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What will it take for IIMs to stand among the world’s best?

Better incentives for research, more collaboration with foreign universities and a stronger connection

education Updated: Oct 06, 2016 12:06 IST
Antara Sengupta

Sutirtha Chakraborty, 24, a graduate in business management from Aston University in Birmingham, UK, is preparing for his Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) to pursue his master’s in business administration (MBA) from a university there. He’s quite sure that he does not want to study in India. “An MBA is not about textbooks. In universities abroad, industry experts teach a class, there are students from all nationalities and professions, and you network with established and potential employers. These are the very features missing in our Indian institutes,” he says.

Like Chakraborty, every year, about 1.5 lakh students leave the country to study management abroad, particularly in universities in the US, UK and Singapore.

The numbers come from the Indian Centre for Academic Rankings & Excellence (ICARE), an advisory body that acts as an interface between global ranking agencies and Indian institutions and assists universities to understand the ranking system.

To address this issue, on September 20, the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) said that Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) will participate in a new government initiative. It will establish 20 world-class universities or institutes, 10 each in the government and private sector.

A statement by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September clarified that these universities will be free of all University Grants Commission rules. “We will give them money and they must move towards becoming world-class universities,” the statement said. “If rules were holding them up, we will remove the rules.”

Those who work in the field of international education have welcomed the decision. “But it requires substantial funding and setting up of state-of-theart technological facilities,” says Amit Dasgupta, India country director, University of New South Wales, Australia and former head – Mumbai campus of S P Jain School of Global Management. “More importantly, it requires time, continued commitment, investments, cutting edge research facilities and a dramatic shift in terms of what educational institutions are meant to do.”

Some feel that IIMs are already a class apart and including them in this scheme will be unfair to other public universities in the category.

“In technical terms, IIMs do not function as public universities,” says Karthick Sridhar, vice chairman at ICARE. “They will score better than the public universities in every term.” He recommends a separate scheme like the IIT’s Project Vishwajit, which allow off-campus PhD students, 20% international undergraduate and postgraduate students, a 1:7 faculty-student ratio and special grants to get the institutes into global ranking lists.

Read: IIMs to focus on quality PhD programmes

A CLASS APART

Experts say it is important to define world class before getting down to work.“When we say world-class, it should imply how international students perceive our institutes, if global faculty wants to join us and if our publications are cited by scholars abroad for further research,” says P Rameshan, former director, IIM-Rohtak and professor, IIM-Kozhikode. “We need to also evaluate if our cases and models are used by universities across the world for academic or research purposes.”

Debabrata Chatterjee, dean (administration) at IIM-Kozhikode says that a world-class university is one that can do much more. “Such institutes should be thought leaders and have the potential to shape the world physically, socially, and intellectually.” This would mean admitting more domestic and international students. “Aside from a meagre presence of international students, we do not have enough foreign collaboration for our credibility,” says Janat Shah, director, IIM-Udaipur. “We need to look into our financial and autonomy models as well.”

CHALLENGES WITHIN

Of India’s 20 IIMs, only two figure in the top 30 of the Financial Times Global Masters in Management 2016, which include the University of St Gallen, HEC Paris, London Business School and Esade Business School.

While IIM-Bangalore has moved up by seven spots from 26 to 19 in the rankings, IIM-Ahmedabad slipped one spot (now at 16) and IIM-Calcutta fell seven places (now at 23) in this year’s list. Our IIMs are institutes of excellence within India but much more needs to happen for the world to see them in the same way. “It is difficult to improve our research footprint as the limited faculty that we have is engaged in teaching, consulting and training,” says Rameshan of IIM-Kozhikode. “Everyone involved should first recognise that we need to be world-class.

In none of our boardroom meetings does this issue get any importance. There isn’t a focused effort to analyse it.”

Read: Why IIMs want diversity in the classroom

Rameshan adds that we deserve to aim to be among the best. “The world cannot teach without Harvard case studies. Why can’t we aim for such credible studies?” he asks.

The answer, perhaps, lies in the financial model of the IIMs.

“Top IIMs like Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Calcutta are trying to become mostly financially independent,” says Anindya Sen, director-in-charge, IIM-Ranchi. “While universities like Harvard have huge endowments, here we struggle for funds and our faculty participates in several activities to get grants. What is their incentive in being part of an institute?”

Some even point out issues in governance. “In a way, IIMs still report to MHRD,” says Sridhar of ICARE. “In universities abroad, the governing bodies largely constitute the alumni and industry stalwarts, which collectively choose the head of the institute. We are still stuck in a political muck when it comes to appointing a director.”

We need to get over archaic teaching mechanisms as well. “The world’s best universities use case-study methods and examples that solve real-world problems in a professional setting. Solutions are derived from practical interference,” Sridhar says. “We need proactive industry participation.”

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

If students benefit by learning from the best, perhaps the IIMs might look towards global best practices too. “MIT works with numerous corporations to develop new products and solutions. The MIT campus is home to many companies such as Microsoft, Google, Novartis, etc,” says Ashwin Damera, a Harvard alumnus and executive director at Emeritus Institute of Management, Singapore, which offers courses in collaboration with several top institutes. “It is important to spend big on research. Faculty are paid industry salaries in institutes abroad.

However, in India, our faculty are underpaid and so very few bright people want to join academia.”

Dasgupta agrees that smarter investment is necessary, particularly to upgrade existing institutions like the Indian Institute of Science, IIMs, IITs, and many in the private sector such as St Xavier’s and Ravenshaw College. “They have the history and the culture to be among the best in the world,” says Dasgupta.

The writer is a research fellow with Observer Research Foundation Mumbai

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