IIM B Global Plans get Green Signal
Words mean different things to different people. Take the term 'global'. If you were on an IIM campus and a student commented the lecture he just attended was 'global', it would hardly be a compliment to the professor.
Global, in IIM lingo, is shorthand for general gas. And that is what appears to be dominating the current debate on whether IIMs should – ironically- go ‘global’. There is the IIMs-owe-it-to-India camp vs the India-owes-it-to-IIMs camp. But, leaving ideology aside, does globalising make sense?
Yes and no. IIMs must become players on the global stage. Whether they need to physically step out of India to do that is the question that needs to be asked.
Let’s start with the IIM Bangalore proposal to ‘set up shop’ in Singapore which is how this debate was sparked off in the first place.
First of all, is it viable for the IIMs to set up full-fledged physical campuses abroad? I don't think so. When INSEAD entered Singapore it had committed to spend $35.5 million (60 million Singapore dollars) to set up a campus which would rival its 2.9 hectare campus in Fontainebleau. The campus was to be built in 4 phases - and will be fully completed only by 2016.
To be seen as 'world class' an IIM B satellite campus would have to do match INSEAD. Was that what they had planned? Not at all. The foray abroad is meant to be a revenue earning opportunity, not a drain on the resources of the mother brand. Way back in July 2005 www.bridgesingapore.com reported:
Now IIM-B - the business school in India's Silicon Valley of Bangalore - hopes to export its strength in business strategy and finance by offering an online EMBA programme, targeted for November or December, at its Singapore campus.
The initiative will be hosted at Bhavan's Indian International School, with the institute sharing its lecture halls, seminar and conference rooms, library and computer centre.
"The EMBA course modules would be taught online, with nearly all the faculty members, in terms of teaching staff, working out of our Indian campus," says Prakash Apte, director of IIM-Bangalore. "But we're also looking at hiring locally-based faculty members depending on demand," he adds.
Such a strategy certainly makes sense but more from a ‘business’ point of view than as an institution. Dr Apte admitted that, “Although we're reaching out to the entire region, a large proportion of the students are likely to come from the Indians living and working around the region.”
The added attraction: the IIMB course is expected to cost less than those offered other foreign players in Singapore.
And that, I think is the problem. As long as IIMs continue to be seen as a value-for-money MBA education mainly by Indians – whether based in the country or overseas – IIMs will never be truly ‘global’ players.
"If you look at the global environment now, India is fast becoming an economic powerhouse. There is a great interest in the knowledge of the Indian economy, in Indian companies and the peculiarities of the Indian market. And this is what we can provide better than Chicago GSB or INSEAD. Fundamentally, this is where our strong value-proposition lies."
That statement by Dr Prakash Apte sums up the opportunity for the IIMs. Suddenly the spotlight is on India. We are being seen as the Next Big Market for everything from automobiles to apartment complexes. Multinationals are dying to understand what makes India ticks. Can IIMs be the ones to enlighten them?
Take outsourcing, for example. Since India is at the forefront of this business revolution, logically, an IIM professor should have seized the opportunity to become an internationally renowned expert on the subject. It hasn’t happened – for two reasons.
Much of the research at IIMs is lacking in contemporary relevance. Some of it is also lacking in academic rigour.
Secondly, even the research output which is worthy of recognition rarely creates the desired impact. That’s because while they may teach the subject, IIM professors are loath to ‘market’ themselves or their work.
It’s a chicken and egg problem. As one IIM professor puts it, "If I were to propound a management theory based on karmayoga, it would have religious connotations. If the same idea of being ‘committed to the effort, not the accomplishment’ was propounded by a professor from Harvard it might well be seen as pathbreaking."
So yes, IIMs lack in source credibility as ‘thinktanks’– hence their research is not taken seriously. But it would take just 2-3 outstanding individuals to break this perception. Of course, they would necessarily have to be not just brilliant academics but persuasive communicators and networkers as well.
Easy to advise, of course...
There are other important issues... Such as attracting quality faculty and a diverse student body. More on those and other challenges, in my next post.