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Why IIMs want diversity in the classroom

Encouraging ­students from ­other backgrounds, besides engineering, will help break homogeneity at Indian Institutes of Management, say experts

education Updated: Sep 15, 2016 17:00 IST
Gauri Kohli
There is a strong reason to boost academic diversity as students with different perspectives will make learning more inclusive, say IIM professors.
There is a strong reason to boost academic diversity as students with different perspectives will make learning more inclusive, say IIM professors.(Imagesbazaar)

Engineers have dominated the classrooms at Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) for several years. Now, the focus is shifting towards boosting academic and gender diversity by altering intake rules. According to officials at several IIMs, getting candidates from areas other than engineering is must for breaking the homogeneity on campus. They also say that since the pedagogy involves discussion-based methods, it is a strong reason to boost academic diversity as students with different perspectives will make learning more inclusive. Besides engineers, most candidates are from commerce, arts, medicine/dentistry, pharmacy/pharmacology etc.

Non-engineers on the rise

Take IIM Ahmedabad, for instance. Non-engineering students in the PGP batch have gone up from 5% in 2011 to 20% this year. While there were 20 non-engineers in the 2011-13 batch, the 2016-18 batch comprises 80 non-engineers. At IIM Bangalore, the 2016-18 batch includes 11% non-engineers, while the 2015-17 batch has more than 13% students who are not engineers. At IIM Trichy, non-engineers consist of 24% of the batch for the first year and 7% for the final year. IIM Kozhikode has 10.5% non-engineers for the PGP batch admitted in 2016. Non-techies at IIM Ranchi have also gone up. While these were more than 11% of the 2014-16 PGP batch, this increased to 17% in the 2016-18 batch.

Read more: Get set as IIMs alter intake rules

Why promote diversity

According to Prof Anindya Sen, director in-charge, IIM Ranchi, “Engineers tend to think that there are always precise, mechanical solutions to all problems. However, management problems which usually have to do with human beings, need a more flexible approach. Moreover, male students sometimes lack in certain soft qualities which are essential for a harmonious workplace. Hence the need for diversification - with respect to both academic diversity and gender diversity.”

Citing an example of IIM Kozhikode, Prof Sony Thomas, chairperson (admissions), says, “The institute has been making deliberate efforts to ensure the diversity in the classroom both in terms of non-engineering and women students. We give 5% weightage to both non- engineering students as well as women candidates. However, a student will not get both. For example, a non-engineering woman applicant will get only 5% weightage. Similarly, a non-engineering male applicant will also get 5% weightage. Actually, it is a balancing act, since major proportion of female applicants are engineers too. For the PGP batch admitted in 2016, 89.5% are engineers and 26% are women.”

IIM Ahmedabad endeavours to recognise exceptional performers in terms of their previous academic records, co-curricular and extra-curricular achievements, work experience, as well as their performance in CAT across diverse academic backgrounds. “While performance in CAT is an important input in the admission process, the institute also strives to pay attention to all these other factors. In a discussion-based learning environment, such as that of IIMA, diversity of participants’ backgrounds and inclusivity of the institution’s culture contribute significantly to a positive learning environment. The PGP admissions committee feels that putting weight on the factors beyond performance in CAT helps the institute towards achieving the goal of having a more diverse and inclusive student pool,” says a spokesperson from the PGP admissions committee.

The number of women candidates at IIM Ahmedabad has also gone up from 11% in the 2011-13 batch to 21% in the 2016-18 batch. At IIM Bangalore, the number of women students in the current batch is as high as 39%.

Prof R Srinivasan, director in-charge, IIM Bangalore, agrees. “We have always had a strong pool of good female applicants. Having said that, IIMB strongly believes in encouraging diversity in the batch. Diversity, not just of gender, but diversity of work experience and academic background; a diverse batch enriches the programme experience for the entire batch, and students get the advantage of being exposed to multiple perspectives which is essential in pluralistic societies and organisations.”

This need for diversity is also felt by the newer IIMs. As Prof Abhishek Totawar, chairperson placement and external relations, IIM Trichy, says, “Diversity, whether academic or gender, is important for any field, particularly management education. This is because most subjects are taught using the case study method. For a case study method, students from different academic backgrounds are preferred. And it is not just the engineers who join who have a good background in quantitative analysis. We have a number of non-engineers too including those from commerce, company secretary, chartered accountants with a strong command over quant. However, for excelling in any case study, it is important to be able to analyse data based on the given content which non-engineers are also able to do.”

The institute also helps non-engineers cope with the curriculum. Students who are weak in quant are identified during the interview round and the panel recommends on the scoring sheet that the student undergoes a 15-day rigorous preparatory programme in quant before they start the first year. “This refresher course helps them come at par with other candidates. Tutorials are also arranged. This includes four 90-minute sessions. Besides, student-run academic and interest-based clubs such as finance and operations clubs give extra mentoring or coaching for such students,” says Prof Totawar.