Only Pos­i­tive En­tries in IIM Bill

The Economic Times - - Breaking Ideas - Ashish Nanda

I re­spect Prof. Samir K Barua. He was my pro­fes­sor when I was a stu­dent at the In­dian In­sti­tute of Man­age­ment, Ahmed­abad (IIM-A), over three decades ago. He was my pre­de­ces­sor as di­rec­tor at IIM-A. So, I pay at­ten­tion to his views. Read­ing his re­cent piece, ‘Au­ton­omy for IIMs: Gov­ern­ment must make ac­count­abil­ity a key con­di­tion’ (https:// goo.gl/BC9fhb), I no­ticed sev­eral in­ac­cu­ra­cies and would like to ad­dress some of them.

First, to char­ac­terise the re­cent IIM Bill as an ex­trap­o­la­tion of IIM-A’s Mem­o­ran­dum of As­so­ci­a­tion (MoA) of 2011-12 is a re­duc­tion­ist rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of his­tory that un­der­es­ti­mates the ef­forts of sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als and in­sti­tu­tions to ar­rive at the cur­rent junc­ture. I ac­knowl­edge par­tic­u­larly the cur­rent HRD min­is­ter Prakash Javadekar; of­fi­cials in the PM’s sec­re­tariat; and past MHRD of­fi­cials at ad­di­tional sec­re­tary, joint sec­re­tary and di­rec­tor lev­els, who worked tire­lessly through sev­eral rounds of con­sul­ta­tions as the pro­posed Bill went through mul­ti­ple it­er­a­tions.

I ap­plaud the forthright­ness and ef­forts of the then-chair of IIM-A Mr Naik, IIM-Ban­ga­lore chair Ms Shaw, IIM-Luc­know chair Mr Irani, the then-di­rec­tor of IIM-Ban­ga­lore Prof. Vachani, IIM-In­dore di­rec­tor Prof. Kr­ish­nan, and the nu­mer­ous alumni of all IIMs, par­tic­u­larly IIM-A, who raised a strong voice in pub­lic dis- course when the pro­posed Bill took a ter­ri­bly wrong turn to­wards sig­nif­i­cantly curb­ing IIMs’ au­ton­omy. A lot of ef­fort and en­ergy have gone into de­vel­op­ing the cur­rent draft of the Bill. To de­scribe it as sim­ply a re­word­ing of a 2012 MoA is wrong. A de­tailed com­par­i­son of the two doc­u­ments bears this out.

Sec­ond, char­ac­ter­is­ing ex­pan­sion by IIMs as in­dis­crim­i­nate and hurt­ful to na­tional pur­pose or aca­demic qual­ity is er­ro­neous. The prob­lem with es­tab­lished IIMs in the years past has not been growth, but rather un­will­ing­ness to grow in the face of ur­gent and press­ing de­mand for qual­ity man­age­ment ed­u­ca­tion in the na­tion. In re­cent years, In­dian stu­dents have been go­ing abroad in record num­bers and pay­ing ex­or­bi­tant fees, ow­ing to the ab­sence of aca­demic op­por­tu­ni­ties at high-qual­ity In­dian in­sti­tu­tions.

The size of es­tab­lished IIMs (in stu­dent and fac­ulty strength) is roughly half the size of most top-qual­ity MBA in­sti­tu­tions overseas. Small size hurts the aca­demic vi­tal­ity of IIMs, since fac­ulty size in var­i­ous de­part­ments ranges from small to mi­nus­cule, hurt­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to col­lab­o­rate and com­ment. Small size also makes the IIMs un­eco­nom­i­cal, since they do not ben­e­fit from economies of scale.

Of course, dis­ci­plined growth is chal­leng­ing and IIM ad­min­is­tra­tions must en­sure qual­ity is main­tained as they grow. For­swear­ing growth might have worked in an au­tar­kic en­vi­ron­ment. In to­day’s world, how­ever, this would be a sure path to long-term de­cline and even­tual ir­rel­e­vance.

Third, the ar­gu­ment that aca­demic rigour and rel­e­vance of IIM pro­grammes is de­clin­ing is coun­ter­fac­tual. In­de­pen­dent eval­u­a­tion of re­search out­put (in­clud­ing ref­er­eed ar­ti­cles pub­lished in high-qual­ity jour­nals and pub­lished case stud­ies and teach­ing notes) shows that it has been im­prov­ing sig­nif­i­cantly at IIM-A, as also at sev­eral other IIMs, in the past three years, not de­clin­ing.

Ad­di­tion­ally, ex­ec­u­tive ed­u­ca­tion ac­tiv­ity, a mar­ket-based met­ric of rel­e­vance, has been grow­ing at a rapid pace, bring­ing IIM-A and some oth­ers of the es­tab­lished IIMs closer to other world-class in­sti­tu­tions in the bal­ance be­tween post­grad­u­ate and ex­ec­u­tive ed­u­ca­tion.

Fourth, to equate dis­tance ed­u­ca­tion with com­modi­ti­sa­tion of qual­ity is be­ing close-minded to­wards one of the big­gest in­no­va­tions re­defin­ing ed­u­ca­tion to­day: lever­ag­ing tech­nol­ogy to con­quer dis­tance. Some of the IIMs, in­clud­ing IIM-A, are ex­per­i­ment­ing with blended ed­u­ca­tion, in which stu­dents learn partly through on-cam­pus mod­ules and partly through dis­tance learn­ing, thus reach­ing out to po­ten­tial stu­dents who in the past have not been able to ben­e­fit from high-qual­ity man­age­ment ed­u­ca­tion ow­ing to ge­o­graph­i­cal con­straints.

This is the wave of the fu­ture. Vir­tu­ally all lead­ing global man­age­ment in­sti­tu­tions are ex­per­i­ment­ing with blended learn­ing. We at IIM-A are com­mit­ted to in­no­vat­ing and ex­per­i­ment­ing with blended learn­ing.

The pro­posed Bill af­fords IIMs free­dom to in­no­vate and ex­per­i­ment along some of the di­men­sions listed above: dis­ci­plined growth and new tech­nol­ogy-driven of­fer­ings. Au­ton­omy comes with ac­count­abil­ity, but what the Bill does is re­place ac­count­abil­ity solely to the state with ac­count­abil­ity to all stake­hold­ers and a re­quire­ment to re­spond to the dis­ci­pline of com­pe­ti­tion in the aca­demic en­vi­ron­ment — and that is an un­qual­i­fied pos­i­tive.

The writer is di­rec­tor, In­dian In­sti­tute of Man­age­ment, Ahmed­abad

Strength­en­ing over­ar­ch­ing prin­ci­ples

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