"If you put together these IIMs, you have some 700 faculty members, more than 50,000 alumni and about 1,000 acres of land and infrastructure. No other B-school in the world would have that kind of resources" - Dr Keyoor Purani, dean (development) at IIM Kozhikode
Entrepreneurship has steadily been gaining ground in B-schools. And, it seems to have peaked with the current startup boom
"Management education teaches you to be accountable. And, that exactly is what entrepreneurship also needs" - Dr R.C. Natarajan, director, TAPMI, Manipal
While many students swear by the good old finance and the ever-popular marketing electives, there is definitely a spike in interest in the emerging sectors
"About 70 per cent of our students have had a job before joining us. And the rest, who are fresh graduates, are just brilliant" - Vishwanathan Iyer, associate professor, TAPMI, Manipal
How do you spot the students of T.A. Pai Management Institute in the university town of Manipal? A suburb of Udupi in Karnataka, the town has 20 colleges and some 35,000 students—more than 90 per cent of its population. TAPMI’s 500 students are almost invisible in this crowd. Dr R.C. Natarajan, TAPMI’s director, however, says there is an easy way. “If you see two students on a motor-bike and both of them are wearing helmets, you can be sure that they are from TAPMI,” he says.
So, what has the helmet to do with management education? “Wearing helmet is not just a rule; it serves a purpose. It is about managing yourself well and that is the first step of management education,” says Natarajan. This approach more or less explains the current focal point of management education in India—students. And, that exactly is the reason students are the dominant respondent group in THE WEEK-Hansa Research Best B-schools Survey 2015.
The survey, done in 23 cities across India, does not throw much of a surprise at the top. Led by Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, the flag bearer of management education in India since the 1960s, the top ten schools are the same as in our survey last year and in the same order. And, IIMs continue to be the toast of the town—they make half of the top ten in our list.
What is it that makes IIMs so desirable? Quality of education, for sure, is a reason. But many other premier institutes have caught up with the IIMs in this area, especially in the past decade. Some private B-schools have made big investments in infrastructure and boast top-notch faculty. But, they are yet to match the brand that IIM is. “An IIM degree definitely makes things easier,” says K.R. Vignesh, a postgraduate programme student at IIM Kozhikode. That is to get a job or find investors for a startup.
And, it also means big money. According to IIM Ahmedabad’s placements report for the 2015 batch, the highest domestic salary offered was 053 lakh a year. It was only 041 lakh for the 2014 batch. The average domestic salary was 017,61,827. The highest international salary offered to the batch was $1,10, 284 (about Rs.71 lakh), and the average international salary $79,738 (about Rs.51 lakh). Needless to say, all the students in the batch got jobs.
IIM students are also best positioned to take the challenge of startups, the latest fad. “If you have the backing of an IIM degree, you don't need to think twice to take the startup challenge,” says Natarajan. “Even if something goes wrong, there will be employers waiting for you.”
The reputation of the IIM brand could be one reason the government wants to start more of them. But now there are apprehensions that the expansion is too fast. Twelve of the total 19 IIMs were started in the past five years. This is quite a leap, considering that only seven were founded in the 48 years before that. Has proliferation diluted the brand IIM? Dr Keyoor Purani, dean (development) at IIM Kozhikode, says it is the other way round. “You should look at it as a strength. If you put together these IIMs, you have some 700 faculty members, more than 50,000 alumni and about 1,000 acres of land and infrastructure. No other B-school in the world would have that kind of resources,” he says.
But the IIMs are known for their individuality. “Obviously, all the IIMs cannot be the same,” agrees Purani. “But, there are mechanisms that work well for all of us, like the Common Admission Test. By and large, the values created by the older IIMs have been shared by the newer ones.”
Even students are not unduly worried about smaller IIMs taking a bite out of the brand's reputation. “Look at how IIM Kozhikode and IIM Indore emerged as top institutions,” says Amit Panda, a postgraduate programme student at IIM Kozhikode. “Likewise, the newer IIMs will find their place.”
The single-most important factor that helped IIMs maintain the quality is their autonomy. That, probably, is why they reacted strongly to the IIM draft bill. “There will be no autonomy left with us if this bill is implemented,” A.M. Naik, chairman of board of governors, IIM Ahmedabad, told the media in June, when the government sought IIMs' views on the draft. “It is like operating here but the control is somewhere else,” Naik said. The government is said to have taken note of the concern and the human resource development ministry is likely to introduce a revised bill in the winter session of Parliament.
While they continue to attract the cream of students and faculty, the IIM supremacy among B-schools is no longer unchallenged. The others have been trying innovative ways to match up. TAPMI, for instance, has a finance lab equipped with 16 Bloomberg terminals and supported by data feed from Bombay Stock Exchange and National Stock Exchange. Students can get money from a dedicated fund and trade using the facility.
At Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) School of Business Management, Mumbai, the focus on the social aspect of entrepreneurship is the key differentiator. “Business has become personal here. It has a personal agenda. As a business school, we have extended the fence,” says Dr Meena Galliara, director, Jasani Centre For Social Entrepreneurship & Sustainability Management at NMIMS. Twelve social-sector startups have sprung up at the institute in the past nine months and seven of them are for profit. Students have launched enterprises that help children with dyslexia, offer legal consulting services to women and provide information technology support for schools for underprivileged children.
Not just students, but their future employers also benefit from these efforts. Graduates who have undergone such training command a premium in the job market. In fact, one of the long-standing concerns of employers has been employability of students. Top B-schools like the IIMs, which see companies jostling to recruit their students every year, do not take such complaints kindly. “It is typical of employers,” says Prof Joffi Thomas of IIM Kozhikode. “When they have the best in the market, they want better.”
In fact, B-schools have consistently been improving their students' industry exposure with live projects and summer internships. “It is not just when they recruit, but companies are involved throughout the course,” says Prof Thomas.
At NMIMS, industry experts regularly interact with students. “Every Saturday, you will have four or five industry experts coming here,” says Dr Bala Krishnamoorthy, associate dean (AACSB accreditation) and professor of strategy at the institute. “The interaction happens across different levels—student activities, elective courses, workshops.”
Summer internships, which are done in between the first and second years of the course, are probably a management student's first major exposure to the job they want to get. “You understand what you are expected to do in your job only when you do a summer internship. When you are back, your perspective about the course changes,” says Hannah Koshy, who is doing her postgraduate programme at IIM Kozhikode.
While getting a good summer internship is a piece of cake for students of top B-schools, lesser mortals are not as fortunate. And, such compromises eventually affect their employability. Mukund Krishna, director and chief executive of the Kochi-based startup Suyati Technologies, suggests a few fixes for this problem. “B-school education should be more case driven, and industry veterans and new-age entrepreneurs should teach in addition to academicians,” he says. “Also, B-schools should have a strong research arm.”
Despite the hiccups, entrepreneurship has steadily been gaining ground in B-schools. And, it seems to have peaked with the current startup boom. “Indians are considerably better in terms of discontinuation of businesses when viewed at a global level,” says Prof Kulbhushan Balooni, director (in-charge), IIM Kozhikode. “This means that Indians have a tendency to 'wait out' for their businesses. Add the recent 16-rank jump we have had in the ratings on freedom to do business in the country, and you would see a significant concerted policy effort in ensuring that more and more businesses are set up to ensure more employment opportunities exist.”
While admitting that startup valuations are often exorbitant, Balooni is not willing to dismiss it as a bubble. He even likens it to what happened in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “We must acknowledge the series of structural changes that has led to this,” he says. “The emergence of IITs, IIMs and NITs has been instrumental in reaching where we stand now.”
Do such massive shifts in student preferences warrant a similar change in pedagogy at B-schools? Apparently, no, as most top B-schools have a constantly evolving curriculum. “Pedagogy at premier institutes have always been application-focused, emphasising decision making and critical thinking,” says Balooni. “Apart from the case methods and simulations that provide hands-on application of concepts, residential programmes provide students the opportunity to conceive various ideas and activities that are run like ventures.”
TAPMI's director Natarajan, who refuses to jump on the startup bandwagon, is of the opinion that management students do not need any special training in entrepreneurship. “Management education teaches you to be accountable,” he says. “And, that exactly is what entrepreneurship also needs.”
That B-school students are willing to try their hands on startups—start one or join one—is attributed to the fact that it is now well rewarded. Investors are easier to come by and pay cheques are fatter than ever. In fact, many startups offer a 'risk premium' to bright candidates. Students, however, are still divided, and not everyone fancies a startup career. “I prefer the stability of an established company to a startup,” says Anuj Mandanna, who is doing postgraduate diploma in management at TAPMI. “But, sometime down the line, when I have enough experience behind me, I might consider it.”
Similarly, there is not much of a sweeping trend when it comes to specialisations. While many students swear by the good old finance and the ever-popular marketing electives, there is definitely a spike in interest in the emerging sectors such as logistics and retail. This, in fact, is in reciprocation to the interest these sectors are showing. Online retailer Amazon was the second largest recruiter in IIM Ahmedabad in the recent placement season. In IIM Calcutta, e-commerce firms made 47 offers, accounting for about 10 per cent of the batch. In IIM Bangalore, the e-commerce sector accounted for about 16 per cent of placement, with Amazon making 11 offers and Flipkart 10.
B-schools, however, do not see much in such trends. “It is purely a reaction to what the market demands,” says Natarajan. “Students tend to go to a sector where they see growth. In the late 1990s, the rush was towards dot-com companies. Three years later it was towards the IT industry, which later partly gave way to financial services. And, I see a bright future for the agriculture sector if the infrastructure improves.”
Is this rush all about money? Not really, because money will anyway be there. “The IIM brand more or less ensures us a fat pay cheque,” says Koshy. “So, the long-term priority is a good working atmosphere and growth.”
Interestingly, most students, irrespective of their educational background or work experience, do not have a clear choice of specialisation when they get into a programme. “This is a good thing. In the first year, they get exposed to various subjects. They will then be in a better position to choose the specialisation that suits them,” says Ramnath Kanakadandi, course director of CAT at T.I.M.E., which trains thousands of students every year for CAT and other MBA entrance examinations.
Kanakadandi says the test areas in CAT have remained the same over the years but the selection process has undergone significant changes, particularly at the IIMs. “IIMs have almost moved away from group discussions as a tool in the selection, replacing them with written assessment. In the test, significant changes have been brought in this year, such as individual section timing, onscreen calculator and non-multiple choice questions.”
Both CAT trainers and B-school professors agree that the quality of students has steadily been increasing. “It could be because many of them have work experience,” says Vishwanathan Iyer, associate professor at TAPMI. “About 70 per cent of our students have had a job before joining us. And the rest, who are fresh graduates, are just brilliant.”
So, why do such brilliant minds need formal education in management? Aakash Lonkar's story explains it. An engineer, he had been working with Animal Angels Foundation, an organisation that offers animal therapy. His sister founded it. While the organisation had been functioning well as a not-for-profit one, its for-profit arm was not doing well. Lonkar joined the part-time MBA course in social entrepreneurship at NMIMS in 2013, and, by the time he completed it in April, he had figured out how the foundation could be made profitable. “Right from the time I joined the course, it has helped me to shape the organisation. Earlier, we were just working for a cause, but we didn't have a background in how to run an NGO. The course has helped us to brand and market ourselves in a better way and to run the organisation with greater focus,” he says.
The dynamics of management education is not the sum of a few short-term trends. But, for someone who aspires to a career in management, understanding these trends and what B-schools have to offer would be the first step. And there starts a wonderful journey.
WITH SHRITAMA BOSE
Research in slow motion
By Prof Sachin Chaturvedi
With India’s expanding economy, annual growth rate around 7 per cent and strengthening middle class of 350 million people (around 11 per cent annual growth), the demand for skilled manpower, particularly with educational background in management, has also multiplied. It is not a matter of surprise that this area of academics has witnessed the sharpest rise in the last decade, though serious issues related to the quality of students have emerged in a major way. In 2014, India had 3,900 management schools as against 1,082 in China, 240 in South Korea and five in Singapore. The number of seats at the Indian B-schools quadrupled in less than a decade.
The growing demand is directed through a growing trend of grading of academic institutions, including the ‘Business School’. This largely reflects the prevailing structural realities. The institutes that get listed in the top ranks are not the ones that bother about the methodology or criteria which bring them in. Some of the criteria that global ranking agencies follow are: recruitment and salary increments; global linkages and exposure; student to faculty ratio; faculty profile; and, finally, the perception of the employer and academics. The prevailing low ranking of India’s business schools clearly reflects continued faltering on several of these criteria.
Out of this, faculty profile is extremely important, which may not only contribute to global linkages related indicators, but also influence the perception of employers and academics and eventually may lead to salary enhancement. It is a pity that in the period 1990-2009, only 108 articles were published by India-based authors in 40 journals, as pointed out by the Financial Times.
Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, had more number of papers published than any other B-school in India under this indexed category. ISB published 22 research papers, which was way too fewer than Wharton Business School’s 276 research papers in the period from 2009 to 2012. It was followed by IIM Bangalore and IIM Calcutta with six and four papers, respectively. IIM Lucknow, IIM Ahmedabad and Shailesh J. Mehta School of Management at IIT Bombay produced just one research paper each during this period.
Incentives for research and publications are almost missing from many institutions. Perpetual lack of quality faculty in required numbers is also a major challenge. Most of the B-schools depend on hired guest faculty, which has no additional time to interact with the students, and most of the institutions do not provide incentives for the same.
The second big challenge before Indian B-schools is the lack of corpus funds. Most of India’s top business schools are run under government patronage, and autonomy of these institutions has been questioned time and again. Autonomy may be important to improve several dimensions that cover faculty pay and incentives, flexibility of faculty recruitments and usage of funds. In most of the western universities B-schools have relatively big amounts of corpus funds to sustain research and publication programme of the faculty members. The excessive teaching pressure with no funds for research and missing incentives for publications are some of the major factors which demotivate the faculty and take away any possibility of Indian B-schools going up the ladder.
Earlier, we used to find India lagging behind western business schools. But now, even schools from China, South Korea and Singapore are rated far higher.
Chaturvedi is director general, Research and Information System for Developing Countries, Delhi.