Ru En

Soapbox: gulf between teaching and reality

Ruben Vardanyan Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO

Date: 18 November 2009

Source: Financial Times blog

The world has changed dramatically and continues to change rapidly.

In this new reality the traditional business school format, based on the western template, no longer provides the level of knowledge and quality of education necessary for students and which employers demand.

This explains why we have witnessed such a large gap between what is actually happening, especially in such countries as China, India and Russia and what is being taught at business school. Even the best schools, which opened their affiliates in emerging countries, tried to copy their European and US programs. The result was a gulf between the schools and the reality of the country in which they were operating.

There is a strong need for a school that is more suited to the environment of fast-growing economies, such as Russia, India and China and is linked to the changing world.

Generally, many schools are established along similar lines; they are created with the aim of academic strength, classic schools with fundamental education and strong research capabilities.

I believe that a really good business school should combine practice and theory and give students an opportunity to analyze the general conclusions made on the basis of acquired knowledge, alongside today’s reality.

Such a school will not only provide a student with a diploma and an alumni network, but will also give students a real understanding of what is happening in the world and an understanding of what they might like to do in the future.

What does the business world want from business school graduates today? Previously, graduates with a technical education, especially engineers and former military servicemen, who had also received education in fields such as finance and marketing were in the greatest demand. Today the situation has changed.

Now the business world wants graduates who have already gained some work experience and studied for one to two years to be better prepared for the present business challenges. And this knowledge should not be a compilation of abstract theories and models, but should consist of more practical skills.

Who would I rather hire? I would wish to hire someone who is able to think outside the box, take risks and have a leadership aptitude that others will follow. A person who is open to the world and able to adapt to working under a variety of circumstances and in different conditions – cultural, country specific and national.

I consider that the main issue for business schools today is to attract those people who would not typically think of studying for an MBA. It is important to help them understand both the value of an MBA degree and the knowledge and skills that can be acquired at school. This is not an easy task. They need to believe that at school they will have an opportunity to obtain a link with real business, with a very dynamic world and discuss subjects that are not typically discussed. The school has to be able to provide ground for practical discussion based on students needs, not on theory.

Creating a school like this is rather difficult. It is a new project in terms of complexity, scale and ambitions and the end result of the model is unknown.

But it can be done. There is a place for a school that blends the practical with the theoretical, that establishes strong links with industry, that teaches its students to think outside the box and that works with its students their whole lives, offering them lifelong learning.

It is now up to us to create such a school.

Ruben Vardanyan, president of Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO, for the Financial Times