Business Today

The cutting edge

Indian B-schools are just about waking up to the imperative of doing research.

E. Kumar Sharma        Print Edition: October 3, 2010

The curricula at most Indian business schools dwell at length on psycholog i s t A b raham Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" model that helps understand human motivation. Maslow, for the uninitiated, coined the term "self-actualisation" to describe an individual's yearning for excellence. Now, it seems top Indian B-schools themselves have taken a leaf out of Maslow's books and are searching for their own "self-actualisation" to emerge as centres of excellence through groundbreaking research.

Simply, India's B-schools want to be seen as thought leaders and not just disseminators of extant managerial wisdom. So, cutting edge research by faculty is in. It not only enriches the pedagogy, but also provides interface with the wider academic and the corporate world, B-school administrators realise.

Take India's best B-school IIM Ahmedabad. It has seen a steady increase in its research projects. From 595 back in 1998-99, projects went up to 791 in 2009-10. It has evolved an incentive-based structure for its faculty who get paid Rs 5 lakh for research papers published in frontranking journals. It also has a structure in place for faculty development allowances and conference grants. Or, take the Indian School of Business (ISB). It has set up eight centres of excellence, backed by endowments, focused on diverse streams - from analytical finance to leadership and entrepreneurship development - among others.

The number of journal articles published by ISB's faculty has doubled in three years to 49 in 2009. In the past year alone, its faculty has had more than 20 publications in top international journals. Sounds good, but these are still baby steps compared to international B-schools. It's the reason why Indian B-schools have been assiduously courting foreign faculty to visit their campuses. "At the IIM-A the visiting foreign faculty are typically involved in the complete process including the course design and structure and stay on campus for the entire duration of the course," says Ajay Pandey, Dean, Faculty, at IIM-A.

Ditto at ISB, where the foreign faculty teach full courses and have end-to-end responsibilities - from designing the course structure to even grading - and also tend to end up working on research projects with resident faculty. ISB has Wharton School, Kellogg School of Management and London Business School as founding associate schools and pursues joint research with them.

And students certainly aren't complaining. Take Bhavani Shankar, a student from the Class of 2010 at the ISB. He recalls the sparkling sessions of Prashant Kale, Associate Professor of Strategy, Wharton School at the ISB in May 2009. "It gave us a totally new perspective on how one could leverage culture as a differentiation tool," he says. He believes the interactions with Kale are proving invaluable for him while setting up his own start-up in the electronics securities space.

"Faculty needs to be used (by a school) for its knowledge and ability to compare and contrast across national boundaries," says Harbir Singh, Mack Professor and Vice Dean for Global Initiatives, also at Wharton, who takes classes at ISB.

But while Indian schools are striving to shore up their research initiatives, they have still to contend with obstacles. The slide in the teacher-student ratio in most B-schools has ensured a rising teaching load for faculty. At IIM Ahmedabad, for example, faculty strength has remained around 80 to 90 since 1980 but the student population has nearly doubled in the last few years.

Most B-school professors BT spoke to also felt that the current incentive structure (getting payment as reward for publication in journals) alone is inadequate. "Most B-schools still need to invest in building an ecosystem with liberal grants for research," says M.S. Sriram, Adjunct Professor at IIM-A.

Then, the thrust on cutting-edge research remains the preserve of only the top-flight B-schools in India. Most second rung institutes pay only lip service - even interactions with foreign faculty are often just nothing more a branding exercise. Clearly, in the Bollywood lingo percolating into classrooms: Aal izz is not well.

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