaders who can transform the business and society.

Thapa is Assistant Professor at Central Department of Management, Tribhuvan University.

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