Why we need to rank professional educational institutes

Why we need to rank professional educational institutes

The fierce competition among new and old business schools have led to an unprecedented need for an index on which b-schools can be benchmarked.

Students attend a lecture at MDI, Gurgaon. (Photo: Shekhar Ghosh) Students attend a lecture at MDI, Gurgaon. (Photo: Shekhar Ghosh)

Abhishek Agrawal, Executive Director, MDRA
Students should be at the heart of any education system. The education system should be build not only to award degrees and diplomas, but also to help students excel in their lives, especially in their professional pursuits. If taken holistically, this process of inculcating professional excellence among students will reward all - the society, the industries, the institutes and the faculty.

Recently, in two different speeches, the Honourable President of India emphasised the need for ranking educational institutes. He highlighted that the time had come when rankings could no longer be ignored. Rankings help in building transparency, which is one of the core values on education.

During a recent event, the Secretary, Ministry of HRD, declared that even the government is going to take rankings seriously. I was frightened to hear from some top authorities of global ranking agencies that Indian educational institutions are the most difficult to get data from. Hence, there is a need to create a more transparent education system, where institutes should compete to take the best talent. Only then would true empowerment of students take place to make India's future brighter.

Rankings are also important for the institutes, if taken as feedback, to benchmark against their own performance year-on-year. They get to know how they perform vis-a-vis their peers and the competition. Specially, in the context of Indian business management education, aspiring students have options galore to choose from in terms of -

- Type and duration of courses - from 1-year to 3-years, 2-year programmes being the most popular
- Place of education - Indian to Global B-schools
- Full-time classroom to part-time distance learning

The variety is endless and any choice has lifelong impact on students' careers. Having decided on the mode, prospective students face challenges in choosing institutes from the 4,000 plus schools imparting business education in India. They need credible information to take important decisions. While the Internet and other media offer a flood of information, all of it cannot be relied on. Self-serving business interests coupled with non-validated information do the rounds of print and online media.

Some recent cases of a few business-schools deliberately misguiding prospective students about their achievements by partially revealing and partially hiding information have upset the system. The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) gets a number of complaints of such misleading advertisements by certain B-schools.

The fierce competition among new and old business schools resulting in more seats than aspiring number of candidates, coupled with the steep hike in tuition fees have led to an unprecedented need for an index on which b-schools can be benchmarked. The B-school ranking is therefore needed by the following sections of society -

1. Prospective students: An aspiring MBA has a lot at stake in addition to her career while choosing a B-school. One needs to have correct, reliable and unbiased information about the learning and living experience of a school, placements, industry recognition and future orientation of the B-schools they have shortlisted for applying/ admission. The information about individual B-schools does not suffice in the decision-making process, It needs to be compared and a cost-benefit analysis is consciously or unconsciously done by aspirants and their parents. The detailed rankings facilitate this process by providing benchmark and comparable information (through a normalized set of data).

2. Current and passed-out students: While negotiating with a prospective employer, it is important for a candidate to know where her alma mater stands vis-a-vis the competition. An alumnus has a certain sense of pride when her alma mater is ranked high and vice-versa.

3.  Corporate: The recruitment of future managers requires an in-depth knowledge of what to look out for and where to find them. A comparison of shortlisted B-schools and their outcomes helps in finding the right fit at the right cost.

4. Regulatory bodies: The rankings based on objective information open the B-schools threadbare and give a true picture of the needs versus the gaps in the B-school fraternity. These insights help the governments and regulatory bodies in framing long-term policies for growth and monitoring of b-schools.

5. The academia: The highly qualified and experienced lot of faculty needs a fair assessment of different B-schools to take an informed decision on where to join and why, depending on their interests and future plans. Faculty might have varying levels of interests in research, teaching and industry consulting - the data from rankings help them in making an informed decision.

6. B-schools: The rankings not only help the B-schools in building brand awareness, enhance brand visibility and strengthen reputation but also help them in benchmarking themselves. It provides them an opportunity to improve on strengths and eliminate institutional weaknesses. Several business schools take these rankings seriously as an industry and market feedback and work to make them better. This also helps in growing the business management education industry standards.  

7. Public at large: With the increased public awareness about the management education, the market is evolving and is attracting more talent. This helps in bringing international players in the country and generating global education, entrepreneurship and employment opportunities. Thus B-school rankings have their own merits if done methodically and systematically ensuring transparency. Accuracy of information can be ascertained through understanding of systemic issues and validating them. This can be achieved only with the fair participation of b-schools and the support of entire community.

There is and always will be a debate on the issue that rankings are based on only measurable parameters, while non-measurable could also be important. To tackle this, we evolve every year and try to make more aspects measurable, keeping in mind the year-on-year rankings comparable over time. Last year, we endeavored to measure "alumni experience" of the alma mater's contribution to their success in the real professional world and included this in the ranking process.

Business Today has associated with MDRA in the cause of an impartial, fair and transparent ranking of business schools in the country. The entire ranking process takes over five months of hard work, follow-ups with the institutions, industry, students and the alumni. The ranking process for the year 2014 has already started in the month of April with the aim of maximizing participation and making it more valuable to the entire community. BT or MDRA websites can be accessed to download this year's objective questionnaires.

Today India's top business schools are increasingly being recognized internationally but the remaining thousands of management institutes in the country are struggling even to fill their empty seats. Some of the business management 'gurukools' are not cool anymore; they are hot businesses. A lot of strategies and tactics are in play to attract more students and recruiters to keep the business running. While in general the b-school story has grown tremendously, everything is not the same as is shown.

(The author is Executive Director, MDRA)