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Marx and Management education

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Phd Student at Indian Institute of Management Calcutta

Karl Marx argued about how the proletariat was often subjugated and exploited by the bourgeoisie in conjunction with the theory of class struggle. Class struggle was defined as the continuous antagonism and conflict between the haves (bourgeoisie) and the have-nots (proletariat). While most of his work revolved around the distasteful relationship between employers and employees, his theory somehow fails to connect with the Management Education system that prevails in India and abroad.

The management institutes train the future corporate executives across India with the best brains flocking to get the post graduate degree in management. The economics of management education has often been debated on the question, “Can the bottom-line of Education be the bottom-line?” As known by simple theory of economics, demand is governed by the ability to pay and willingness to pay. Unfortunately, the prosaic definition of demand also applies in the context of management education.

The average fees in a management institute in India hovers between 20-25 lakhs and has never stopped increasing. While the cost of management education has grown up, the pay-packages have also augmented astoundingly. The basic premise behind the high fees is the assumption that every middle-class student will be able to afford it by means of an expected fat package. In other words, a management degree is akin to buying a 2BHk flat in the outskirts of the city purely funded by debt. Hence, a student learns to borrow first and save later to pay up the borrowed amount. Who is the Marxian bourgeoisie and proletariat in this context? The management institutes certainly represent the bourgeoisie but the students are not necessarily the proletariat. The primary reason behind the admitted students not being the proletariat class is because they can afford to pay the premium in lieu of a hefty pay-cheque.

But the “haves and have-nots” distinction still prevails. What about the meritorious graduate student who aspires to have a management degree but cannot afford it? This is where the demand definition fails in distinguishing between merit and means. This makes the coterie of the management institutes a den of the rich. As far as the poor student is concerned, is there a class struggle that he can engage with and break open the system? Probably not, considering their miniscule bargaining power and their reluctant submissive attitude.

Moreover, merit being a relative concept is available in unlimited quantity and the management institute would certainly have a huge pool to decide its students. Thus, even if there are sprinkles of class struggle, they get strangulated in the hands of the more dominating force. The poor meritorious student hence makes a re-alignment of his ambitions and then either searches for the affordable means of education or finally lands up in an elite government job purely based on merit.

The status-quo as such does not block the chances of a meritorious student to secure a job but certainly is based on an unwanted compromise. Hence, when Marxian theories are taught to the management students in slightly diluted form, they sound pedantic but not necessarily authentic. As far as students are concerned, there would be videos shared, tea-table discussions and some element of social work to express solidarity for the under-privileged section but hardly anyone would discuss about a potential more deserving competitor who missed out. Management institutes train the student to have all bullish qualities but never insist on having a bearish mindset. As an individual, this training improves your self confidence but as a society, it turns out to be detrimental.

If the student never learns to imbibe certain bearish qualities, he will perennially look down upon them beneath and ignore about their condition to look up. As far as the meritorious students who missed out solely due to finance are concerned, they continue to lead a life of compromise and adjustments reducing their risk appetite significantly.

Thus, the capitalist mindset continues to dominate while the academic proletariats remain subdued. It is obvious that the lifestyle and thinking patterns of the meritorious students coming from varied financial backgrounds would be different. But how would the management institutes benefit from a proper mix of the two? As far as soft skills are concerned, the richer meritorious student is expected to be better compared to his poorer counterpart primarily due to better exposure. However, the problem-solving approaches could be unique as well with the former more focussed on the ends rather than the means while the latter preferring the reverse. Hence, the latter’s approach might have long term benefits to their employer while the former’s views could have slightly short run perspectives.

This stems from the basic pedigree of the individual and his struggles. The individual who had to face thick and thin to reach where he was, would always try to focus on preventive remedies than curative ones. Further, the intermingling of various classes of students in management institutes makes the society more aware and receptive to the concerns. However, the present scenario of higher fees structure blocks the seeds of cultural inter-change to germinate.

While education institutes are entitled to earn profits and have good infrastructure through the higher fees, it is probably unjustified to make it a completely loan-driven initiative. The burden of loan repayment could turn nastier in case of any eventuality that might occur in the student’s future. Thus, pursuing management education, itself adds to a potential risk among individuals. Hence, when we keep anticipating that the next big entrepreneur would emerge out of the management institute, very few aspirants eventually turn their passion into profession.

Management education makes the individuals risk-averse especially when they start calculating the Equated Monthly Instalments (EMIs).The high fees structure not only blocks entry of the poor meritorious students but also limits the growth of potential entrepreneurs who could have changed the face of the country. The need of the hour is to identify demand not just as ability and willingness to pay but by the ability and willingness to study and meet the competitive academic standards of management institutes.

The most commonly floated solutions to this menace are the government policies of reservation and institutional support like scholarships. The problem with any policy of reservation is that it is exclusionary by definition. In other words, if there is a 10% reservation for very poor students, merit might be compromised in order to accommodate means. As far as scholarships are concerned, they are generally indexed with academic performance after admission. Hence the poor student has to compete first to get admitted and then compete to get a scholarship, which is an added burden on a young mind. To arrive at a mutual settlement, the banks can play a crucial role in ensuring the balance between merit and means.

Taking cues from Australia, banks can make a distinction among students based on their historical income and repayment capacity. The poorer students could be exempted from paying the loans until their income reaches a certain threshold level and the rate of interest could be made equal to inflation. By linking loan repayments to income, the poorer student is guaranteed of greater leeway to participate in the management education system. This would ensure that management education remains less perversive and more pervasive.

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Phd Student at Indian Institute of Management Calcutta
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