Sunday, May 06, 2007

FLAME: Education with a difference

Prof Indira Parikh retired in August 2005 from IIM A. She was one of the longest serving and most loved profs on campus. A professor in the OB area, she was best known for her involvement with the ERI program.

ERI - Exploring Roles and Identity - is a unique aspect of the curriculum at IIM A. An optional 'course' ERI takes you to an off-campus location (beach/ forest/ mountains) and all you do over 4 days is introspect. About who you are, what you wish to be, the things that hold you back, the regrets, hopes and fears you have.

I believe the program was originally conceived by Prof Pulin Garg, but for a whole generation of IIM A students Indira = ERI. Of course, there were other 'facilitators' - such as the wise and wonderful Sushanto.

The reason I am writing this, however, is not to recount days gone by. But to celebrate the future. Post retirement, Prof Parikh has set up FLAME - the Foundation for Liberal and Management Education. The initiative is funded by Parag and Nemish Shah and aims to impart 'holistic education'. Set up on a 75 acre campus on the outskirts of Pune, FLAME takes in students from this July.

FLAME has 3 programs:
- a 4 year undergrad course which promises 'the freedom to design your own education across science, humanities, management and creative arts'.

Students will graduate with a FLAME diploma in liberal education and a BA or a BBA (for which affiliation is being sought from Pune University). The course is fully residential.

- a 2 year MBA where students will take up liberal arts subjects along with the regular MBA course material. Emphasis will be given to personal growth, inter-personal skills and all round development.

- a 2 year 'MBA in Mass Media' which integrates creative and management skills for those interested in a career in the media.

FLAME also promises to revive the 'guru-shishya' parampara. Student teacher ratio will be 1: 14. There is an impressive roster of eminent visiting faculty, including specialist teachers from the UK to teach English literature!

Here's what I think:
The 4 year undergrad course which offers a more flexible curriculum is most welcome. As is the inclusion of liberal arts and emphasis on all round personal development. I think the undergrad course serves a real need - a gap in the market - and will find takers. But mainly with those thinking of studying abroad. Because it is expensive - Rs 3.62 lakhs per annum (which means Rs 14 lakhs for 4 years!).

The two year courses cost Rs 11 lakhs (Rs 5.52 lakhs per annum). That might deter many from the MBA, although I do think that the kind of spin FLAME is giving to the MBA is much needed.

The media course sounds a bit odd to me. In media you either join the creative side or the management side. Of course, exposure to both does not hurt... But the cost could be a turn-off. It's 5 times as expensive as Asian College of Journalism!

But then there aren't as many media schools as bschools. And yes, loans are available from Centurion Bank.

As a concept, FLAME sounds exciting. With Indira the helm, I am hopeful they can pull it off. My only concern is there has not been much publicity - and the pool of applicants may be small and not diverse enough.

FLAME should not turn into a cool school for rich kids!

Incidentally, the former director of SCMHRD, Prof M S Pillai, set up SCMLD (Sadhana Centre for Management and Leadership Development) in 2004. The institute offers a 2 year 'MBA with a difference'. For example, yoga and meditation form a compulsory part of the curriculum.

The support of former SCMHRD students has been crucial to the success of SCMLD. Although again, not enough people know about SCMLD and most would still prefer the conventional management institutes.

But it's good to see academics with vision and drive become, in a sense, 'educational entrepreneurs'.

Prof Bala Balachandran of Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai is the other name that comes to mind in this context.

I believe institutions led by academic-entrepreneurs are a new trend. These institutes stand a better chance of becoming brand names than a school set up by regular Mr Moneybags, who sees education merely as a business opportunity.

Faculty, placement, quality of students - the reputation and network of the founder makes a perceptible difference to all these crucial aspects.

Of course, in the longer run it's systems, processes and overall philosophy which results in Institutions of Enduring Value... Which live on long after their founders.

But this is a good start!


  1. I've been following this blog now for months hoping to understand India and Indians a bit more. I'm still none the wiser but if you guys could do something like the following by Ruby Pseudo now and again. It would be terrific.

  2. FLAME sounds like a concept set in the future, but what I find interesting is the proposed 1:14 Teacher:Student ratio ... If this can be truly achieved, then nothing like it. All the very best to more such institutions such a FLAME :)

  3. FLAME looks good..but It seems a bit too 'soft' and I dont know how many people who go to IIM-A would use up a precious credit when they could take up another course to get into the better I bank...isnt that what they came for?

  4. Its being worth to spend such a money for the said courses, here many student wants to study but because of money they dosent prefer to have such a high edcuation, i dosen't think such a high and expensive eduction will b e acceptable from both socities, i.e., middle and lower class, earning a 1 lacs goes to years,and years and spending a lacs it dosent take a minute. so you only tell me wheter prefeering such a expensive study will make indian a supportable, these high education should not be charge more.

  5. The thing that struck me the most was the concept of ERI. It'll be a step in the right direction if other institutes, especially the not so reknowned one's, could turn the cauldron off for a second and try to enhance abilities that the ward is actually brilliant in.

  6. 'Educational Entrepreneurs' sounds wierd. Seems as if institutions are aiming at minting money rather than producing good citizens.

  7. do it read it right?
    student to teacher ratio of 1:14, means for every student, you have 14 teachers ?

  8. FLAME sounds really unique.It would great if it succeeds. thanks for sharing!

  9. That sounds like a very interesting concept. ERI has been a sort of 'elitist' subject. To kind of democratise education with focus on personal growth is extremely interesting ! And the 1:14 is very alluring.

    This indeed is a great start !

  10. I live in Pune and i can dare to say i am preety well read, but i have hardly come across FLAME ad for hoarding in the city. Neither have i read about it in the local marathi newspapers, Education Times (TOI Suppliement) or magazines.

    Yes, they need to up the ante of their advertising.

    Thanks for sharing this info.

  11. The write up on FLAME misses out an important fact, which is that FLAME claims to offer a course in liberal education.
    Liberal Education which has its set of passionate supporters, seeks to focus on the student unlike traditional education systems that concentrate on teaching a subject. Thus liberal arts courses allow students to take up a disparate set of subjects. Like say Physics and Poetry. A 1:14 teacher student ratio allows for that flexibility. No wonder the course is so expensive.
    Its interesting to note that HAROLD VARMUS who got a Nobel in medicine 1989, had actually majored in English from a Liberal Arts college.
    Even Sally Ride, the phycisist and first woman astronaut in space had actually taken up English Majors in a liberal arts college.
    The reason why they could diversify their achievment was that a liberal arts course allowed them the luxury of taking subjects such as the life sciences and physics with humanities subjects.
    In fact Varmus claims in his autobiographical note in the nobel website that going to a liberal arts college was the most important intellectual decision that he had ever taken. one that exposed him to journalism, student politics and literature. all of which contributed to his growing as a person.

  12. FLAME is not a commercial enterprise. It is a not for profit entity. The promoters have donated to the casue of the institution.

  13. I am a product of Sadhana, SCMLD as most would know it. Believe me, the whole process is worth a shot. It is a system that doesnt teach you but makes you learn yourself. Learn about how your body reacts when you do yoga at 6 am on a winter morning, Learn how it feels to have the lights switched off at 12.00 midnight when you have 5 exams lined up for the next day, Learn how to sweep the road every single day and clean it up of someone else's nuisance (believe me we do that, 1.5 kilometres of the road in front of our institution, our students, sweep and clean it everyday between 2 and 3 in the afternoon. Those in Pune, can take be a witness to this) . Its definitely an experience worth having. Makes you know so much more about your self and hence the Universe that surrounds you.

  14. IIM-Ahamedabad always setting examples for other IIM's and B-schools in India.Recently i seen about FLAME in some channel,i really felt happy that,we start something innovative and hope its work effectively...
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  15. Hi, I just completed my class 12 in commerce. Saw a discreet FLAME ad in The Hindu a few days ago. Checked out the website. Pretty impressive. My initial plan was to do NOTHING but chartered accountancy. Now, Im interested in a campus life...The only problem with FLAME is that no one in my circle seems to have heard of it...would you advise me joining up?

  16. well my uncle is associated with FLAME in some respect...will ask him for more details :)

  17. This sounds interesting. Except for the costs.
    I remember reading the book co-authored by Indira Parikh and Pulin Garg based on their study. It was an excellent and those learnings will defenitely will have a bearing on conceptualising a school like this.


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