Wednesday, November 14, 2007

IIMs through FT's lens

I read the story on IIMs in FT by Della Bradshaw with a sense of disbelief. The FT's correspondent seems to have bought whatever a few people in positions of authority at the IIMs told her especially about lack of autonomy at the IIMs and the government's "counter-productive intervention".

Let me take up some of her key statements one by one:

1.After five years as director of IIM Ahmedabad, in Gujarat, Bakul Dholakia had to step down from the top job, in spite of the hopes of many at the school that this forward-looking figure would be allowed to serve a second five-year term.

It is a time-honoured convention at IIMA for directors to serve only one term. This convention owes to the legendary founder-director of IIMA, Ravi Mathai, who chose to step down after one term after a spectacular record and despite fervent entreaties from the board as well as the IIMA community to stay on. If Prof Dholakia had indeed been given another term, that would have come as a shock to the community. I do not know who the "many at the school" are whom the FT correspondent refers to.

2....under the Indian system of academic appointments, it is the Indian prime minister who decides who will be the next director and the politically controversial Prof Dholakia had spent much of his time in office spearheading the IIM campaign against government dictates.

Only on paper does the PM decide the next director. The choice of director was left to a search committee of which the IIMA Chairman was member. The IIMA Chairman had extensive interactions with IIMA faculty on the basis of which he drew up a three person short-list. The search committee seems to have gone by the short-list given to it by the Chairman and it proposed two IIMA faculty for consideration by the government. It is a travesty of the truth to suggest that it was the PM's office that decided who would succeed Prof Dholakia.

3. On a practical level, it (the method of choosing the director of IIMs) has hampered the IIMs in their efforts to become world-class business schools

Not true. Prof Dholakia himself emerged through the same selection process the last time.

4."We've been arguing - with not much success - that as we don't take money from the government, we should be able to decide salaries," he (Rishikesha Krishnan of IIM Bangalore) says. "What we're hoping for, but seems unlikely to happen, is that we will get more autonomy for deciding salaries."

IIMs are part of a much broader fraternity of government sponsored institutions- and the list includes such heavyweights as SBI, ONGC, BHEL and BSNL- whose salaries are part of the government framework.

There is room for improvement in salaries in these institutions but it is a moot question whether greater autonomy for IIMs will translate into superior salaries. Do IIMs have the capacity to pay a lot more? I am not sure. At IIMA, which leads the others by a wide margin in revenues, there is concern today over the impact of the Sixth Pay Commission, leave aside paying anything more!

5. Trying to attract new faculty is one of the biggest issues affecting the six IIMs - located in Ahmedabad, Calcutta, Bangalore, Lucknow, Indore and Kozhikode. (A seventh IIM has been created in Shillong, near the Chinese and Burmese borders.) And the biggest problem in faculty recruitment is salaries. ......"Attracting international faculty? You can forget it," says Prof Krishnan.

I have said this before in my blog: the notion of attracting international faculty on the strength of superior salaries at IIMs is bogus. Universities in Europe, Hong Kong and Canada offer a premium to those in the US and are yet unable to draw the best faculty. The IIMs cannot hope to get anywhere near those packages whatever the improvements they effect. When IIM faculty say, 'please let us make salaries more attractive', they do not seriously mean they can attract better faculty. They mean: let us get richer.

Note, however, that at IIMs salaries for many faculty are only a small part of the total compensation. Dholakia is quoted as saying that his top faculty earn seven or eight times the government stipend. If that is true, them comparing the salary alone with corporate salaries
(the ratio is said to be 1:10) is incorrect. One should compare average total compensation for IIMA faculty with corporate salaries.

6. With India's top business schools eager to establish themselves as leading global brands, government control is hugely restrictive, says Prof Dholakia.

This statement is often made but without substantiation. Government intervention is felt mainly in respect of salaries for faculty. As I have said earlier, this is only notional because it's not clear IIMs have the capacity to pay a great deal more. Other than this, I am not aware of anything the government does that comes in the way of developing a global brand.

Developing such a brand is not just about globe-trotting- pitching a tent in Nigeria or Oman- but developing teaching and research capabilities that can compare with those in the top schools abroad. There are hundreds of business schools in India, including the Indian School of Business, that are free from government interference. Not one of them has been able to attain even the level of the IIMs.

The limitations are inherent in our situation. The top B-schools in the US have had a head-start and their financial and academic strengths today are overwhelming. It makes as much sense to talk of the IIMs catching up with them as it does to talk of India catching up with the US in defence capability- not even China or Russia harbour such a delusion.

FT, I am disappointed, one expects a better critical sense of a world-class daily.

6 comments:

Daze said...

Prof;
Got here through nanopolitan's link.

I think you're right on.

Two questions though -
1). What about the intervention in the admissions process though - through reservations, I mean...
Isn't the selectivity of these institutions the primary reason for the brand value they carry?
Doesn't that count as at least one more area of concern?

2). Why do you think that stories carried by ANY newspaper here will be accompanied by a studied balance? Or was that some sarcasm in the end that I did not catch?

T T Ram Mohan said...

Daze,

1. Reservations are not IIM-specific. Those for OBCs are meant for all educational institutions. I have argued elsewhere in my blog that the cut-offs for reserved categories at the IIMs are sufficiently high not to undermine quality.

2. My admiration for FT is genuine, hence my disappointment on this occasion.

-TTR

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Anonymous said...

Well, I do not agree with you. As a PhD student in a big research university in the US, I can tell you that the ONLY reason I, or any of my friends who are studying in other big schools, will never join an IIM is the salary. I guess you are an exception yourself, but I must say that if at all some of us want to go back, we will trying joining ISB and not an IIM.

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