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'Don't Just Set Up New IIMs, Strengthen Existing Ones'

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Prof Ashish Nanda, who has assumed the office of Director of Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad from September 2013, says that growing faculty size in a thoughtful, balanced manner while maintaining high quality is extremely challenging

Given the insufficient number of quality faculty and deficient infrastructure, do you think setting up more IIMs is a good idea?

Looking at the size of Indian demography and projections of economic growth it is a great idea to have several high quality management schools, so that deserving students who want management education should have access. I am in favour of having good and high quality management schools, but I also feel very strongly that we should strengthen our existing high quality schools as well. We should not only set up new schools but also strengthen existing premier schools, so that our top schools in India are not only become top schools in India but top schools in the world. Looking at the size of the country and its position in the world economy, it would be unfortunate if after 20 years we don't have a couple of schools from India in top 20 world rankings. Government and the private sector should build new schools, and should also strengthen the hands of existing premier institutions so that they can become better.

You have been a student at IIM A between 1981 and 1983. What's the biggest difference in IIM A then and now?
When I was in the school in 1983 as a student, we had about 400 students on campus with about 80 faculty members. Today, the campus has 1000 students; the faculty has grown from 80 to 91.

How can we recruit good quality faculty and compensate them better?

To offer world class education, we need to build world class faculty, recruiting the best of candidates internationally. However, compensation of academics in India is considerably lower than internationally. We are working with our alumni, and supportive companies and institutions that are interested in promoting education in India, to provide financial support to top up faculty compensations. In so doing, we are taking an approach that some of the best business schools in USA follow. A large portion of faculty compensation there doesn't come from tuition fee; it comes from endowments, money that alumni and businesses have contributed. Add to the compensation challenge the additional complexity that we would ideally want to grow faculty such that they are in areas where the institute has the greater need. Thus, we must be not just opportunistic but strategic in faculty recruitment. It is not an ailment, but it is a big challenge.

What role can the government pay in supporting premier institutes like IIM A?

Let me provide two specific examples. IIM A offers two programmes which are enormously important to management education in India: our doctoral program and our faculty development programme. Both programs benefit management institutions in the country by providing and upgrading their most strategic assets: their faculty. We would love to increase the size of both programs. We are willing to contribute our most valuable resource, faculty time, towards this enterprise. It would be great if the government supported these initiatives by subsidizing these programs intensively.

Boom of private management education institutes have diluted the degree. Can premier institutes like IIM A play a vital role in uplifting the ecosystem of management education?
As number of institutions offering MBA degrees proliferate, we should guard against a race to the bottom. Fly by night operators might set up management schools to trade off the MBA brand, offer lousy education, make money in the short run, but damage students and the reputation of MBA education in the long run. We should encourage growth but prevent commoditization of the degree by maintaining and enforcing quality standards. We might think of using technology, such as MOOCs, creatively to reach the masses. Also, we should try and support our premier institutes in the country become premier globally. The quality of premier institutes will have an impact on the ecosystem of management education in India, raising quality standards of the other management institutes as well through role modeling and diffusion of knowledge and practices, and it will keep academics and students in the flow of cutting edge thinking and practice.

How can private sector contribute better?
Private sector contributors can help by strengthening existing premier institutions rather than simply setting up new ones. High quality institutions take a long time to develop and flourish. And educational institutions have scale efficiency; to be truly creative and impactful; faculty size has to be above a certain number. Through financial support to premier institutions, private enterprises can help nurture faculty recruitment and research activities.

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