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Agent Of Change, Continuity

The role of a B-school director has completely transformed in today’s age and time where being independent yet relevant is more important

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What does the director of a B-school do? Most people would think of him simply as the head of the institution, much like a CEO who leads an organisation. Well, that maybe only half true. The fact is that the scope and role of a B-school director have fundamentally transformed over the last decade or so. Today, a B-school director is tasked with securing financial independence, and ensuring that the school is sustainable without compromising on the quality of education. 

“Earlier this was not an important factor as B-schools were either dependent on the state or other agency for their finances whilst they focused on the academics,” says Errol D’Souza, Director, IIM Ahmedabad

But with independence comes even greater responsibility. “The search for grants, donations, and other funding from grant agencies in India and abroad has made it even more imperative that the director shields the school from conditionality and that it remains true to its academic purpose,” adds D’Souza.

Agrees Debashis Chatterjee, Director, IIM-Kozhikode. “The role of a director has become more entrepreneurial and less of an administrative function. The competitive landscape has become fiercer. Internationalisation and revenue generation have become critical components of the role,” says Chatterjee who has returned to IIM-Kozhikode for a second term after a gap of four years.

Today, in order to stay competitive and relevant, a director of any leading B-school has to ensure that the best and the most relevant education is imparted because it has a direct impact on the placement season. As a former professor of a leading B-school in Delhi-NCR confides, today the directors and administrators are also struggling to give adequate recognition to teaching skills and a curriculum that serves students as well as to the research interests and performance of the faculty.

Comparing the role of a director of B-school in India and abroad, Madhu Veeraraghavan, Director and TA Pai Chair Professor of Finance, TA Pai Management Institute says: “I did my MBA in Australia and MBA programmes in Australia are run by the MBA Program Director. Most B-schools in countries like Australia, the US, and the UK are part of a university, unlike India where we have the concept of autonomous B-schools which are typically run by a director. I actually think there is very little difference between the dean/director of a B-school and the CEO of a large firm.” 

According to Veeraraghavan, directors of leading B-schools are expected to work closely with the industry — we all know that the product of education does not stay in education! “In sum, the role of a B-school director has become extremely challenging and exciting.” 

Pressure from Abroad

Today, most good B-schools have a national presence, but global ambitions. Against this backdrop how are Indian B-schools offering their students what’s being offered at overseas B-schools. Errol D’Souza, Director, IIM Ahmedabad recognises the role, scope and importance of global education for Indian students. “About one-third of the batch spends an entire term at a B-school at an overseas location. The credits for the academic modules or workshops or seminar courses they attend there are taken as part of the overall credits requirements for the MBA,” he says. 

Even students of IIM Kozhikode spend a term abroad, says Chatterjee. What are the benefits of such exposure? “The benefits to them are in terms of imbibing different pedagogies and experiencing a culturally diverse learning environment,” says D’Souza of IIM-A. “We also have a dual degree programme with B-schools such as HEC Paris and SDA Bocconi School of Management and a handful of students enrol for this programme,” he adds.

According to Professor Chatterjee of IIM-Kozhikode, a stint abroad exposes the students to a different style of learning. “It also helps them gain a better appreciation of cross-cultural management challenges and issues, which may otherwise be difficult to delineate in a classroom,” he adds. Another avenue for international exposure, according to Chatterjee, is participating in international competitions conducted by various organizations which are built around case studies, business plans etc. These international rounds are often preceded by regional/national rounds that takes place at the local campuses. The selected teams get to compete with some of the best talents around the globe and learn from them. “Such events also help in establishing the name of the institute at the global level. Just last year, for example, our institute was a national champion in the Global CFA Challenge, and our students ended up amongst the top performers in the Asia-Pacific round held in Australia,” Chatterjee adds.

But there must be challenges in sending students abroad, that too in significant numbers. “Yes, there are many challenges,” concedes D’Souza. “The challenges of implementing this are mainly financial as it involves stay in a foreign location for three months or more,” he adds. Synchronisation of the academic calendar is another major challenge, points out Chatterjee. “International events may not necessarily align with the schedule of institutional activities and events. And this can be challenging. However, we do have the flexibility in our systems to facilitate student participation,” he explains.

Foreign Students

Are international students fancying a degree at leading B-schools?  Unfortunately, IIM Ahmedabad does not take international students in its programme, informs D’Souza. Why? “Because we have to follow reservations in our MBA admissions process to the extent of 63 per cent of seats (SC/ST, OBC, EWS, and PWD categories) we do not have the liberty of taking in international students much as we would like to do so.”

But international students do come to IIM-A through the exchange process and approximately 90 students join per year and spend a term on campus. “This trend has been increasing over the past decade,” says D’Souza.

 The situation is different at IIM-Kozhikode, which sees 30-40 international students get enrolled every year. And that has been the average for the past few years, says Chatterjee. And how does it manage to attract overseas students every year? “IIM Kozhikode is able to attract quality international students through our international partner institutes spread across Europe, America and Asia,” says Chatterjee, adding, “We have entered into a number of international agreements this year with new partners which would increase the pool of international exchange students. We also partner with the Government of India to accept full-time international students through the ’Study in India’ platform of the Ministry of Human Resources Development.”

 Will IIM Ahmedabad ever branch outside India? Director D’Souza clarifies: “We are not planning to open a branch outside India. Our long-duration MBA programme will continue to be offered on-site.” But the prestigious institute is in the process of opening an “Extension Centre” abroad for the purpose of conducting Executive Education programmes. “This is mainly to increase our already considerable impact on the practice of business through training and advising policymakers in other regions of the world,” says D’Souza.

IIM Kozhikode has no such intention as it as several overseas partner institutions.  But there are several examples of leading B-school brands from India that have stamped their branding overseas. Dubai, for example, saw the entry of brand XLRI several years ago. It also boast of hosting prestigious B-school brand names like SP Jain School of Global Management, Manipal Global Education Services, BITS Pilani and the Institute of Management Technology, among others. Some schools offer programmes in other countries also. For instance, the SP Jain School of Global Management is also present in Singapore and Sydney, and Manipal Global Education Services offers an MBA programme in Malaysia.

Poor Placements Abroad?

In the past several years, the number of B-school graduates opting for international jobs has come down. Statistics from the country’s top B-school, IIM Ahmedabad is proof of that. In 2015, for example, only 10 students from IIM-A were placed abroad with an average annual salary package of $73,000. In 2019, their number is 13 and the average annual salary package is $79,672. 

The numbers are worse for IIM Kozhikode. For 2015, 2016 and 2017 there were nil international placements while for 2014 the placement numbers stood at 25. In 2018, only two students were picked up by international companies—one at an annual package of $73,000 and the other at $54,000. Why is this happening? IIM-A Director D’Souza has an explanation. “As India’s growth story improves the number of students opting for placements abroad has declined from 15 per cent to about 5 per cent currently,” he says.  

Whatever may be the case on placement statistics, the issue of foreign students coming to Indian B-schools, or more importantly, the issue of remaining independent, profitable and imparting the best education, the role of directors of the country’s leading B-school has transformed over the years. Going forward, the challenges are only going to multiply as the world economy gets transformed by local and international events.

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