| Quality in numbers
The scandalous leaking of the Indian Institutes of Management admission test papers and the attempts of the ministry to gain greater control over the IIMs heighten the need for a thorough review of management education in India, its content and governance.
The IIM, Calcutta, and IIM, Ahmedabad came up in 1964-65, while IIM, Bangalore and others at Lucknow, Indore and Kozhikode arrived in the Seventies, Eighties and early Nineties. The IIM name had become synonymous with the best placements and came with government ownership. The later ones got directors and many members of the faculty primarily from the older IIMs. What was common to all were the vast campus acreages, substantial sums from the government to invest in buildings, hostels, classrooms, computers and so on, significant annual grants to make up deficits and applications for admissions from the brightest youth in India.
IIMC was helped at the start by the Massachussetts Institute of Technology. It is considered “quantitative”, meaning oriented to mathematics and numbers. Its early years were beset by the unrest that gripped Calcutta in the Sixties and Seventies. There was considerable indiscipline even among faculty members. Despite distinguished directors like K.T. Chandy and Krishna Mohan, it could not gain the stature of the IIMA. In subsequent years, as the political scene stabilized, the institute made progress and, after it got its own campus, was insulated from the hotbed of revolt that was Calcutta.
IIMA was nurtured by the Harvard Business School and had close attention from distinguished Harvard faculty. Ravi Mathai, the first director, was a talented professional manager with vision who set excellent precedents. The first two chairpersons were Vikram Sarabhai and Prakash Tandon, extraordinarily gifted men who gave the institute firm but gentle governance.
IIMB had no foreign collaboration and was wholly indigenous. It got lost in its early years by seeking to specialize in the public sector and public services, while imposing work experience as a prior qualification for admission. Both attempts were failures and IIMB has not developed a reputation for scholarship and research into public services and enterprises. But it is ranked high in every survey perhaps because of being in the “garden city”, also India’s booming “silicon valley”.
Becoming a professor in management (even in IIMs) is less difficult than becoming one in more traditional subjects in universities. Research and publications are not a major factor in evaluations. Seniority is. So is the pressure to retain an experienced teaching faculty who, because of the proliferation of management institutions, have many job offers. But despite having more management education institutions than the United States of America, India has contributed little, if anything, to management thought. Indians in institutions in the US and elsewhere have.
It is not only easier for management as against other faculty to advance in their careers, they also earn considerable extra amounts through “consultancy”, many times a euphemism for exclusive in-company training courses. Many institutions pay extra to their faculty for conducting the institution’s own training courses. Management education may not be adding as much to student knowledge as other academic disciplines. Its academic content and faculty progression need overhauling.
Why do the best youth study management' There is a huge demand for managers not only in business enterprises but also in non-profit and non-governmental organizations. It is not so much the content as the semantics of business. Even more important is learning from daily interactions with other bright young people.
The selection process almost invariably ensures that outstanding young people from among the brightest in India are selected. Admissions are the most critical part of management education. Hence the rigour in selecting students whose mental skills and personalities are most suited for managerial responsibility. So the leakage of the common admission test papers is a blow. It shows that the IIMs had become complacent in discharging their responsibility.
There are many admission tests, causing applicants tension and expense. The Supreme Court was correct in asking for a single admission test for all recognized management education institutions. But a written test by itself is not enough and a viva voce enables checking other personality and communication traits necessary for managerial success. It provides weightage for women and humanities students, not primarily engineers. But its sanctity lies in being seen as beyond outside interference. That must continue.
Admissions are also sources of revenue and a single test must gain some earnings for each institution.
Many bodies conduct annual ratings of management schools. Their objectivity is not always perfect. A trusted body must conduct one that is scrupulously fair, transparent and gives importance to academic work, not merely to infrastructure.
Placement in the highest paid jobs is today the substitute for academic content. It conveys institutional quality to recruiters and applicants. Infrastructure, faculty numbers and placements give high ratings and attract the best students. This attracts more of the highest paying employers.
The placement mania makes management students regard jobs and earnings as the ultimate test of excellence. This view at a young and impressionable age led, in the US, to the “greed is good” value system. Management educators must see if other values are more basic to society.
Management education must place less weight on placement and more on academic work. Employers must do more homework on the quality of faculty, their research and publications. Teachers should put much more emphasis than they do on the socio-economy than merely on managerial skills and techniques. Placement interviews must start only after the courses are over, not as now, in the last term.
These and other such issues must be the concern of the body governing management education, the All India Council for Technical Education and its subsidiary, the Board of Management Studies. Technical and management education are very different and require different governors. The poor quality, content and values in management education must be blamed on government and its agency, the AICTE.
The AICTE has norms for recognizing management institutions. But there is poor reporting, monitoring and inspection and few reliable inspectors to speedily take action when norms are violated. Institutions have been known to rotate faculty, classrooms between different disciplines, claim computers and library facilities for management education when many others share them and also subvert the objective admission process for money or influence. The AICTE has little capacity to discover these and other misdeeds nor the necessary independence or penal powers. The government must take management education away from AICTE and hand it to a board of independent management specialists. The government must also distance itself and not pack the boards of IIMs with its nominees and officials. It can have an independent regulatory body, but funding does not make the government the expert on how the institutions must be run.
There is much that is wrong with management education. The ministry is focussed on non-issues like fees, appointing directors, deciding salary and incentive levels of faculty, and using its funding powers to exercise detailed control over the institutions. Management graduates can afford to pay the costs. There are enough loan schemes and scholarships. No deserving student is turned away. Faculty evaluations and career progression must hinge on quality of academic work. Promotions and tenure must be related to the content of what is taught. Recognition, admissions, ratings and education content need thorough overhaul.
Industry bodies must develop better understanding of what is missing and wrong. The hordes of companies flocking to management schools and offering high salaries do not demonstrate the quality of the education. Like lemmings on their march to the sea to their death, companies follow one another in recruitment.
Because the calibre of the management school candidate is high, companies get good candidates who deliver good work. But there could be students of similar calibre in departments of economics, political science, mathematics, science or others in the better universities. They might be as, if not more, suitable.