The intricate balance between practical demands of commercial relevance and scholarly aspirations within management education reflects the ever-changing nature of academia

A lot of management text and advice is common-sensical. It is common sense if one agrees that the basic objective of management is a propulsion of commercial interest. That this proposition may itself be in doubt is another matter altogether. There is no substantial reason to see commerce as the domain of all management activities. If the purpose of management efforts is business management, then to some extent, it can become an extenuative logic because, at least, the assumption there is to focus on the optimization of business.

However, there is business and business; manufacturing can be a business but has a veneer of its own. It does not cover the business of ideas, and the business of ideas can be a specialization of its own, especially when it comes to being focused on education, financial exchanges, the exchange of news, and indeed exchange of money in stock exchanges. Thus, it is that business management has many forms of focus and interest. To cover all of it is difficult in a simple MBA program spread over 1200 to 1300 contact hours.

This kind of super specialisation or focus is difficult to achieve. Thus, it is that management education covers a general set of what could be called core areas and then specialisations of a more focused variety.

The lay of the land is so far to create specializations in finance, marketing, and the like; the emphasis on sectors such as Agriculture or Research & Development is yet to gather its range and depth. This is not going to come easy because to create a curriculum, one needs reading material. The reading material is often in the form of books or publications in journals, and this requires research. It also requires a forum for publication, which is in the form of print. Unless there is a definite market for these journals or magazines they cannot survive. Has the touchstone of journals or magazines, like much else, also become commercial?

However, what is commercially relevant may not always be intellectually feasible. Hence, there is a contradiction, if not a hiatus.

Be that as it may, it delays the creation of a critical mass of material, which in its own right is worth publishing, disseminating and preserving. The touchstone again becomes commercial. It is therefore not unusual to find colleges taking a lesser interest in non-commercial areas than in activities that have a commercial overlay. This is not usual, but by the same token, it is not in the best interest of pursuing a scholarly interest.

In fact, it may be arguable that scholastic interest is an endeavour in its own right and is indeed the heart of an educational institution. To sustain this focus requires funds and research orientation.

The problem with finding funds or this sort of effort is, of course, the problem of justifying the return on those funds. A one-to-one correlation in such matters is difficult to establish, and it is even more difficult to create a climate of justifying this as a scholastic effort, which is the foundation of any good educational institution.

It is difficult to argue that worldwide, well-established academic institutions invest a substantial amount of resources in creating this research climate, and their global recognition as institutions of distinction is rooted in precisely this kind of environment.

Such contradictions are common in life.

It is natural to envy the distinctiveness of others, but the same kind of ease does not accompany recognizing what it takes to create that kind of distinctiveness. 

As the world moves on, the global comparison, especially amongst people who speak a common language, becomes more frequent.

Typically, there is a ranking of universities, but the inter-se ranking, as in India, is always amongst institutions of the English-speaking world. One rarely sees comparisons between the universities of the English-speaking world with the universities of the Portuguese, Spanish or the Russian-speaking world. Thus, it is that the word global itself acquires a generalization that does not merit it and creates a misconception about what is indeed truly global.

Like all industries, education as an industry – if it may so be called– has a long way to go before it matures. A realization of this deficiency is difficult to create and even more difficult to disseminate. Gaining recognition of the decision-making power is still a more far-removed matter. 

Clearly, education as an endeavour has a long way to go before it can truly be assessed for its long-range value, beyond common sensical generalisations. The occasion of a national education policy would have been a fit occasion to tackle some of these issues, but then perhaps it will have to await a revision before this is attempted.

(The writer is a well-known management consultant of international repute. The views expressed are personal)