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BW Businessworld

Miles To Go Before They Reap

Indian B-schools are far behind global peers in terms of research and published work output. BW Businessworld looks closely at the reasons for the trend

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Management schools across India tutor managers of the morrow so they may be able to competently lead industrial and business enterprises. The competence of the business schools themselves therefore, is of utmost importance. Recent findings that show  that most B-school faculty in India lag far behind global peers in terms of  research and published work, therefore, rings an alarm bell. Is it time for introspection for the premier B-schools in India? What prevents management scholars from indulging in original research and publishing their findings? BW Businessworld took a close look at a trend that could plunge some excellent institutions into a morass of mediocrity.

According to the UTD Top 10 Indian Business School Rankings for research-based papers published during a four-year spell between 2013 and 2017, Indian business schools contributed  83 research papers to national and international journals, of which 67 were from two institutes, the Indian School of Business (ISB) and the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIMB). And how did their global peers fare during the same period? The UTD Top 100 Worldwide Business Schools based on research contributions ranking (Chart B, Worldwide Top 100) records that the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania posted 305 articles in journals between 2012 and 2016. These published papers have obviously chronicled the changes and emerging complexities of the art or science of management. Faculty members of management schools who have not endeavoured to do so are surely not quite in step with peers who are mapping the realities on the ground? So are some of India’s future managers being served the lean rather than the fat?

BW Businessworld took stock of the business schools in Asia, judging them by the National Taiwan University’s (NTU) Management School QS University global ranking under 100. Amarnath Chegu Badrinath, President of the India BIM Association has a PhD from the prestigious National Taiwan University Management School. He was also a research candidate at IIT Delhi and corroborates that the absence of the credentials of research was a perennial problem across management schools in India. Unlike at the world’s best business schools, in India he points out, a PhD or the credentials that research work brings was not a prerequisite for a faculty position at the management schools. The upshot is a dearth of research-oriented faculty members in India.“A doctorate faculty will have the necessary domain knowledge of the research methodology as he or she must have gone through the mandatory publication of his or her research papers in international or national journals,” says Badrinath. He points out that during his stint at the NTU, research and publishing papers was a core part of his job. While in India, he says, B-school faculties tend to see research as an extension of the job, their primary focus being classroom management and scouting for internship opportunities in industry.  

All work and no research

Raj Agarwal, Director, Centre for Management Education at the All India Management Association (AIMA) says the trend was changing. “It is improving,” he says, “but yes, it is still not up to the mark, compared with global standards.” Agarwal elaborates the reasons for the insouciance of B-school faculty members toward  research and published work. “The primary reason is lack of the right kind of leadership in most B-Schools,” says Agarwal. “The second reason is the selection process itself, for young India. The choice of an academic job is low in priority – but that too is changing,” he points out. Agarwal says the pattern of ownership of many Indian business schools, which in turn determines their mission and vision, was the third reason. The fourth reason for the apathy of  business schools faculty toward research, he says was “lack of incentive for the faculties to publish”.

The lacunae in research and published works in peer-reviewed journals among the faculty of Indian business schools is alarming. The trend is not confined to management schools that miss being ranked among the best either, but extends to top tier B – Schools as well.  Chart C (Best in India) ranks the top ten business schools in India in terms of research-based published papers between 2013 and 2017. The number of papers published by the faculty of the top ten business schools was an abysmal 83 across a period of five years.

The UTD Top 100 Worldwide Rankings updated on April 11, 2017, reveal that the faculty of The Wharton School published a record 305 articles in journals worldwide between 2012 and 2016.  Faculty of the Ivy League Harvard Business School at Harvard University, published 245 articles during the same spell.  Even in China, where lack of proficiency in the English language is a disadvantage,  the number of research-based papers published outpaces those of Indian B-Schools.  The Business School at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, which has an impressive global rank of 26, produced 141 articles between 2012 and 2016. The only saving grace in India is the Indian School of Business, which ranks 97 in the UTD Top 100 list with 53 published papers.The irony is that some of the best known management gurus gracing prestigious chairs of reputed institutions, happen to be Indians. Soumitra Dutta (Professor of Management at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business) or Vijay Govindarajan (Coxe Distinguished Professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and Marvin Bower Fellow) are among many acknowledged original thinkers from India, who either serve as a faculty member or an advisor at some of the world’s top business schools. So what deters their counterparts in India from excelling in research? Badrinath blames the B-Schools, saying that for them research figures at the bottom of the pyramid of priorities.  

Fr. E. Abraham, Director XIMB emphasises that top B-schools like XIMB, IIMA, IIMB, IIMC and XLRI have a proven track record in publishing quality research papers in top-tier journals. He seems to concede to the awning lacunae in such traditions between top-rung B-Schools and the rest in India, though. In general, he says, it was true that training in research had been a weak spot in Indian research programmes.

A common refrain is lack of incentives for research for the faculties. The responsibilities assigned to the faculties span from classroom assignments to administrative roles. Research takes a backstage. Manoj Pant, Director, IIFT, feels that management institute faculty shun research work because of “the teaching load of faculty, lack of incentives to publish and no performance criteria for assessing research contributions.” He says, “This has all been changed at IIFT where all these issues are now being addressed.”

The focus on teaching or classroom assignments squeeze the scope for research even at the prestigious business schools. Lack of funds is another reason for their poor output in research and published works. The appraisal system in these institutions does not incentivise research or penalise faculty for the lack of it. Business consultancy, or the engagement of management school faculty with industry is another deterrent for academic work. One may argue that the management faculty and corporate world interface facilitates interaction between business school teaching faculty with industry, bringing valuable insights from real world practices and  managerial challenges to the classroom. It however, also eats into the time for quality academic work. As a B-School faculty member says, consultancy services by faculty members also tantamount to “servicing industry”.Says Ramakrishnan Raman, Director, SIBM, “Research is a recent focus for
several B-School professors. The prime focus was to teach and take up consulting assignments and also offer Manage-ment  Development   Programmes.”

A beginning 

The good thing is that B-schools in India have begun to recognise the role of research and are making ardent efforts to make up for lost time. The IBS and TAPMI, for instance, have made their way to global rankings through their high output in publishing quality research papers in top notch management journals of international repute. Madhu Veeraraghavan, Director, TAPMI, is trying to stir the institute out of inertia and push research as a top agenda among its faculty. “Indian B-School faculty have been publishing in top journals. TAPMI has an active programme encouraging faculty to contribute research papers in international journals of repute,” she says. “We commissioned a benchmarking study last year,” she tells us, “It took around ten months for the methodology to evolve and develop. In this study, we found that authors of the top 35 business schools have published 634 high quality (A - star and A) papers on 586 unique issues in 267 unique journals.”

Business schools lament the absence of a policy framework to encourage research. A headway was somewhat made with a sweeping measure by the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT). In January, IIFT issued a policy on ‘Incentives for the Research Publications at IIFT’, benchmarking the standard and focusing on the direct integration of research into the teaching-learning process. The broad objective of this policy is to motivate IIFT faculties to publish papers in internationally recognised and globally accepted top journals. For every paper in the ranked journals, incentives are earmarked in consonance with international standards, with monetary rewards (Chart A, ‘Incentives for research at IIFT’).  It is time other business schools followed suit.

“With the passage of time Indian B-School professors will certainly publish more and have their presence in the world-renowned list of B-School research,” says Ramakrishnan Raman optimistically. Other voices in academia too chorus that it was never too late to accept the role of research in management practices. “Create leaders not just followers,” says S. Bhargava, Head of the Department of the Shailesh J. Mehta School of Management, IIT Mumbai. “Faculty-students interaction-oriented learning and research-focused academic environment will develop leaders coming out from B-Schools,” says he. Bhargava says he has successfully motivated his management faculty toward research and publishing the findings in prestigious journals of international repute.

Perhaps, change is inevitable, for without it, Indian business schools run the risk of falling out of step with global peers and being labelled run-of-the-mill.