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BW Businessworld

‘It’s Hard To Produce Leaders’

In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld’s Prerna Lamba, IIM Ahmedabad Director Errol D’Souza talks about the measures taken by B-schools to meet the changing industry demands as well as their own performance benchmarks as per global standards. Excerpts:

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How do you rate post-graduate management education in the country today? 

Our system is so much in a flux. The interest in continuing education in management has reduced. However, the interest in management education for people with some work experience has increased along with the demand for cramming more of the education in as little time as possible. For them, the two-year programmes are preferable over the one-year programme. Corporates are demanding training throughout the career of an employee in an organisation, which requires schools to remain contemporary to allow for people in different stages. 

Are we creating enough potential leaders or mere job seekers?

It’s hard to produce leaders. Leaders come out through social interaction, learning, and experience. You can prime a leader, and that’s what a B-school can do. However, a leader evolves depending upon circumstances. If the priming has been done appropriately in a B-school, they could emerge as leaders. The only thing we do is encourage them to take risks that lead to creation of value within a responsible framework. It should not be at the cost of stakeholders losing their stakes in the system. 

Despite the various reforms that have been put in place, why have Indian B-schools failed to compete with the world’s best?

The reason is in the criteria used to rank institutions. One, the ranking factor in diversity in terms of nationality. IIMs do not admit foreign students as per the law that has been put in place. So, that gets a zero point there. Second is freedom to pay differential salaries. That also gets a zero for IIMs, as unlike here, B-schools abroad differentiate in terms of performance and get better rankings. Lastly, salary increase with time after the programme. IIM-A has a high starting salary but the growth in salary after three years – a large weight in the rankings — is not as high. There are higher ranked schools that provide lower starting salaries than us but their growth rates are much higher, thus they get better rank. These are the three main reasons actually. Whatever we do we are not going to be in the top 15 because I can’t hire foreign faculty, can’t have foreign students, can’t pay differentially. 

Are we able to regularly update the curriculum in keeping with the industry needs?

I can’t speak for other B-schools but we make a point to conduct HR conclaves where we take chief HR officers’ feedback. Accordingly, we rework our curricula partly — it is so because some of our stake in curriculum also stems from our view of what the future of work should be. Besides, every faculty has the right to change up to 20 per cent of the curriculum to suit the industry needs.

How do you ensure that faculty is equally adept in imparting theoretical concepts as well as practical knowledge?

Faculty is forced to engage with executives from organisations. There are two types of programs: long-duration and executive. In executive education, industry person visits and faculty is updated on everything, which also gets translated into long-duration programme. 

Technology is evolving so fast that it’s difficult to predict what happens one year down the line. How do our B-schools prepare for such a scenario?

Despite rapid changes, the basic skills of working in teams, communication, understanding the system issues and thinking out of the box is still prevalent and one  should go forward. Consequently, one needs to see how the domain of knowledge is changing, and that is where the role of faculty comes in. At the end of a course, students evaluate faculty, which is shared openly. Feedback is also taken from executive education programmes on how contemporary the education is. 

In India, the IIMs and a few top B-schools are progressing, but the rest continue to churn out graduates who are hardly employable. What’s the way out?

Unless they come up on the quality ladder, there is no way out. Every year we have a faculty development programme, which is a three-month-long programme, where faculty from Tier II and Tier III business schools come and stay on campus. We provide them with up-to-date data on the current offerings that we are providing. One thing we did was mentoring two other IIMs and ran it for two years. We do conferences where we invite doctoral students from other business schools to come and get feedback on what they do. We do that out of our own resources and don’t ask for any funding for that as we believe it is part of the brief given to us as a school of management. 

How often do you encourage your passouts to come back and teach at their alma mater? Do you inspire them to contribute funds to the alma mater?

Many of them come for teaching. However, they are not going to be present always as they are busy but are always welcome and give a lecture. It inspires students as they realise they could also be something like that. We ask students to focus when any alumni comes on how they moved from a very ordinary life of a student to where they are now. In terms of funding, the only challenge is regulatory and tax issues. Many of the alumni are happy to give back to the school as they acknowledge large part of their learning and foundation of their journey were laid during their time in the institute. 

What more do you expect from the regulator AICTE and the Centre? 

B-Schools need to get a lot of flexibility to develop their own curricula, develop their own expertise, able to attract faculty who they think would best contribute to their growth. Typically, regulators think of per faculty how many students and how many square feet should be there in a classroom. These are issues about the infrastructure and not about the academic environment. If you put regulations, people are going to find ways to meet the regulation on paper but that is not sensible at all. Regulators should look at outcomes: is new knowledge being created? Are enough employment being generated? What salaries are the students receiving? And, so on.  

How has the role of a B-school director evolved? How crucial is it to make a B-school a leading global institution?

It has evolved a lot over the years – directors are more involve in meeting regulatory requirements, first. Second, their role is raising funding for the institution. Third, directors ensure faculty is focused both on teaching as well as research. Aligning faculty interests with the institution’s interests and continuously being on vigil as to how the environment and the competition is impacting the school and making the desired changes are other necessary roles. 

Instead of thinking ranking in global terms i.e. in geographical or nationalistic terms, I believe knowledge can be appropriated to any region if it’s useful. If you are not doing anything that impacts the world around you and the local area, you will not be global.