Sunday, March 15, 2015

Revamping Business Curriculum in Collaboration with Industry for Impact

The model followed in Pakistan in the design of curricula is basically based on rearrangements of popular course names that correspond to some established (typically foreign) text books. A typical university in Pakistan designs a program by copying and pasting course names from some of the foreign universities and prominent local universities, making a semester-wise list of courses and throwing a few electives for each specialization. In the end the course descriptions end up being summaries of table of contents of selected text books. The final program mainly represents a rehash of the personal experiences of the academics of that university. Some of the universities may also invite a couple of people from industry or other universities to tweak this program in a forum pompously named as Board of Studies, which mainly involves playing with the names of the courses and their rearrangement. When HEC (or PEC) invites a curriculum meeting, it ends up rounding up the usual suspects (using the famous quote from Casablanca) i.e. university professors linked to the discipline. Industry executives and societal representatives are seldom invited/present in such deliberations. Major issues in such meetings revolve around courses, credit hours and the prerequisites. There is neither time nor the energy to go down to the contents of any of the courses.

This curriculum design has led to a state where our curriculum is sadly out of sync with the aspirations of our society and industry requirements. It is no wonder that the first thing on the minds of our graduates is ONLY to work for multinationals or leave Pakistan, ASAP. To appreciate the disconnect, consider this fact that none of the HEC prescribed courses for business curriculum is delivered in the language spoken in over 98% of business environments in Pakistan for interacting with customers and employees. Remember over 90% of Pakistani businesses are micro, small or medium sized. 

It would be interesting to count the number of pages in the prescribed textbooks by HEC talking about the real problems of Pakistan such as bhatta/extortion, time wastage, mis-commitments, food products adulteration, bribery, tax evasion, energy and water conservation, sanitation and cleanliness, health management, baboo culture, zulm and violence, lack of patience, exploitation, nepotism and favoritism. Case studies of organizations, cities and countries where these problems used to be rampant and were solved are conspicuous by their absence. Although over the last twenty years, violence has increasingly become the most important problem being confronted by businesses across Pakistan, I have not seen any course dealing with violence and business or references to some important case studies of how such issues have been solved elsewhere. I would love to see the inclusion of the case study of how NewYork got rid of the rampant violence during the 1990s [See Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point], or how USA solved the gangsters and mafias ruling the politics and city administrations of big cities during the Al Capone era of 1930s-1950s [See Untouchables and Godfather related movies]. 

The graduates often feel that they are fish out of water. They were never aware of the enormity of the real challenge of organizational behavior that they only read in some foreign books for passing the exams by scoring the minimum grades, but never envisioned or experienced. Their experience of real people, real problems, real issues, and unpredictability of the business environment is sadly out of sync with the reality. They were never trained to take on projects and to complete them to the best of their abilities and to take them to their logical completion which involves satisfying all the stakeholders irrespective of the months or years it may take. For them a project is about a report that needs to be submitted at the end of four months for which they need only a minimum 60% passing marks, and any thing above is good to have but not required. 

The only environment they are comfortable of is a multi-national organization or big corporate where there are set structures and processes, where change, if any, is dictated from the top and where the new entrant is not expected to be involved in transformational leadership and organizational change and development. Their inability to measure up to the challenge of working for a real organization and real problems of Pakistan leads them to a mental state of "cognitive dissonance", where they start comforting themselves about their inadequacies by claiming that it is beneath their dignity to work for a “seth organization”, and for which these high-flying graduates of our so called premier universities have coined the pejorative term "seth".  From the  perspective of the family business owner, hiring of high-flying graduates of IBA or LUMS is a high risk endeavor, because they do not even know the language and interpersonal skills required to interact with the shop floor laborers or common people. For these family businesses, it does not make business sense to invest in graduates who are notorious for their job-hopping after every few months, who would jump the ship whenever they get a whiff of a few thousands rupees increment. Making large scale structural changes and procedural changes on their recommendations and suggestions is highly risky because they are likely to leave at a short notice in the middle of even the beginning  unfreezing phase of the "unfreeze,-change-freeze" process of organizational change. Unfreezing is destabilizing with several unintended consequences that have to be dealt with patience, commitment and dogged determination which is often lacking in these graduates. 

We need to get away from our current methodology of designing the curriculum where we look at a few curricula of major universities in Pakistan and then tweak the names of courses here and there to align with the structure prescribed by HEC, which interestingly enough, was also designed using the structure of these same universities. HEC's current structure of MBA business curriculum is a solidified variation of the vintage IBA curriculum that was introduced 60 years ago by USAID to produce business graduates who can feed the growth of multinationals in Pakistan, which they have admirably done. But, their lack of focus on local businesses and creation of new businesses is now a huge challenge. 

The course structure, course contents, text books and methodology needs to be transformed drastically. We need to include case studies of how to solve our major problems at micro and macro Level, and do case studies of countries, communities, cities and organizations that have solved significant problems like the ones we are confronting today.  We need to develop in our students an experiential learning of solving these problems that would given them the confidence and tools for organizational and societal change and development. We need to give them experiential learning of the social, psychological, ethical dimensions of the transformation process and giving them a mission in their lives which goes beyond just the coverage of some foreign book concepts for the purpose of getting a pass-percentage in the course. 

We need to move away from the model whose basic building block is a course to a bottom up model in which the building blocks are the "knowledge" units and the "skill" units. This model is followed in other disciplines such as the ACM for the design of the CS curriculum and we need to study the process of how they develop the curriculum which often takes about a decade for each major revision. This often involves extensive surveys, participations, conferences and meetings of hundreds and thousands of public and private stakeholders, industry organizations, user organizations, professionals, designers, futurists, academics, and businesses, and which has resulted in the famous drafts known as the Strawman, Ironman and Steelman Drafts of the curriculum recommendations over the last several decades. 

Following the same vein, the process of business curriculum design in Pakistan should be owned by one or more of the professional associations such as the Management Association or Marketing Association or HR Association or other business associations. This needs to be an ongoing process where researchers extensively survey the industry professionals, practitioners, executives and academics who are member of these professional associations and regularly present the industry requirements in conferences, seminars and workshops. Based on such surveys, researchers should build area-wise taxonomies of knowledge and skill units and organize them according to their relationships. These should then be classified in terms of core and non-core, time duration, categories, types and other parameters. Typically this taxonomy would have thousands of knowledge and skills units identified by the industry executives. The researchers depending upon their interests then form interesting groupings of these concepts and skill units which are then labeled and quantified in credit hours and given course names. This bottom up process of course design starting ab-initio from input from the industry is our critical need.

Taxonomy of Concepts and Skills: A Representation
C's are the knowledge concepts, S represent the skills

Unfortunately we have never followed this process of curriculum development which has led to our curricula being greatly out of sync with the requirements of the industry. This is the reason why industry thinks that bookish knowledge is not relevant to its real-life concerns. The student on graduation feels that he is a fish out of water and the only thing he/she wants is to immigrate to the Western world for which he has been prepared using the text books that were developed to address their problems. Unless our curricula design trains our students to grapple with the problems of Pakistan, our graduates would keep on running away from the challenges of Pakistan and immigrating to other countries!

[Delivered as Session Chair "Revamping Business Curriculum in Collaboration with Industry" at 2nd Deans and Directors Conference of Business Schools in Pakistan organized by HEC's NBEAC (National Business Education Accreditation Council) at Marriott Karachi, Feb 10-11, 2015]

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1 comment:

  1. Assalam-o-Alaikum!

    An article worth reading and following, eventually.

    Since it was delivered at the Conference, you seemed to be focussing a lot on the requirements of industry. I wish I could do something that focusses more on society that, in my opinion, is not being under much consideration today.

    The adopted model is fantastic sir. Based on your sacrosanct writing on the subject, I would request you to demonstrate the model application to any course design, at your convenience. That would be more helpful for convincing those who have been struggling to improve course outlines.