Only Positive Entries in IIM Bill
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