MET founder trustee Sunil Karve: Work on ground will help understand nuances of revenue generation

A chartered accountant by qualification, Sunil Karve has a long track record in the education sector, including the post-graduate management stream. He is a founder trustee of the Mumbai Education Trust (MET) and also the honorary chairman of the board at Kohinoor Education Trust, in charge of a host of educational institutes, including the Kohinoor Business School. He has some specific ideas on how the current structure of business schools can be tweaked for greater benefits. In an interview with  Pankaj Joshi, Karve shares his vision for management education.

Edited excerpts:

How do you encourage students towards academics when the syllabus sometimes is archaic and outdated?

The syllabus constraints are more pronounced in case of the MMS courses which come under the purview of the Mumbai University and they frame the syllabus totally. For PGDM courses, the respective institutes have a greater degree of flexibility, both for course curriculum as well as for faculty selection.

The thing to appreciate is that norms need to be different for B-schools. This is a totally different genre compared to say science. Here work experience makes the teaching richer. Industry experts are needed, who can share their real-world experiences. B-school teaching should be less of classroom lectures and more of interactive projects. This aspect unfortunately is not taken care of within the present regulatory framework.

Typically one needs to be a Ph.D. to be a professor or even an associate professor, let alone director of an institute. However, we have seen that industry experience and hands on expertise is at least vital for B-school students. Therefore, it should be mandated that the Ph.D. requirement could be replaced by middle-management level of exprience in the faculty.

The Ph.D. level of learning definitely brings a different type of experience and a greater degree of in-depth awareness. But, on this aspect, a serious look is also needed at the way the Ph.D. accreditation is awarded. Ultimately we are training students to go into the corporate world. Therefore, there needs to be some orientation towards that end, plus some quality control.

Now regarding availability, there is much talent that corporate India has to offer. Apart from the working executives who form visiting faculty, there are many good executives who, after satisfactory careers in the corporate world, are willing to come and take faculty responsibility and contribute something to the growth of a younger generation.

Within the available parameters what kind of improvisation have you done?

We as an institute are innovative in the sense that we actually apply educational technology to not only make different topics interesting, but also to speed up absorption and thereby encourage the students. We have across the streams, activated the use of various information and communication tools. We have also converted the syllabus, where we have flexibility, to a trimester system (three semesters in a year). Within that, we have tried to take subjects to modular delivery mode. We are happy to say that emphasis on workshops, case studies, projects etc to complement teaching is yielding good results. We aim to retain the essence, rather than clutter up the schedule with quantity.

To emphasise on the whole year’s syllabus, at the end of the third trimester, a case study would be introduced which covers all the topics covered throughout the year.

We also understand that across the board conversion of all lectures to the modular format cannot be possible. To that end, we have formed a study group. Their mandate, beyond the course syllabus, is to study the latest regulatory and corporate-level developments, including software packages, for the relevant stream.

Beyond that, we have the concept of industry immersion in projects. Students are asked their preferred industry, where they would want to make a career, and the faculty and internship placement personnel would work accordingly. The students career is at the centre of all that we do.

“Till you do work on the ground, you do not understand the nuances of how revenue is generated. Your future decisions as CEO should have the flavour of on-ground experience. There is this big myth that management students need not do ground work, and it is partly up to institutes to debunk this myth.”

Then comes the vital question – when we transform some courses which we are allowed to, are we doing a disservice to the MMS stream (as university restrictions limit them here)? After all, these students are also our ambassadors. While complying with University norms, we provide these students additional inputs about prevailing trends and gauging their career interest. We believe in going the extra mile.

It is imperative that students be at the centre of every institute policy and their interest be given preference. At this institute or anywhere else, the staff members need to understand that. They have job profile, responsibilities etc but whatever they do in the interests of the students, then they will not be questioned. That is true empowerment of staff, they move beyond mere compliance with management and think of students and the institution as whole.

Is there a way to counsel the students that they should start small and then climb the corporate ladder with experience?

I would be really happy if students actually start their career with a sales stint, which unfortunately no one wants to. My view is that till you do work on the ground, you do not understand the nuances of how revenue is generated. Your future decisions as CEO should have the flavour of on-ground experience. There is this big myth that management students need not do ground work, and it is partly up to institutes to debunk this myth.

When you are young and have energy in your initial career phase, it is where learning will have greater impact. As an institution head I can say, good companies, designations and packages are as important as small companies offering good exposure and experience. Students should not avoid jobs in such companies, rather look at such profiles as an investment in their own selves, which will give good benefits in time to come.

How does one deal with the obsession of marks as a vital evaluation yardstick? Also, how do institutes in this field make a bigger impact?

I do agree that it is important to get out of the marks mind set, at least at the post-graduate level. This in itself is a big topic of thought— how then to evaluate performance. We have to debate and come up with alternative yardsticks. We have seen people doing well academically but then not doing so well in the placement exercises. Hence, some kind of multi-disciplinary evaluation approach is necessary.

No institute should look at others as competition. Teaching is a sacred profession. All should look at collaborating rather than competing. Even the benefits of something as minor as a guest lecture will be more widespread if institutes come together and invite one another.

Being incubators is a vital function for any institution, particularly the kind of incubators we see abroad. For that, investment in both tangible and human assets would be required.

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