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Taking care of business

  • Published at 06:27 pm March 19th, 2014
Taking care of business

Bangladesh’s private sector is growing, and so is the need for good managers. If you were to ask any private sector entrepreneur, he or she would immediately ask for good financial analysts, HR managers, marketing managers, or production supervisors. Higher salaries or maybe even joining bonuses are not much of an issue.

Public universities are not capable of attending to the increasing human resource demand from the private sector. We are therefore seeing an increasing number of private universities being set up. Looking at these private universities, one could easily say these are predominantly business schools or that the majority of their earnings come from offering business courses at undergraduate and post graduate levels.

The first business school of Bangladesh was the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) under University of Dhaka. Business education was subsequently initiated by both public and private universities due to the growing demand for BBA and MBA degrees among the youngsters, despite their parents’ initial uncertainties and traditional preference towards engineering and medical professions.

Gradually, the emergence of the private sector in higher education was graciously welcomed by the business community. Corporate executives looked forward to meeting a new bunch of impressive interviewees during the recruitment process, parents were glad to have more alternatives, and students were excited to find flexible and dynamic course offerings which were a bit more aligned with the Western world or global markets. But how many of these expectations are being met in reality? I regret to say, not many.

The country’s economic landscape is changing. Domestic corporate houses are coming up at a faster pace than ever. Business schools have to strategically predict the future in order to prepare their intake for the business environment four years down the line, if not more. The challenges are multi-faceted.

First of all, the ratio of the core staff to the total number of students in private universities, more importantly, in business schools, is too small, which puts immense pressure on the core team to maintain business as usual. The dean or the director is often bogged down with administrative details due to the unavailability of suitable people to delegate responsibilities. When is he supposed to do the strategic thinking, expand the reach towards target markets, and change the face of the organisation?

The shortage of quality teachers is a chronic problem that I see the business schools face day in and day out. The teacher sometimes has no hands-on experience in or about the corporate world, which in turn creates textbook-oriented and inward-looking faculty members. The archaic teacher sitting in a chair and dictating the same class notes for 10 years in the same monotonous voice cannot be the picture of a business school. However, this is a common scene even today.

Visiting faculties and top executives are invited to take one or two semesters. If the busy CEO does not have the passion for teaching and merely agrees not to upset his good friend in the university, it creates a lack of ownership among the teachers and disappointment among the students. The guest lecturer must not dissociate himself from the branding of the university he visits at least thrice a week.

The university should do its part to support busy executives by providing capable teaching assistants to free their time and let them focus on teaching rather than house-keeping matters.

The inputs and outputs of business schools are the students. In order to reach a break-even point financially, some universities are forced to take in a minimum number of students every semester. When the focus shifts to quantity rather than quality, there is no worse signal for the education sector.

In the end, quality will speak for itself. Alumni can play a role here by arranging grants and donations to minimise the gap. More importantly, large business houses can come forward in this regard. A few years back, I was very intrigued by a news item saying “after Mahindra’s $10 million, Tata donates $50 million to Harvard.”

My experience with teaching MBA/EMBA students for several years suggests that those who are also working or are professionals score the highest in exams and assignments as they are better able to relate the study with real-life scenarios. An MBA is recommended for professionals who have had a minimum degree of work experience. Get yourself engaged in some job, see a bit of the world and then join the MBA program. It is not a degree to enrich your resume; it is a rigorous program to turn you into a hard worker.

An administrative cadre must be built to free up some quality time among the thinkers. Business schools should embed a transparent feedback process for evaluating teachers. This should be shared with the teacher concerned and his views must be taken into cognisance.

It is in the school’s interest to do their level best to keep the highest-rated faculties on board. The alumni should have a strong association and work for the benefit of their alma mater.

Each university should have a rich library, modern computer centre with the fastest internet connection, and cutting edge research facilities as a bare minimum. Going forward, the differentiating ones must look at attracting distinguished teachers and researchers from abroad and encourage them to conduct research on Bangladesh’s corporate and global business issues.

These infrastructural aspects are important as their lack holds back students from excelling and bringing praise for the organisation. Good business schools are a must to support economic growth we all aspire to attain in the coming years. Good business schools with better private universities can, of course, do more with nation-building too. However, much would depend on how they bring about a synergy between good academic administration, teaching, and research.