Long Live the MBA. Or Is the MBA Dead?

Much before Elon Musk decried the MBA-isation of corporate America, there was an ever-raging debate on the need of Masters in Business Administration (MBA) – and the costs thereof. As I stand on the precipice of my two-year journey in the hallowed halls of the red bricks at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, I wonder – what have I gained, what have I lost?

MBA is the true embodiment of the Americanised ‘Indian Dream’ – education as a platform for upward mobility, raised on the pedestal of equal opportunity. In the best of times, it was termed a “glorified placement agency”, and in some endeavours – a matchmaker. Even when it seemed like it had fallen out of favour, the elite clique of institutions raised their fees (some more silently than the others).

Then, COVID-19 (which, surprisingly, was already the main feature of a course at IIM-A in 2019) took over the world. As the campus, the hub of “peer learning” became a sight for sore eyes – the intensity of emails tripled, Zoom became a household word, and Moodle became mainstream. From admissions to placements to convocations, B-schools are putting up a fight. But is it enough?

If peer-to-peer learning can be secured online, what makes physical campuses from regional institutes better than online degree courses by the top management schools of the west? What makes a degree “good” or better than the others? Do the fresh-minted MBAs have what it takes to tackle the new normal and restore balance in the business world? These are much more in-depth discussions and as of date there are no clear answers. If nothing else, the pandemic presents a pretty good case for humility.

Personal experience

For me, it has been a mixed bag – one which I fail to classify as either good or bad. I say this not as a part of the “hybrid” batch of 2021, but because of the changes I notice within myself.

First, I have realised the value of time. I recognise that my time is a valuable commodity – for which companies and corporations are willing to pay lakhs, if not crores, of rupees. A lot many of my actions, if not all, have become a game of cost-benefit and return of investment. I used to be able to spend hours re-reading my favourite novels. I used to write and make palaces out of paragraphs – without a care in the world. Now, I am much more conscious of the passage of time – and how I am not reading or writing fast enough.

Second, I have realised the value of friendships – and how to tend to them. For the uninitiated in the professional arena – a lot of things can come (and go) unconditionally. Almost in childish innocence, most of my actions never had a price to them – and for me, neither a cost. Now, as I have started engaging with people with a lot more “experience” (and age) than mine, I have become aware of the subtle difference between friends and acquaintances – and how the same face can play both the roles.

Third, I have realised the value of communication. As few would know, MBA is not famous only for its frameworks but also for how it borrows from other disciplines. Communications, negotiations and marketing aside, I feel it to be much easier for introverted me to talk in crowds, and a big class with 90 other hands raised beside you for class participation. Not only that, while my paragraphs might no longer be palaces, I like to think that they do get the point across.

Icarus Paradox?

It was Raghuram Rajan who had said: “If you survived the first term at (IIM) Ahmedabad, you can survive almost anything.”

I would not be as sure of my chances of survival in the world, because I do believe that the new normal is accelerating the decline of traditional forms of education. Even as black swans flood the case study repositories of MBA institutes worldwide, few might consider it worth roaming around in magnificent campuses from famous architects.

Based on the Greek mythic story, the Icarus Paradox refers to a situation when the same thing which led to something’s success, leads to its downfall. As applications continue to rise, only time will tell if the MBA has flown too close to the sun.

Aayush Gupta is a second-year MBA student at IIM Ahmedabad. Prior to this, he was a management student at Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies, University of Delhi.

Featured image credit: IIM Ahmedabad official website