Developing countries on the case

Emerging economies are discovering benefits of using the case method in management education. The Case Centre investigates.

Developing CountriesWhile much of the developed world currently faces uncertain and recessive economic realities, emerging economies in every corner of the globe are looking to accelerate growth in business and enterprise. Professor Dr Satya Murty Kopparthi, MBA Co-ordinator of the School of Finance and Banking in Kigali, Rwanda, identifies an accompanying market-driven rise in the demand for business education: “We have more students seeking admission into the BBA/MBA than other programs. More job opportunities are available in management-related fields compared to others. Large firms as well as small enterprises are looking for highly skilled managers to improve their business operations in order to register higher levels of productivity.”

In India, too, there has been an explosion in business education. Assistant Professor Muthuvelu Selvalakshmi, at the Thiagarajar School of Management, Madurai, India, reports that the country currently has more than 4,000 business schools. These are competing for students who, in turn, are becoming more astute to quality issues and increasingly benchmarking their local business education providers against schools around the globe. She reports that: “In the current academic year, around 200 institutions faced challenges to get their programs filled, which clearly displays the consumers’ aptitude in carefully selecting B-schools and their quality consciousness.” Indeed, talking to faculty across several emerging economies, it becomes apparent that students themselves are becoming forceful drivers of change not just in their business school or programme selection, but also in the teaching methods used.

In Malaysia, Dr Rosmini Omar, Associate Professor and Deputy Dean for Research & Administration at the International Business School, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, reports that growing numbers of business schools are using the case method, and the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education now requires universities to start using problem-based learning, of which the case method is a prime example. She hears requests for cases from her participants, especially adult learners. “Students enjoy the case method process of learning; it teaches them to argue, defend, question, prove and decide,” she says. She identifies a strong demand for local cases and over the years, has adapted her teaching and research accordingly: “In the past, I would use cases from text books, but students’ feedback on my teaching pushed me to develop my own cases on issues that relate to them and which could help them understand how to take decisions in similar settings.” Like many others, Dr Omar acknowledges that there is still an essential place for cases from the developed world, which offer the opportunity to study business scenarios on a larger scale, often through global brand names her students are familiar with. “So now, when I develop my course plan, I interchange between cases on, say, Starbucks or Southwest Airlines, and my own cases.”

City ScapeMaria Andrea De Villa Correa, Assistant Professor of Strategy and International Business at EAFIT University, Colombia, also identifies one of the greatest challenges in teaching business and management in the emerging economic environment to be providing ‘the right’ teaching materials. “MBA programmes and executive education, especially tailor-made programmes, are in high and growing demand – and there is a shortage of teaching materials relevant to local practice,” she observes. “Cases are wanted, and, if anything, students currently recognise their value more than many teachers, and are pushing for them. Our students really appreciate the edge it gives to their education if their professors are in close contact with business practitioners, bringing that experience into the classroom; and they particularly want cases from Colombia.” Indeed, perhaps because developing countries represent such a diversity of cultures, faculty everywhere report a demand for, but lack of, materials based on local business situations. But Maria Andrea De Villa Correa also recognises that a variety of materials will achieve the most: “As far as cases are concerned, it is great if a teacher can integrate a combination of international, local, older or newer cases; it does no harm to demonstrate to students that a classic case can still teach us a lesson that is relevant today.”

Remarkably, and uniquely, in India, the IBS, Hyderabad, has been operating a 100% case method teaching approach for more than two years now. In a recent interview with, India’s ‘biggest’ website for all things MBA, Professor Hilda Amalraj, Dean of Academics, expressed having received largely positive reactions to the pedagogical strategy, which has meant the end of the traditional lecture at the school, though it is not without its critics: “In terms of learning, we think, and the studies we have done ..... have confirmed that there are only gains and not losses. In professional education, the desired outcome should be more of application-based learning. We think that students learning managerial theory as well as practice, and being better equipped for managerial decision-making, are more important objectives for management students.” Given the recognised challenges associated with generating locally relevant case materials, it comes as no surprise that IBS has created an extensive programme of case development to support the school’s new teaching strategy. Professor Amalraj confirmed that it is “a costly affair”, a problem that faces many schools and faculty across the developing world who wish to use more cases on their programmes.

For a number of years now, The Case Centre has recognised the major barrier cost represents to the widespread use of cases at business schools and universities in emerging economies. As a result, it recently extended and re-launched the programme that offers our members in developing regions substantial discounts on the majority of items in our collection, enabling potential access to an unprecedented 192 countries. Our work in developing countries is receiving an encouraging response, with 62,500 discounted teaching items distributed in 2010, a figure that had already been equalled by September 2011. Co-ordinator, Hazel Goodson, sees its mission as going beyond just delivering an effective experience to participants in classrooms in far flung regions of the globe: “Experience has shown us that access to cases represents a real opportunity for schools in developing countries to raise their pedagogical standards. Of course, for many faculty, teaching with cases is a new experience and we have been developing our portfolio of subsidised workshops throughout the developing world to help them become more familiar with its best practice and empowered to write their own cases.”

StudentsBut for many students, especially in parts of the developing world, the active and participatory demands of the case method approach, often involving independent class preparation, can be culturally unfamiliar. Nevertheless, Professor Selvalakshmi observes that “students, once exposed to the case method, often demand more of it, although it is not consistent with the current university system of examination, where theory and concepts (knowledge components) still have the upper hand over teaching the application of experience. Institutions which have the flexibility to change their pedagogy, such as those teaching the Indian Post Graduate Diploma of Management (PGDM) stand to gain the maximum advantage from the case methodology.” Professor De Villa Correa observes that the anxiety surrounding unfamiliar teaching approaches can hold students back: “Our students really want to learn,” she says, “they want to participate, they are bursting with ideas, but they don’t know how to share them.” In response to this, she developed her own preliminary module for students on how to learn with cases, which has enabled them to engage in classes more quickly and confidently. The Case Centre also offers workshops to institutions worldwide to help students get the most out of learning with cases.

Faculty also face change in the dynamic new pedagogical environment. According to Dr Satya Murty Kopparthi “the availability of qualified and well experienced faculty is a major challenge together with the lack of appropriate infrastructure and facilities.” Most of the faculty we spoke to have responded to the shortage of locally relevant cases by writing their own, difficult not least because cases are largely unfamiliar to local companies, who may fear appearing to be criticised. Also in Rwanda, Dr Gaurav Bajpai, Senior Lecturer at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, finds he does not have the capacity to write his own, much needed, local cases from scratch, because of the considerable research time and attention required, however he has developed a creative approach: “Taking existing cases and adapting my teaching of them to fit my course modules and the precise needs of my students has proved most effective,” he says.

Time pressures on faculty are as widespread in the developing world as anywhere else, trying to juggle teaching and research. But, Maria Andrea De Villa Correa sees writing new cases as a “long term investment – moving in the right direction and valuing students”. She identifies a virtuous cycle in the process, which has already provided her the opportunity to get much closer to local businesses, which have participated in her classes and even used the case in training for their own executives. These local cases from emerging markets also have potential value elsewhere she feels: “Cases from Latin America can be very interesting; our businesses have become used to managing uncertainty and coming up with creative solutions for many years,” and few could deny that the developed world is currently in need of some new solutions. The last word goes to Dr Rosmini Omar, whose perspective from an emerging economy inspires an even higher aspiration which she feels the case method itself can facilitate: ”There are so many misunderstandings in the world today with differences in culture, politics and economic status. We need to reinvent the ideals of management training and business schools away from merely producing ‘for-profit’ managers/leaders/entrepreneurs and begin creating morally aware, globally adept, future global contributors. With the right teachers and facilitators, the case method could be one of the bridges to narrow these gaps and misunderstandings.”

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