Business Today

Degree of Discontent

The IIM Bill 2015 is causing consternation among other B-schools. But do they really need to worry?
twitter-logo Chitra Narayanan        Print Edition: June 21, 2015
Students at IIM Calcutta
WHAT'S IN STORE? Students at IIM Calcutta (Photo: Subir Halder)

When it ain't broke, do you really need to fix it? The Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have been coasting along for decades enjoying phenomenal brand equity. So why is the government now introducing an IIM Bill?

Likely to be tabled in the monsoon session of Parliament, the IIM Bill 2015 will allow the 13 IIMs to confer an MBA degree rather than the post-graduate diploma in management (PGDM) they offer now. The IIMs hope this will help them attract foreign students and boost research. Many IIMs also want to set up campuses abroad, for which a degree is a pre-requisite. The Bill is a legitimate need, but it may leave the 300-odd privately run B-Schools that offer PGDM courses out in the cold.

The IIM Bill has been in the making for over a decade, points out Bakul Dholakia, former director of IIM Ahmedabad and currently Director General of International Management Institute, New Delhi. Ironically, when it was first proposed, the IIMs opposed the Bill. They felt their autonomy (the IIMs are structured as independent societies) would be affected, as the government would have to create an overarching supervisory council, akin to the IIT council, in order to grant a degree. As a result, the Bill has seen several rounds of changes. Reports suggest the plans to create a council have been dropped, though it's not clear what the new governance structure will be.

Meanwhile, those arguing against the Bill point out that institutions like XLRI, Jamshedpur and MDI, Gurgaon rank above some newer IIMs (Kashipur, Indore etc). The fear is that the newer IIMs will get an unfair advantage as students might choose an institute that gives a degree rather than look at B-school rankings. "This bill will definitely benefit the newer IIMs. To reach the benchmark of the older IIMs in terms of leadership, quality of teachers, quality of students, might have taken them 15 years. Now they will be able to achieve this quickly," says Dholakia.

But Devi Singh, former director of IIM Lucknow, brushes aside these concerns and says there's a larger vision to the Bill. "A big criticism of standalone institutions such as the IIM has been that they are too narrow-focused around general management. The need of the hour is more broad-based education," he says. Rajan Saxena, Vice Chancellor of Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, bats for the Bill too. "It is an opportunity for the non-IIM institutions to innovate," he says. Certainly, institutions that have innovated, such as the Indian School of Business, have shown that a unique space can be crafted.

Seeking global accreditation is one option for the B-schools that are averse to be affiliated to a university. Affiliation is a route to mediocriy as Dholakia says. But he warns that destroying the level-playing field could be disruptive. "It is much easier to destroy excellence than create excellence," he warns. A possible solution, he feels, could be for the government to extend the same degree-granting benefit to private B-schools through a body like the All India Council for Technical Education. For this, an independent agency could be created to rate the institutes and only those that make the top grade could be granted the same status as IIMs. "This problem can be easily solved. All that is required is political will and a proper mechanism to find a way forward," says Dholakia.

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