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The New Torchbearers

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Can the new IIMs (Indian Institutes of Management) do justice to brand IIM? Interesting question, one that we will have to wait a few years to find the answer to. Seven new IIMs, the gold standard of management education in India, are to be established by the end of 2012. Certainly, this move by the government will allow the increasing number of hopefuls — 240,000 candidates contested for around 2,400 IIM seats in the 2009 version of the common admission test (CAT) — a better chance of getting into an IIM. But the question remains: will they dilute the IIM shine?

Initial signals from the new IIMs cut both ways. On the one hand, IIM-Shillong, which started functioning in 2008 before the seven new IIMs were conceptualised, has done well in its first placements, which is particularly heartening given that it is located in a remote corner of the country. And IIM-Ranchi and IIM-Rohtak, which begin their academic sessions this year, have had encouraging numbers of students applying. On the other hand, IIM-Tiruchirapalli and IIM-Raipur, which were scheduled to open this year, are unable to do so because of the lack of adequate infrastructural support in Trichy and the delay caused by the government of Chhattisgarh in registering IIM-Raipur, which has thereby postponed the process of setting up the necessary temporary campus.

Like the mentorship programme decreed for the eight new IITs, which became operational from 2008-09, each of the upcoming IIMs will be mentored by an established IIM during the initial years. This doesn't sound very reassuring because the IIT model of growth has been disappointing. The sharing of physical and intellectual resources has taken a heavy toll on both sides. However, unlike the new IITs, which have started within existing campuses, the new IIMs have been provided separate temporary campuses by the respective state governments. They will move into permanent campuses within a couple of years, but students are still applying to them in good numbers, albeit not without concerns.  

The IIM Rohtak Campus

Faith And Doubt
The initial response to the new institutes opening with the 2010 academic session has been encouraging. IIM-Ranchi (mentored by IIM-Calcutta) originally received about 15,000 applications of which 6,294 were acknowledged by 30 March. IIM-Rohtak (mentored by IIM-Lucknow) received 4,500 applications by 20 April 2010. IIM-Rohtak has already called 500 students for the group discussion and personal interview (GD/PI). But there has been an exodus of students who have opted out for other institutes. "We have to invite students who have applied to other IIMs and ask them if they will join IIM-Rohtak," says N.K. Gupta, convener of IIM-Rohtak. In fact, both IIM-Ranchi and Rohtak announced their shortlisted candidates after all the other IIMs released theirs.

A student who wished not to be named has been selected by both IIM-Ranchi and IIM-Rohtak, but is undecided. He feels that although IIM-Ranchi has played a proactive role in reaching out to students, he is unsure about the level of commitment in the new institute. "IIM-Calcutta hasn't guaranteed how and to what extent they will provide intellectual support to IIM-Ranchi in writing (on the website or elsewhere)," he says. It is expected, though, that the faculty members of IIM-Calcutta will conduct classes in Ranchi initially. 

Says Ulhas Vairagkar, director, Triumphant Institute of Management Education (T.I.M.E), Delhi: "At the end of the day, they are IIMs. While they may have come in a bit late in terms of the whole time cycle, a lot of good students who have not been selected elsewhere can apply to these institutes." For students determined to obtain an IIM education, the new institutes are in any case a more viable option than applying to other institutes; for others, it is a dress rehearsal for next year's IIM call. 

Shillong Shows The Way
What instils confidence among students and aspirants on the value of the new IIMs is the way summer and final placements shaped up this year at IIM-Shillong — or Rajiv Gandhi Indian Institute of Management (RGIIM). For its first batch of 63 students placed in 2010, IIM-Shillong attracted around 68 job offers from 32 companies, including five international portfolios; the average domestic salary offered was Rs 10 lakh. That is not bad at all for a rookie institute, given that average salary at IIM-Calcutta this year was Rs 15.32 lakh, and at IIM-Ahmedabad, Rs 14.94 lakh. This year, HSBC, Infosys, Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers, who dominate placement sessions across other IIMs, were significant recruiters at IIM-Shillong. "Finance emerged as the major sector this time, and PSU banks and power companies hired in large numbers," says Tripurari Prasad, a student of the 2008-10 batch of IIM-Shillong who graduated this year.

"We chose cohort-based recruitment over day zero placements (similar to IIM-Ahmedabad). By staying out of comparison with IIM-Calcutta and Ahmedabad, we have done well," says Arijit Majumdar, head of corporate relations and external affairs in IIM-Shillong.

To keep chances of success high, the new IIMs are also keeping batch strengths low initially. IIM-Rohtak will admit only 50 students and Ranchi, 54 students. The Union human resource development ministry wanted the new IIMs to admit up to 140 students in their first year but infrastructural roadblocks have come into play. Given IIM-Shillong's success with a small batch, that might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. "A high faculty-to-student ratio makes sure every student gets personal attention from the faculty," says Lavneesh Varshney, a student at IIM-Shillong.

If IIM-Shillong has a major drawback, it is its relatively obscure location. "We do have logistics problems, so many companies don't want to come to Shillong for a 2-3 hour job interview that will take them 2-3 days," says Majumdar. To overcome this bottleneck, IIM-Shillong used its strong IT infrastructure (it has installed an Oracle-PeopleSoft ERP solution, for instance). "We fully utilised an advanced video conferencing facility and almost 35 per cent of the students have been placed using this technology," says Majumdar. For some recruiters such as the Adani Group, the Shillong committee organised a placement session in IIM-Kolkata. But despite the distance and the inconvenience, companies such as Infosys, HSBC, Hindustan Petroleum and GATI made the trip to the Shillong campus to take their picks. IIM-Ranchi is in the process of creating an IT-equipped administrative and education system, a timely step towards mitigating the problems of operating in a make-shift campus.

Of course, the new IIMs cannot be as strict as the older ones in terms of selection criteria for student admissions. "We are targeting a different pool of students for IIM-Rohtak," says Himanshu Rai, admissions chairman at IIM-Lucknow and Rohtak. "If we use similar selection criteria [as the other IIMs] we will end up interviewing very similar students." Most older IIMs increasingly assess students on the basis of their academic qualifications and previous work experience — IIM-Ahmedabad requires a minimum of 70 per cent in class X and XII examinations. New IIMs such as IIM-Rohtak do not have any such cut-off.

NEW STANDARDS: IIM-Ranchi is among the seven new IIMs coming up (ABP)

Resources For The Future
Given the unresolved faculty crunch afflicting not just IIMs but educational institutes all over the country, the most pressing challenge for the new IIMs is the recruitment of new faculty. How can this be addressed? "Not everyone wants to be a faculty member when there are better options available elsewhere," says Debashis Chatterjee, director of IIM-Kozhikode.

In fact, neither IIM-Ranchi nor Rohtak has hired faculty members yet; recruitment will start after the final selection of candidates. On behalf of Ranchi, IIM-Calcutta has advertised for associate professors while IIM-Rohtak says that faculty recruitments for the institute will take place only after the new director has been appointed by the HRD ministry. Currently, Devi Singh, director of IIM-Lucknow, is serving as the acting director of IIM-Rohtak. Naturally, these appointments will take time to come through. "We will have to request the current faculty members teaching in IIM-Lucknow as well as its campus in Noida to teach in IIM-Rohtak as classes are scheduled to begin from July," says IIM-Rohtak convener N.K. Gupta. This decision does not instil much hope among students given that IIM-Lucknow itself announced in March that it would increase faculty strength to 100 from the existing 75 members.

A student who did not wish to be named says, "Opening one IIM every two years would have been better, especially now that every IIM is increasing its capacity. So they will need to handle their bigger batch strength and, at the same time, provide for a new IIM at a separate location, which entails a two-fold increase." IIM-Indore, Lucknow and Bangalore (all mentor institutes for new IIMs) have each admitted over 400 students in the 2010-12 batch.

A lot of people also believe that since the new institutes are coming up in lesser developed cities, the founding of these IIMs will lead to regional development in the domain of higher education. With a number of new courses designed around subjects like retail management and SMEs, the idea is to impart business education and train local entrepreneurs.

Both students and faculty members are hopeful that in a couple of years from now, the new IIMs will see more successful placement seasons, especially with jobs making a comeback. An Assocham report says the Indian economy will create 87.37 million new jobs by 2015. competition will also be fiercer by then, but the new IIMs are looking for differentiation factors to keep their students ahead. IIM-Shillong, for instance, is teaching Chinese language, so the next generation of managers can expand their job options to Chinese companies as well. If the new IIMs can replicate Shillong's impressive record, brand IIM will be in safe hands.

alokita dot datta at abp dot in

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 28-06-2010)