Education Partnership : Agenda for Action

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Education Partnership : Agenda for Action

The relationship is indeed symbiotic in nature as both alternate their roles as supplier and user of resources for each other – business supplying inputs (resources, needs, information etc) to the business education system which the latter uses for producing outputs that are fed back into business as inputs.
 
--By Prof Subas KC
 
When I stand in a queue at the counter of a fast food joint to buy a burger or a pizza, I carry with me a backpack of customer psychology. Everyone does, I guess.  This is manifested in our wanting to get tasty items, served efficiently and courteously, for the price we pay. A customer, whether buying a burger or a Boeing aircraft, is least likely to think as an investor who would want to see his/her engagement in shaping and owning the product by committing some resources. This is indeed not expected of a customer buying food or any item over the counter or on-line for consumption. A customer is a shopper here.  S/he is not an investor. 
 
Shopping Not Shaping Human Resources
Is the shopping attitude and behaviour expected when you are 'buying' people to run your business? Is it enough or even ethical? I believe not. But, alas, this is happening in business in our country. Our businesses shop people; they don't shape them. My argument is business is not a customer of people; it must be an investor in their development. 
 
Business, perhaps more than any other human enterprises, needs best people to run it competitively and profitably, and for this reason, the practice is to call employees in business organizations human resources. Businesses acquire human resources from the job market when they start their operations and when they grow, and in doing so, it is important that they are guided by and follow the 'production' perspective, not the 'consumption' concept which characterizes this function in Nepali businesses. This requires that businesses invest in people and their development for their own growth. And for this, businesses must partner with business education system. There is no such tradition here. But we must create one for a better future.  
 
Why Partnering?
In this competitive global arena, the relationship between business and business education is not a matter of choice but of compulsion. The relationship is indeed symbiotic in nature as both alternate their roles as supplier and user of resources for each other – business supplying inputs (resources, needs, information etc) to the business education system which the latter uses for producing outputs that are fed back into business as inputs. Both stand to gain by working closely and collaboratively in the existing competitive market structures where there is high competition in attracting both quality business graduates (by business) and adequate resources (by the business education system) as other sectors and educational systems also vie for the same limited resources. Enhancing competitiveness and developing capacity of business and business education system through mutual actions is thus necessary.  
 
Much as this relationship of mutuality is necessary, its importance is apparently lost on the business community in Nepal. The business education system does not fare any better on this issue. There is not much understanding of the nature and dynamics of the mutuality of interests between the two institutions, with little shared actions. As a matter of fact, they are almost independent actors, not partners. This has resulted in the sub-optimization of benefits, even forgoing of many potential benefits, for both business and business education system. We will do well if this situation is corrected.  
 
Model for Partnering
Initiatives for remedial measures should be based on a clear understanding of the imperatives for walking together, while at the same time, working out a viable modality of business - business education partnership. The fundamental conceptual justification for such partnership arises from the very nature of business education and its position in business. Blending of analytical rigor and industry relevance of business education has been both a need and a guiding principle of the design and delivery of business education programmes post the 1950s following the trend-setting reports on business education commissioned by Ford Foundation and Carnegie Foundation. Without a proactive role of business, it would not be possible for business education to maintain its business relevance. In the same way, without a prominent role of the academia, business education taking place in-house or elsewhere would not be able to achieve analytical rigor.  
 
Partnership makes it possible to combine both with responsibility shared between the provider and the user. Rigor is primarily the responsibility of the providers of business education system, viz.: university or business schools while the users, i.e. businesses, set the standards of quality to be achieved. And, relevance is to be ensured by the users through the articulation of the needs and supply of resources to which the providers should be able to respond competently. More specifically, I see several roles of business and business education as being critical for the model of partnership.  
 
Business needs to articulate human resource needs, supply resources for business education and research, and absorb B-School products. Similarly, it should provide information and experiential opportunities for the faculty and students, seek professional services from business schools, and set competence standards and evaluate the quality against these standards. The role of business also lies in participating in educational management as well as using and sharing knowledge with business schools. 
 
 For their part, B-Schools should assess human resource needs of business, use resources supplied for business education and research, and generate and share knowledge. They need to design need-based programmes and deliver skilled products, use information and experiential opportunities, and supply professional services to business houses to address their operational and strategic problems. B- Schools require meeting the competence standards set by businesses while developing network and involving businesses in managing institutions.
 
What Is Happening or Not Happening?
Elsewhere in the world, more so in the west, partnering has reached a stage of maturity. Two major actions which are implemented with continuous adaptation to sustain and strengthen this relationship are:  a. restructuring of curricula to reflect the need for blending relevance and rigor, and b. intensive institutional collaborative mechanisms to meet mutual role expectations. Major initiatives are afoot even in emerging market economies. India presents a good example of the emerging partnering between business and business education.  
 
Sadly enough, not much is happening in Nepal for forging and forwarding the relationship despite some growth in business sector and business education. A minimalist approach characterizes the efforts to forge the relationship – and indeed the nature of the relationship itself. Both are actors, not partners, in business education, operating almost independent of each other – business interested only in shopping, but not shaping, the products of business education and business education only focusing on the production of graduates with self-centrist zeal. Naturally, this has resulted in low and limited role performance at both ends.   
 
Why the Gap?
The situation demands a more thorough and systematic study, which I believe is long overdue. With such an inquiry into the underlying causes of little and limited relationship pending, it is hazardous to forward explanatory arguments. One may, though, make a few observations. In my view, the value of business education is, generally speaking, poorly perceived in business largely due to the prevalent culture and nature of business in our country. Limited corporatization of business and a clerical rather than a managerial and entrepreneurial perspective by businesses of the outputs of business schools are hardly conducive conditions for appreciating the value addition role of business education. Education programmes are in the society largely sought and accepted from the perspective of earning qualifications rather than as  a means of improving performance competency and character. When education is valued for a degree, there will naturally be no pressure for a symbiotic relationship between universities and society.
 
For the part of business education system, there is very limited institutional capacity to deliver the quality products resulting in a failure to meet customer requirements and expectations, howsoever inadequately they are expressed. Business schools have also not been able to strategically position business education, a weakness that has serious implication for their own growth and acceptability.
 
These issues are there, and obviously they must be addressed for a mutually rewarding relationship between business and business education. To me, however, the most critical constraint is, as I hinted earlier, the customer-oriented perspective of businesses when it comes to defining their relationship with the business education system. This is not just a constipated view of looking at the human resource development issue in business; more than that, it is a gross mistake with serious implications for the growth of businesses themselves. 
 
Way Forward
What is needed is an investor perspective. Businesses must invest in developing their leaders, managers and entrepreneurs if they are to ensure their competitiveness and success. Choosing the products of business schools and complaining about their inadequacy will not help them find their leaders and performers who will take them to the next stage. This unhealthy practice has been in place for long; it's now time to change it. I propose below some initial ideas for taking it forward with expectation that they find eager audience within both business and business education system:
• Acceptance of symbiotic relationship and understanding of the model of partnership by both business and business education communities. Creation of a joint forum with participation of representative institutions and associations and convening an annual business education conference would make it possible.
 
• Establishment of a joint commission on business education with participation of businesses, business schools, and government. The commission, as the first step, should bring out a business education charter to define the scope and nature and guide the design, delivery and use of business education. It should also formulate long-term and short-term business education plans based on skills requirement assessment which it can commission by using national and international experts. 
 
• Development of business as a profession with formulation and compliance with professional codes of conduct, norms, and standards for doing business. Business associations should architect such professional codes and oversee their compliance with technical support from business education scholars.
 
• Creation of permanent structures for promotion and utilization of business education within various business associations. Representation from business schools in such structures should be ensured.
 
• Creation of governing boards within business schools with a strong presence of business leadership. This will ensure that education within business schools will maintain strong industry relevance. 
 
• Active opening and involvement of businesses as a learning laboratory for business students (e.g. internship and project works). This will provide hands-on experience of business reality and skills to business students.  
 
• Involvement of business executives in business education on institutionalized basis. Regular and intensive involvement of business executives as visiting faculty under long-term agreement for teaching and research works in business schools will enhance business-relatedness of business education.
 
• Commissioning of joint research, consulting, and in-house management development activities.  The outputs of such collaborative actions will benefit both.
 
• Creation of business education fund by the business community. Through such funds scholarships, professorial chairs, infrastructural development, research grants etc can be financed.  
 
Of course, these ideas need to be further developed and fine-tuned while exploring many more. My intention is to create agenda for further deliberations based on which a concrete plan should be developed for their implementation. It will take time. More than that, it will take a lot of determination and commitment on the part of both businesses and business education system to accept and work on the need for partnering and to take it forward. I am hopeful that businesses will come forward to engage in dialogue leading to the development of this much-needed partnership.  
 
Let’s hope that for better business – and better future of Nepal – businesses will invest in human resources development, moving away from the current customer orientation towards investment approach. Business education will more than respond to such a welcome initiative.
 
The writer is Dean, Kathmandu University School of Management (KUSOM)

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