• Parag Diwan

Millennial Graduates: Liberal Instincts and Business Insights

Since the economic liberalization in 1991, the landscape of Indian higher education in the last quarter-century has gravitated to career-oriented professional courses. With the proliferation of entry-level jobs in professional fields, youth have actively sought courses that, open pathways to secure lucrative job placements. Students have shown preference in selecting professional colleges and the return on investment (ROI) has become the most important criterion when weighing an educational program to pursue. This phenomenon was also driven partly by the rising cost of education as the higher education sector saw a massive advent of private institutions.

Renaissance of Liberal Education

As a result, liberal education got relegated to old traditional schools and perceived not to have any tangible or direct employment outcomes. However, liberal education since the time of ancient Greeks was considered to be a framework for developing people to be active members of civil society. In the last few years, there has been a renaissance of sorts in liberal education, with some new institutions coming to the fore, reinvigorating liberal studies with a contemporary outlook. However, the jury is still out on whether the student outcomes, in terms of employability, are enhanced or not.

Liberal blended Business Education

Another viewpoint that is now gaining currency is to build programs of study, which effectively prepares liberally educated business professionals empowered to address issues most relevant to them and enables opportunities to further develop their leadership skills. This thought in itself is not new; as far back as 1890, Charles William Elliot, the then President of Harvard University, said in the context of good business education that it is imperative to have, “accuracy in observation, quickness, and certainty in seizing upon main points of a new subject, and discrimination in separating the trivial from the important in great masses of facts” and that “liberal education develops a sense of right, duty and honor” (Eliot 1923). To emphasize this further, more recently, Bobko and Tejeda highlighted that embedding liberal arts content in business education best prepares students to be flexible, to think critically, and to make ethical decisions, skills that are hugely important as the workplace becomes increasingly global and diverse (Bobko 2000).

Over the years, there have been challenges to effectively bridge the silos of liberal and professional education. Perhaps the reason is due to the fault lines that developed from the days of evolution of higher education. The liberal education’s domain-broadening knowledge and thinking are in contrast with business studies’ narrow focus on developing applied skills. Such curricular separation may thwart the ability of a student in business to become a liberally educated leader (Chew 2004)

New Generation Undergraduate Business Program

We must create an undergraduate business program with a Liberal Studies foundation, a strong core of Business and Digital Economy expertise. The suggested curricular design should follow the paradigm of blending liberal studies with business curricula, rather than bridging, to produce business graduates with a liberal bent. Some components that may be embedded include Critical Thinking, Historical Perspective, Basic Public Policy, Art Appreciation, Elements of Social and Applied Psychology, and Literature. I strongly feel that exposure to such courses will provide graduates a framework to think more broadly outside the narrow confines of business studies and develop abilities to think about and deal with the increasingly “VUCA” (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world. In line with the need of industry to have “Global, Liberal, Cerebral” graduates. Such graduates will be adept at a Global stage with Liberal instincts that ingrain in them an intellectual curiosity and Cerebral approach to ‘think bigger’ and ‘connect the dots’ in different situations.

World of Digital Economy

The term ‘digital economy’ was coined in a 1995 book by Don Tapscott; it prophesied then as to how the internet would change the way we did business. (Tapscott 1995). The digital economy comprising of digital networking and communication infrastructure provides a global platform over which people and organizations devise strategies, interact, communicate, collaborate, and transact business. Therefore, the millennial graduates also need to have skill sets to thrive in the era of the digital economy.

The digital economy has developed new business models and channels which did not exist even as recently as a decade ago. The omnipresent e-commerce and supply chain, the all-pervasive digital marketing channels, the ever-innovative financial technologies, and the ever-growing need for data analytics lie at the core of this new world.

Given that we aim to develop ‘liberally educated business leaders who will cut their teeth on new-world challenges in the digital economy era, we have created a curriculum that provides our business graduates with expertise in one or more of the above-mentioned skill sets, to ensure that employability outcome also turns out to be exemplary.

Succeeding and thriving in the VUCA world

To conclude, I have suggested a model that merges liberal studies with business education in a way that teaches graduates to think critically and analytically and also provides them with digital economy specific skills. Finally, we close with a new take on the survival of the fittest from the book ‘The Signal and The Noise” by Nate Silver, which states that human has few natural defenses. “We are not all that fast, and we are not all that strong. We do not have claws or fangs or body armor. We cannot spit venom. We cannot camouflage ourselves. And we cannot fly. Instead, we survive using our wits. Our minds are quick. We are wired to detect patterns and respond to opportunities and threats without much hesitation” (Silver 2012). Our goal is to develop future generations that are quick-witted and adaptable so that they not only survive but succeed and thrive in the VUCA world.

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1. Charles William Eliot, “Speech to the New York City Chambers of Commerce 1890.” in Modern Eloquence, ed., Thomas B.Reed (New York: Stationers’ Hall, London, 1923), 94–98

2. Philip Bobko and Manuel J. Tejeda, “Liberal Arts and Management Education: Re-emphasizing the Link for the 21st Century,” Journal of Business Education 1 (2000):1–10

3. E.Byron Chew and Cecilia McInnis — Bowers, “Blending Liberal Arts in Business Education”, Liberal Education, Winter 2004.

4. Don Tapscott,” The Digital Economy, Promise and Peril In The Age of Networked Intelligence”, Published by McGraw-Hill, 1994

5. Nate Silver, “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions fail-But Some Don’t (New York: Penguin, 2012),12

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