In his response to Professor Phanish Puranam’s article, Professor Sanjay Kallapur explains his support for separate academic and sophisticated practitioner PhD tracks, elaborates on the potential for technology to reduce the costs of doctoral education and identifies problems that may arise from the two-track system.
The picture that Professor Phanish Puranam paints about the crisis in doctoral education in India is real. I commend him for articulating it and am pleased to respond to his article. Provocative as they are, I am mostly in agreement with his views.
First, I reinforce the importance of Professor Puranam’s disclaimer in which he emphasises the importance of rigorous research that includes abstraction, logical reasoning, reliable measurements, and valid causal inferences achieved through appropriate research designs. These are not merely academic affectations; rather, they are the practical means of ensuring that lessons drawn from obser ved phenomena can be generalised to other similar situations. The system of doing science by publishing in peer-reviewed publications is the best system known to us for producing good science. I reiterate that Professor Puranam’s article should not be taken to mean that India can dispense with the need to train cutting-edge researchers. India has as much need for cutting-edge research as does the developed world, because as the economic success of Silicon Valley and Research Triangle Park demonstrate, world-class research is the most powerful engine of economic growth.
As a background to understanding the skills needed for business school teachers, it is worthwhile to step back and think about what MBA education does. There are many ways of training managers − self- learning on the job, formal on-the-job apprenticeships and classroom education in MBA programmes. The last of these, originally an American phenomenon, has now taken root in ever y part of the world. The success of MBA education − notwithstanding all the introspection about MBA education being at a crossroads, which does ser ve a useful and necessar y purpose − suggests that this method of training is superior to the alternatives.
Classroom MBA education is designed to provide students with conceptual frameworks to understand and make sense of business phenomena. It is quite different from the way people are taught chess or golf − there, the coach (it’s a coach and not a professor) does teach some concepts but largely obser ves and critiques practice. As an example of a framework, the
4 Ps (or 4 Cs) of Marketing focus the practitioner’s thinking on the key dimensions on which decisions need to be made. Similarly, Porter’s 5 forces point to the relevant aspects to focus on in formulating competitive strategy. The role of concepts is utilitarian – they highlight the underlying similarities in seemingly different areas. Other wise, as in the olden days, one would need separate courses for railroad management and insurance company management.
I have a slight disagreement with him on the teaching track. While the importance of pedagogical innovations is undeniable, I do not believe that a large number of business faculty members need to be engaged in pedagogical research. Indeed, unlike K-12 schools that require teachers to have training in education, I do not know of any university that requires its professors to have training in pedagogy. This suggests that pedagogy can be picked up on the job.
I am not denying the value of research in pedagogy. For instance, if accounting courses can teach either
The system of doing science by publishing in peer- reviewed publications is the best system known to us for producing good science.
It follows that the MBA teacher should have a deep understanding of concepts.
This understanding requires the professor to think from first principles, confront the concepts and frameworks with reality, and continually think of how to refine and generalise the concepts and frameworks. One can never have perfect conceptual frameworks – they must be constantly refined. This is where the need for PhD education comes in. PhD education imparts the knowledge to understand the concepts at sufficient depth to be able to convey them to the student, and the research skills to apply and refine frameworks.
I agree with Professor Puranam that individuals with sound knowledge of concepts, who keep themselves current by testing the boundaries of these concepts through research (academic) or through application (sophisticated practitioner), are well- suited to convey these concepts and frameworks to students. the income statement or the statement of cash flows first, I can see the value of systematic research on which leads to better student learning. I believe that such research should involve a collaboration between business professors and researchers in the school of education. The latter are in a position to tie it into general frameworks of learning, which is not the comparative advantage of business professors. I do not want to make too much of this difference, however. I suspect it is a matter of emphasis − both Professor Puranam and I agree that pedagogical skills are required in imparting concepts to students and that research on pedagogy is useful.
Turning to another point that he makes, I completely agree with him on the desirability of using technology to reduce the cost of doctoral education. PhD education consists of two parts − two years of doctoral-level courses (which are of a different nature than MBA courses, and therefore cannot be delivered to MBA and PhD students simultaneously
to reduce costs) and another two-three years of intense research super vision. Because doctoral class sizes are small − area courses might have only two -four students − the cost per student works out to be ver y high. Student learning could improve rather than worsen if class sizes are larger; however, given faculty constraints for the next phase of doctoral education, namely research super vision, larger class sizes within an institution are not feasible. Thus, the only feasible way of reducing the cost of coursework Professor Puranam proposes, I foresee two issues for which I do not have solutions. I nevertheless want to raise them because I think the success of the two- track model depends on finding solutions to these issues. First, it is a common experience that two- track systems cause frictions. People in each track tend to consider themselves superior to those in the other. This has a human cost, and more importantly, it prevents what could other wise be fruitful collaborations among people across tracks where
India has as much need for cutting-edge research as does the developed world, because as the economic success of Silicon Valley and Research Triangle Park demonstrate, world-class research is the most powerful engine of economic growth.
is to deliver them simultaneously to students across different institutions. Fortunately, videoconferencing technology has made this easy. Professor Puranam’s school, INSEAD, is a good example of one that has successfully leveraged technology
to deliver its PhD programme across two campuses using videoconferencing technology. We at the ISB have also successfully organised doctoral courses with remotely located instructors or with instructors teaching at other institutions, without the need for any special technological infrastructure other
each side’s unique strengths could generate synergy. Second, there are broadly-agreed norms for quality in the academic research track and an entire ecosystem, including peer-reviewed journals, to generate transparent quality measures (a paper must be good if it is accepted for publication in a prestigious journal). It is much harder to evaluate the quality of work in the practitioner track. I am not at all saying that all practitioner-track work is of low quality; my point is that the bad apples cannot be readily separated out from the rest of the basket, and therefore may spoil the whole basket’s reputation. I suspect the two issues are inter-related. If quality control in both tracks were than standard desktop computers, video cameras and an Internet connection.
While I endorse at least two of the three tracks for PhD education that equally good, there would be less friction. I commend Professor Puranam again for raising important issues and hope that it results in concrete action to tackle the crisis in doctoral education.