Autonomy for IIMs a great step, but there's a long way ahead to being world-class

The government must be lauded for giving the IIMs more autonomy, but its responsibility doesn't end there.

The Indian Institutes of Management Bill, 2017 was passed by the Rajya Sabha recently. It was passed in the Lok Sabha in July 2017. A historic move in the field of education!

The Bill has taken some much-awaited and much-needed measures for giving more autonomy to the 20 IIMs in the country. It grants the status of national importance to these institutions and restricts the role of government in their functioning. It gives the IIMs the power to grant degrees to their students, making them at par with their global counterparts.

There is much to be celebrated, but is this enough? How come even after over five decades of existence only one IIM, i.e., IIM Ahmedabad, is in the top 50 of the QS Global MBA Rankings 2018? Will this Bill be able to take it higher to the top 20 at least? Will this be able to get more IIMs in the top 20 rankings in the near future? Sadly, the answer is a 'no'.

What this Bill does is to stop something that was clipping the wings of IIMs. It does not enable them to fly higher. 

As an alumna of IIM, as an ardent believer in the power of education, and as someone with immense faith in the potential of such institutions, I have a few suggestions to make. It could be considered as a New Year Wish List. Hope it is heard by someone and not remains only a wish.

As much as a written examination is important to gauge the academic skill-sets of a student at the time of selection, other parameters too need to be evaluated for shortlisting candidates. IIMs currently give some weightage to group discussion and interview skills, however, they are not enough. What works in real-life after a student steps out of college, is what should be evaluated. There are many bright students who may not be quick at solving quantitative aptitude or logical reasoning questions, but they can have a logical and mathematical bent of mind. Also, not all students will be experts at English grammar or comprehension skills. However, they could be good at overall communication, which is what is important in practical life. The current system gives proportionately higher weightage to the written examination.

In addition to this criterion, IIMs can look at a student's overall academic records, or his extra-curricular activities, or personality, or aptitude for learning, or passion for striving for the best, or entrepreneurial bent of mind, or, in fact, even the desire for conducting research in future. The point is only the ability to solve certain mathematical or English language questions cannot and should not gauge the ability of a student to get through IIMs. To be fair, this malaise is deep-rooted in the Indian education system, and IIMs are no exception.

What intrigues me is how freshers are expected to study for a management degree. The best MBA institutes across the world take people with some experience to study management. I did so and was better placed to understand some of the concepts taught to me. I still wonder how a fresher could have related to them. Their world-view is usually different from the ground reality.

The same holds true for the faculty. There are some amazing professors at IIMs and some of them are very dedicated to their profession. However, many of them lack industry experience and are not well-conversant with the changing world outside. The government can contribute to faculty development programmes by sponsoring their trainings. The IIMs too need to make efforts to attract the best talent. Teaching should be given monetary incentives at par with the standards set by private companies. Teaching as a profession has to be made lucrative and sustainable. 

Industry leaders or alumni can be encouraged to teach. They may not want to invest the time and effort in academic formalities that come with teaching, but they can be given assistants who can help them. People who are out in the industry know what is required to excel. 

Curriculum development is another area that is a sore point. Ask any alumni how much of what they studied in classroom are they using in their practical experience, and their answers may be disheartening. Certain concepts that were taught years back, are still there in the books. May we ask why? How many teachers are talking about bitcoins, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, electronic vehicles, or cyber security in their classes? Are they even a part of the curriculum? Are the teachers equipped to teach such subjects? Industry leaders and even ex-students can pitch in to make the curriculum more relevant.

Related to this is the pedagogy. Why are we still confined to the four walls of the classroom? What about e-learning? In fact, a blended learning approach is the best way forward. Why are we restricted to only Indian teachers for a particular institute? The Internet has made the world a smaller and more efficient place. Why are we not using the best of brains from across the world who can take virtual classes?

Since ages, paper-based subjective question system is being used to evaluate the performance of a future manager. Just because a student can reproduce certain theoretical concepts taught in the class, does it qualify him to a good manager? Do real-life managers need only this skill-set? In fact, many times, remembering the theories is not even important. Online search engines have made this task redundant to an extent. A potential manager can be evaluated for personality development, quality of classroom interactions, feedback from the industry where he may have interned, and extra-curricular activities in addition to the theoretical knowledge and its application. Moreover, the evaluation should not be based on one examination, but be continuous to check for a steady growth.

The government and the IIMs need to incentivise research even in areas that are considered risky. Programmes need to be designed to think beyond the conventional areas of specialisation like finance, marketing or strategy. The world is full of possibilities and all it requires is someone to make them a reality through research.

Education is not a one-time activity. We all are learning all the time. The IIMs must strive to attract their alumni not only as teachers, but also as students again to re-learn certain concepts and to enrich themselves with the experience of their batchmates. Short-term courses can be designed keeping such students in mind. There can be an open-source learning system where everybody contributes not for marks, but for the sheer joy of learning and spreading education.

The government must be lauded for giving the IIMs more autonomy, but its responsibility doesn't end there. Both, IIMs themselves and the government need to work in tandem to make IIMs the best in the world - a place that not only Indian students eye, but students from across the world too. People like me are always ready to pitch in and our numbers are not small. Anybody listening?

(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)

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