It is typical of our governments that even when they have a good case, they ruin it by arbitrariness and lack of explanations. The controversy over the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore setting up a campus in Singapore is an example. IIMB went ahead without ensuring that its charter allowed it to start something outside India. The IIMB chairman was quoted in the media as taking a contrary view to the director and saying that we must first satisfy internal demand, but there was no conflict between the two. Clearly he was implying that the issue was of timing and sequencing.
An overseas campus is expected to earn IIMB a lot of money. No one has said how much this would be. There is no doubt that the faculty who go abroad will earn significant sums. That is a good thing because government rules put a ceiling on how much faculty can be paid and make no distinction for quality, so that the best and the worst earn the same. This is a bad reason for setting up one or more overseas campuses (IIMB seems to say that Singapore will be the first among many).
Australia earns substantial sums of money by attracting foreign students (increasingly from India) and through its campuses outside Australia. They worked to a concerted plan. When they targeted India around 1994, Australia was not even a blip on the Indian student radar. If anyone thought of Australia, it was certainly not to go there to study. They set up a wide network of agents in major cities, offered a bounty per student that joined and supplied video and other materials so that prospective students could see what was available. India was a successor to Australia's well-planned and successful attempts to get students from China and southeast Asia and set up overseas campuses as well.
India had been such a destination for undergraduate and graduate students from Malaysia, Singapore, Africa and west Asia till the early Sixties. They have since turned to Australia and other countries. Students who came to India became important people in their countries. Depending on their experience in India they could become friends of India, like Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan. These students came to India because of educational deficiencies in their countries. There was no systematic attempt to attract them to India.
We can again earn big sums of money and influential friends. But we will now need to tailor packages for foreign students in our institutions. We are beginning to do so for NRIs for whom special schools for children and seats in many professional institutions are made available at substantial extra cost. Even the IITs make it easier for an NRI to enter them as against resident Indians. But the attempt has to be on a national scale and individual institutions must then become part of the effort. A stand-alone effort by one institution is wasteful and, if it fails, could be counterproductive.
Another reason foreign universities and other teaching institutions have gone overseas to offer higher learning is because their student intake is falling and they want to use their faculty resources more fully. In the last few years, many minor institutions and more recently highly reputed ones like Harvard are beginning to set up campuses in India. They have done so already in China, Singapore and other countries. Their fees are high. They may put the big names on their faculties in their advertisements but they will use juniors to do most of the interaction with students.
India has no such problem of falling student intakes. Indeed the opposite is true. Further, class sizes in the IIMs in India are smaller than they are in the United States of America. Some increases have begun to take place, but only very slowly. The IIMs have not run outreach programmes for the lower socioeconomic groups that largely are not represented, even when there are bright candidates. Reaching out to larger groups through video and information technology also has not been done. Thus, there has been little attempt to get more people trained in management through larger class sizes, outreach and technology. The IIMB complained that they find it difficult to get faculty. Given the poor compensation that is offered compared to what is available from jobs in industry, the problem of attracting more and better faculty will remain. How then are the IIMs going overseas when they do not have enough teachers for India'
It is not as if the IIM faculty are the best in the world in comparison to other countries. Many have observed that it is not the quality of the faculty in Indian management schools that makes some so well known. It is the high quality of the students. They learn a great deal from their interactions with one another. That will be lost in an overseas campus where the high fees will bring in only students who can afford to pay and not necessarily those with talent. It is quite possible that in competition with world-renowned institutions like Kellogg's in overseas campuses, the IIMs will not make the impact they have in India. That would be disastrous for any concerted attempt to sell Indian education to overseas students on campuses in India and abroad.
The government should have enabled all these issues to be brought into the open. The IIMs must first focus on significantly adding to their student intake. They need to invest heavily in faculty training and development and in research by faculty. The government must withdraw from setting limits to faculty compensation and they must be entirely performance-driven. That is perhaps the only issue of 'autonomy'.
The idea of one institution trying to set up a campus overseas is not well conceived. It needs to be part of a concerted attempt by the country to market Indian education overseas with a view not only to earning money but also cultivating overseas friends for India who would be helpful in the long run. Before setting up an overseas campus, we must have foreign students coming to study on Indian campuses. An overseas campus will enable a larger number to attend an Indian institution, but it should come only after some students from a foreign country have experienced education on the campus in India.
Meanwhile, Indian faculty must improve their research and publications output. We cannot go overseas with poor teachers with little research and publication to their credit. This is important also for the quality of education in India. We must add to the intake locally as well. We need to add to faculty through better compensation and organized training.
Only then must individual institutions like IIMB market themselves overseas and set up overseas campuses. The government was right in refusing the IIMB permission to set up a campus overseas. It was negligent in refusing permission without offering a long-term plan to get there. The IIMB should have done better homework than it did. No IIM is yet in a position to set up an overseas campus by itself. In any case, they are yet to satisfy the demand for quality management education in India. That must be a priority as must the development of more faculty, improving their academic credentials through research and publications and attracting overseas students to Indian campuses. Autonomy is not the issue. It is careful planning and sequential implementation.