Arindam Chaudhuri
[May, 2011]

So what is wrong with India’s most guarded and hyped institutions of higher education, the IITs and the IIMs? Well, if you ask me, it’s difficult to find what is right! Apart from the acres of land at their disposal and the good PR machinery that they have (thanks to the half-educated and complex-ridden journalists infesting the print media, who are ready to write any illogical thing at their behest due to their lack of understanding on the issue)... Now, before anyone accuses me of competitive bitching, without wasting words, let me proceed systematically!

The first question we must ask is what makes a great institution? The answer to that is actually very simple! Great course content and great faculty! Course content, however, is copyable and quite standardised – at least amongst the world’s finest institutions! Faculty, therefore, becomes the most important distinguishing factor. Different streams of education require different kinds of faculty expertise. Management education requires faculty members, for example, to have great communication skills, great consulting and industry interface, and of course, regular research and writing. Similarly, engineering requires faculty to undertake research first as a key aspect apart from other things like the ability to teach and communicate. And this is where the IITs and the IIMs have a massive problem (apart from many other huge problems, for example, the lack of global exposure or the rank bad selection criteria of students at IIMs where primarily male engineers get through to their management programmes instead of commerce and arts graduates who have relatively higher EQ – a far more important criteria to become a better manager than simply having a high IQ).

So what exactly is the problem with the IIM and IIT faculty? The first and foremost problem is that there is no faculty! I mean, there is a huge dearth of faculty! I list some research and comments to support this. The University of Pennsylvania lists a 2008 document by the Journal Science (the number one global science research journal), which mentions: “16 centrally funded Indian universities are already facing a shortfall of nearly 2000 teachers, and IITs have about 900 vacant faculty posts. According to the All India Council for Technical Education, almost a third of faculty positions in academia are unfilled.” Well, last year, the Lok Sabha questioned our Minister of State for HRD, D Purandeswari, on this issue. The Minister accepted the horrible situation and gave a reply that “IIT Kharagpur is facing the maximum vacancies of 299 faculty, followed by 222 in IIT Bombay, 194 in IIT Roorkee, 138 in IIT Madras, 78 in IIT Delhi, 69 in IIT Kanpur and 65 in IIT Guwahati.” The minister also accepted that the number of vacancies increased from 877 in the seven old IITs in 2008-09 to 1,065 in 2009-10. “The government has started eight more IITs in the last two years and in these centres, the number of vacant posts stood at 280,” Purandeswari said. The Minister further confirmed that there are 95 vacant posts in the seven IIMs with IIM-Bangalore having the maximum vacancies of 35 posts followed by 29 in IIM-Ahmedabad!

So basically, we are talking of a thousand plus faculty shortage in the IITs alone! And what happens when there is a shortage of faculty is that the existing faculty are heavily burdened with taking more and more classes; worse still, doing more and more of administrative work and obviously less and less of research! As per an article in Hindu Business Line, in an assessment of research capabilities in business schools in India, two professors from the London Business School, Nirmalya Kumar and Phanish Puranam, found “poor representation of Indian business schools in the 40 peer-reviewed journals that the Financial Times uses to rank research in MBA schools worldwide.” Analysing the research contributions in two decades till 2009, their study shows that just a handful of faculties from some IIMs and IITs have contributed papers to such journals.

And why go far, Dr. Sudhir K. Jain, Head, Department of Management Studies, IIT Delhi has himself said, “No doubt, management education in India has evolved, but it has evolved more in terms of quantity and not the quality. Although there are a few dozen good B-schools in India, these constitute not even a few percent of the total. There are several loopholes, but the most important loophole is the dearth of quality faculty. With the establishment of a large number of B-schools in the country, the demand for faculty has grown tremendously whereas the supply side has remained stagnant. If you look at the output trend of PhDs in Management and Fellows of IIMs in the past 20 years, the factual position will be clear. With the bulk approvals of B-schools, the top educational planners in AICTE, UGC, MHRD, Planning Commission, and educational institutions, should have ensured higher supply of faculty with doctoral degrees in management through suitable policy interventions directed towards high quality higher education.”

A Wall Street Journal LiveMint article mentions, “In the race for numbers, quality [of faculty at IIMs] is often compromised. Some former IIM faculty members say at least half the faculty in various IIMs doesn’t deserve to be there. This is also the view of Vijay Shanker Pandey, a former joint secretary in the human resources development ministry… He conducted an enquiry and found IIMs had many members who neither teach properly nor do research. No wonder IIMs are always on the lookout for good faculty.” The same has been admitted by Anindya Sen, Dean (programme initiatives), IIM-Kolkata from 2005-07, who had said in 2007, “It is becoming increasingly difficult to get quality faculty for IIMs. Part of the reason is the low salaries. Talented people out there have plenty of opportunities to look for. They don’t see teaching at IIMs attractive anymore.” If we talk of the new IIMs, then things get more shocking! Classes in IIM Rohtak, Ranchi and Raipur are conducted primarily by visiting faculties. Speaking about the students’ plight to Wall Street Journal LiveMint, P. Rameshan, director of IIM-Rohtak, which is running out of a temporary campus inside Maharshi Dayanand University in Rohtak, said this year itself, “I am the only permanent faculty. All courses are being taught by visiting professors. Students have missed out the benefit of having permanent faculty and this shortage of full-time teachers is affecting the learning process as well as summer placements, which are typically handled by full-time faculty members.”

But perhaps most shocking was when the presently Earl C. Daum 1924 Professor of International Business and founding director of Tuck’s Center for Global Leadership, Dr. Vijay Govindarajan (a.k.a. V.G.), spoke to our sister magazine The Human Factor! When asked about Indian management education he said, “I will be blunt and brutal because that will only help – I think it stinks! The student quality is world-class and as good as Harvard or Wharton and having taught at IIM (A), I certainly know the quality there. But the quality of faculty is abysmal because there is no research culture in India. If you don’t research, you keep teaching the same things over and over again. Research is the process of discovering knowledge, without which, you are retelling someone else’s ideas. When I teach ‘Reverse Innovation’, that is the idea I created. Therefore, I am going to teach it at a level of depth, which may not be possible for someone who reads my article and teaches from it. If you don’t research, you don’t read and so you teach the same thing.

“I never wanted to be in the US when I went to do my MBA and doctorate. I got a job in IIM (A) to teach there; but after 2 years, I felt that if I continued in India, I was going to depreciate my intellectual capital dramatically. In 1980, Harvard Business School made me an offer to come back as faculty and I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to go back. I am happy that I made the decision because one week after I came back to the US, I realised how much more productive I was in HBS than in India. In one week, I did more work than I did in 2 years in India. Somehow, it convinced me that the institution matters. In India, we don’t have the culture where faculty members do independent creative and intelligent research. Last year, I was invited to IIM (A). Of course, the students were brilliant; but I was surprised when some of the faculty members who attended my talk came to me and said, ‘V. G. we are teaching the cases that you taught in 1980.’ I was thinking to myself why should they be teaching something that I wrote years ago? It is irrelevant to India today. Why not a case on Tata Nano? What frustrates me most about management education in India is the quality of faculty. I am not trying to blame only the faculty because we have not created the right incentives to create a research climate in India. If you want Indian management to be world-class, you need Indian institutes to be world-class. And Indian B- schools cannot be world-class unless the faculty is world-class. And without research, you cannot have world-class faculty.”

So do I still need to say more? The faculty at IITs and IIMs need to do a reality check instead of trying to hide behind the illusion of superiority! They need to innovate, teach new things, question their own processes – from their entrance exams to their course contents –and take this criticism of Jairam Ramesh as a wake up call. Too many IIT graduates who have made it big in the USA have told me too often that the education they got at IIT was substandard and they went to USA, did further studies (thanks often to their organizations) and made it big. They especially state that the IT related studies in IIT had nothing to do with what they finally did in the Microsofts and like! So it’s not really one Jairam Ramesh or one Govindarajan who is blunt!

On a lighter note, it was hilarious to see Economic Times instantly run a PR piece for their beloved IIMs by talking about the need for emotional quotient, teaching Bhagavad Gita in management, imparting social work training for managers, things IIMs and a few others have suddenly woken up to (or rather copied from us at IIPM)... These are concepts that we at IIPM innovated decades back, spoke about, wrote books on, undertook seminars and now have gone beyond. Maybe five years later (after another 20,000 students of ours go for global exposure to the world’s top B-Schools) when the first batch of IIM students go for global exposure abroad, they would write that as the new management trend... yawn! At times, I pity the way they try to protect status quo – of course when they are not hilariously busy farcically ranking those institutes where their group has an investment in, amongst the top in their B-School Rankings (and the rankings are being displayed by the institute, which claims itself to be India’s No 1 Private University all over their papers every week – again thanks to a customer connect initiative farce ranking done by the same media group). This violates all basic ethics of journalism, which demands that when you rank entities where you have your own investments, you should put that as a note below the survey at the very least, so that public in large is aware that there could be a bias!

Coming back to the issue in hand, according to the National Knowledge Commission, “The number of researchers in India was 112 per million inhabitants compared to 633 in China and 4,374 in the USA in 2002. The growth in the number of doctorates has been only a modest 20 per cent in India during 1991-2001 compared to 85 per cent in China during the same period.” Yes, that’s the shocking reality! Compared to USA’s 4,374, we have only a meagre 112 per million inhabitants, yet we try to defend indefensible stands! It really is time for Indians to realise that Jairam Ramesh has said the brutal truth. There is too much lacking in the IITs and IIMs; and it’s time they wake up to this reality instead of trying to hide it with the help of lame and defensive arguments and trying to cover it up with the help of immature short run PR plugs. It will only harm them in the long run! Didn’t I always say it’s time to dare to think beyond the IIMs and the IITs? This time I have Jairam Ramesh saying that too for a change!
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