Creating an Evolving MBA

Redesigned MBA at BIMTECH is the result of stakeholder input, industry involvement, and a deliberately student-centered design.

Creating an Evolving MBA

TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY are evolving so rapidly that some experts estimate that every five years about one third of the competencies that MBA graduates learn today will be replaced by newer skill sets. With that in mind, for the past 14 years faculty at the Birla Institute of Management Technology (BIMTECH) in Greater Noida, India, have been continuously improving our curriculum. In 2017, we conducted a quality audit of our teaching and learning objectives in our MBA program to ascertain whether the changes we were making were successfully achieving our learning objectives and meeting the needs of industry. We also asked KPMG to conduct an audit of our assurance of learning processes, including student evaluations, admission, and placement.

The audit highlighted areas that could use improvement—for example, KPMG suggested that we update the case studies we use to assess students’ competencies to more accurately reflect current contexts, that we more clearly link each case study to specific competency development, and that we create an internal web portal where students and faculty can build a common base of knowledge. However, we also learned that our students believe BIMTECH and its faculty provide them with the resources and support they need to learn.

These results reinforced our conviction that our curriculum encourages students to engage in deep learning—which we define as an integrative learning process that develops higher order thinking and incorporates periods of reflection. We have de-emphasized surface learning that relies only on rote memorization. Instead, we ask students to delve into difficult concepts, engage in self-reflection, and apply what they learn to real-world problems. We strive to train students to become lifelong learners who will keep renewing their skill sets throughout their careers.

Our curriculum’s design depends on a six-layer framework, which encompasses three central features: student-centered design, stakeholder input, and the ongoing involvement of industry in our curriculum design and admissions processes.

Student-centered design. The first layer of our framework involves cultivating students’ general business knowledge about the social, political, regulatory, legal, technological, and ecological contexts for business. Next, we enhance students’ master’s-level knowledge, including their ability to lead, innovate, solve problems, and make decisions.

For the third layer, we move on to teaching the soft skills, which include communication, analytical, interpersonal, and multicultural competencies. We also want to develop our students’ sense of ethics and ability to apply knowledge to real-world problems. For the fourth layer, we focus on instilling in students three sets of values, which relate to ethics and integrity, sustainability and transparency, and innovativeness and entrepreneurship.

Throughout our curriculum, we pay special attention to experiential learning; we want students to go through the “knowing,” “doing,” and “being” stages of learning. During the first trimester of the MBA program, all students make site visits to either a large manufacturing company or service delivery organization. We also require students to complete one to two short-term projects, each lasting a minimum of ten days, under a faculty member’s guidance.

As part of their responsible business course, all students complete one of four different ten-day social immersion experiences. Students can choose to train young girls in life skills at a nearby village or work in one of the ten jail libraries established by BIMTECH’s foundation. They also can opt to travel in a bus equipped with mobile technologies to promote digital literacy in disadvantaged communities, or they can work on teams to assess the impact of a cement manufacturer’s sustainability initiatives on 79 villages.

Finally, our MBA program incorporates course-embedded simulations, a self-management course, three-month summer internships, and a mentoring program. We then encourage students to opt to take additional specialized courses and MOOCs in their professional areas of interest.

Stakeholder input. The last two layers in our curriculum encompass our strategies for ensuring that our MBA remains flexible and adaptable to industry needs. These include our adoption of innovative and evolving processes and ongoing curriculum design. To support these strategies, we regularly benchmark our programs against at least one international and one Indian peer institution and systematically gather feedback from students and faculty. We also invite industry experts to our courses as guest faculty so that they can provide objective feedback on the content—so far, practitioners have taught in about 20 percent of our classes.

To align our courses with the needs of industry, we turn to our six academic advisory boards, each dedicated to a different subject area. Each year, at least two months prior to the finalization of our course syllabi, board members discuss program structure and course outlines before suggesting courses or modules they believe should be added, dropped, or modified. Their suggestions must be approved by our academic council, which also includes four external experts, before we incorporate them in the curriculum.

Industry involvement in admissions. In addition to giving feedback on our course content, industry experts help us evaluate applicants to BIMTECH’s MBA program. A two-person panel, which consists of one faculty member and one industry expert, conducts personal interviews that last for a minimum of 20 minutes per applicant. Each interview centers on the discussion of two short case studies, an approach we believe makes the evaluation process more objective. Through these interactions, we can assess students’ communication and leadership skills, as well as their creativity, entrepreneurial mindset, and awareness of business trends.

Every year about 75 to 80 industry experts help us conduct interviews in Greater Noida and 15 other towns. By involving practitioners in our admissions process, we gain insight into the skill sets their companies need, as we engage them as potential recruiters of our graduates.

With our regularly updated curriculum in place, BIMTECH has secured accreditation from India’s National Assessment and Accreditation Council and National Board of Accreditation, and we currently are pursuing AACSB accreditation. In short, we believe that the layers of our pedagogical approach—which emphasize student-centered experiential learning, stakeholder input, and ongoing experimentation and revision—will keep our programs connected to and aligned with 21st-century business environments.

Ajoy K. Dey is a professor in the supply chain and operations management area at the Birla Institute of Management Technology in Greater Noida, India.