My previous post brought out a great deal of angst. But here's the thing:
CAT + past performance may not be the best way to identify future business leaders. But it is the most OBJECTIVE method available.
Now we can debate the amount of weightage that should be given to various parameters (this year weightage given by IIMA to class 10 & 12 marks in the tie-breaker seem excessive to me). We can also ask for normalisation across boards.
But can we really ask for a more subjective process, a la Stanford and Wharton? In the Indian context that may not work.
One of the foundations of the IIM brand is that the intake is purely on merit. There is no room for influence, money, or any other means of 'getting a seat'. Whether you are the Prime Minister's nephew or the director's son, the IIMs are above bhai -bhatijawaad.
The moment you include more subjective criteria, there are questions. Now you may say ISB also follows a subjective process but then it is not a government institute. Rejected candidates do not go and file RTI.
In an interview to Mint's Sidin Vadukut, last year IIM A director Samir Barua stated that the fall in diversity of the batch (the 94% engineers) was a direct consequence of 'things like the RTI act'. To quote from the article:
... because of RTI and extreme pressure on the IIMs and IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) to explain admission procedures, the institute could no longer be “fuzzy” in the selection process. “Previously, we ensured some sort of diversity by picking up a mix of people from those who cleared the written test. We could introduce a level of subjectivity at the interview stage. But now, because of RTI, applicants who don’t make it demand to know why they weren’t selected when they scored better than another admitted student in the written test.”
But this seems to bother me more than it does Barua. “I think engineers are just as creative as arts or commerce graduates. What irks me is that I lose the ability to pick up someone even if they scored a little less on the test but impress in the discussions and interviews,” he adds.
Of course, I still think it is upto the institute's prerogative to figure out a means to have more diversity (eg lay out a lower cut-off for students from non-engineering streams if they feel it is important to get the right mix in the class!). I think IIM Bangalore has managed this process best amongst all IIMs.
But it is upto the students to accept that either way there will be some 'arbitrariness' in selection.
For all those who hold up the high standards of Ivy League schools, I recommend a book called The Price of Admissions: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges -- and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates by Daniel Goldman.
The book mainly looks at undergraduate admissions, not bschools, but it outlines how subjective an admissions process can become!
Ideally we should have objective criteria, with some room for subjectivity. Which is what we did have, until the IIMs became more transparent.
In my time, if you didn't get in, you accepted that as your destiny and moved on. Now, people take the CAT again and again, and some will use instruments like RTI to know 'why'.
Incidentally, IIMs do use the 'international' method to select candidates for the 1 year PGP X program. But there, applicants are in hundreds, not lakhs!
Given the 246,000 test-takers in the fray for the PGP program, and how important this test has become to them, methinks we'll be fighting CAT and dog over weightages and percentiles for some years to come!