Revamping in global – B schools


If you compare various global B-school rankings, you will find a handful of schools dominating the top slots each year. Stanford Graduate School of Business is one of them. Given its popularity, the school didn’t really have to tinker its offering. Yet in the first week of June, Stanford-GSB professor Garth Saloner announced a complete overhaul of its MBA programs the results of curriculum review spanning four months.

The reasons the professor has explained for the overhaul of its programs are that their students have diverse backgrounds. In the same class, they may have a business undergraduate who has spent six years on Wall Street and another who is a history major and has spent three years in a not-for-profit organization. But they are all put through a ‘one size fits all’ program. So, students with the most experience are insufficiently challenged, while those with least experience find themselves with students who are much more prepared. Neither group has the best possible experience.

In response to this finding, Stanford-GSB has come up with a program where each student tailor-makes his MBA. The new curriculum starts with a set of required courses. Students work closely with a professor to figure out what they need from their MBA, and accordingly customize their courses. The new format includes the current base level course along with high-level courses designed to challenge the student in his or her area of expertise.

Like Stanford last year London Business School (LSB) introduced a flexible program structure which allows students to finish their MBA in between 15 to 21 months, based on their own ability to fast-track it. And this year LBS will introduce a major program review, based on feedback from various stakeholders

In a new course structure to be unveiled in August, Yale School of Management will attempt to take faculty out of their comfort zones to create synthesis and break the frame. University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business is also making some mid-course chanfes.

The trigger for these overhauls is most likely the criticism of business education by senior B-school academicians. They say while the business landscape has changed over the last century, B-schools haven’t. They have been accusing B-schools of teaching subjects as silos, without integrating them.

The first year of its MBA programs will focus on business fundamentals; understanding capital, customers and employees; managing and growing operations; and global issues in perspective. The second year will focus on innovation.

The overhauls also have a more global perspective built in. Stanford-GSB’s new curriculum has a course on the global context of business and now international experience is mandatory for first year students a study trip or an internship. USC-Marshall has a whole term dedicated to global economies, global strategy and global leadership.

Effecting these changes is not easy. It requires carefully pulling out strands from various functional areas and ensuring that they make sense in one theme. It also requires a different style of teaching, with professors from different subject areas taking classes together. Some like Richard Ivey are creating case studies to go with the new curriculum. Some of these experiments, such as that of Stanford-GSB, are resources-intensive-they’d require small class, bigger facilities and more faculty.

It is too soon to tell whether these schools will succeed or not. But Indian B-schools sure can learn something from their experience.

In conclusion these B-schools are trying out various experiments to give students the big-picture perspective. This time, they are increasingly doing away with the traditional curriculum structures and are organizing content under themes and modules. The global B-schools have realigned the curriculum to bring many disciplines together to approach business problems, rather than focus on narrow functional areas. The idea is to prepare executives to predict, analyze, strategize and act upon issues spanning the entire enterprise. The theme has been arranged into four modules: developing leadership competencies; developing business skills and executive strategies; competing successfully in a global environment; and excelling through Cross-Enterprise Leadership.