One of the fastest growing fields of higher education globally in the last 50 years is business education. In India, there are now over 3,500 business schools and growing. This education is expensive and also powerful in transforming society for better or worse.
Vast inequality and the Anthropocene demand radical changes in the culture and practices of business. Eighty per cent of all carbon emissions come from multinational corporations, for example. Half the world’s wealth is controlled by 10 families. This raises a number of very hard questions about the business curriculum, and the ways in which it needs to change, to embrace sustainability and equality.
Evidence of the Anthropocene shows that one species has been responsible for the most irreversible damage on the planet in the last 50 years – the human species. In the pursuit of greed and materialism, we have destroyed tens of thousands of species, whole rain forests, and shaped global warming. The damage is not just in the future – it is here and now, and affecting our health, wealth and happiness. For us to change our curriculum, business experts need to look at the mirror and examine our own theories and curriculum and change it dramatically to suit a new era of balance, responsibility and humility.
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You have all heard of globalisation, but you may have not heard of financialisation. The same period above has seen a huge growth in finance, such that the biggest share of the economic pie has gone to financial intermediaries and institutions, rather than people who make new products, or grow food and create value in society. Banks often have the tallest buildings, and the highest paid executives, even when it is other people’s money that drives their activities, not their own. At its very root, finance does not create any products – it ought to be a servant of society, never its master. Sadly, the reverse has happened, and instead of promoting contentment, it has led to higher and higher inequality in society. This is totally unsustainable.
For students considering a business career, I would like to offer a series of questions by which they can evaluate the course they are entering, as they are making a significant investment of their time and money:
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Explore the content of the curriculum and method of delivery – does it help build your personal knowledge and confidence, or is it straight from a textbook with no discussion?
Evaluate the interactivity of the courses – what opportunity do you have to share your own experiences of business, and are there true stories and case studies of business which have lasted several generations and have managed to sustain their growth?
How much of the curriculum relates to your own country, culture and its economy, its strengths and weaknesses?
What level of research is being done by faculty members and lecturers?
In what way is climate change, equality and sustainability embraced in the curriculum?
Is there an opportunity to get practical experience, either through field trips or work placements?
Leadership is a popular subject, but to what extent does it relate to your own experiences of volunteering, culture and community – is it possible to be a leader who is humble, grounded and responsible? Is leadership really about ego and arrogance?
Is finance taught as a means of maximising profits and wealth, or as something to grow through trust, relationships and organic capital? To what extent is social and environmental responsibility emphasised?
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History is rarely in the business curriculum, but very important to understanding business and commerce. India has a vast history of trade and industry and understanding the role of different cultures and communities in business can help to connect your studies with your own personal and family histories. Small businesses can be very good teachers of business skills – the problems often arise with very large bureaucratic businesses, run by other people’s money.
Be smart and evaluate your course with care. Avoid going for brands and focus on the experience and learning you will get.