IIMs vs Bhargava committee: Anubhuti Vishnoi

October 25, 2008: The Indian Express

While this is not the first time that the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are under the scrutiny of a review committee, the latest recommendations proposed by the Bhargava committee have all the potential to start another face-off between the premier management institutes and the Government. The IIM community is shocked at the suggestions the latest review committee has proposed and thinks most of them are highly unacceptable. Worse, they feel many recommendations are based on western models without giving due thought to the Indian academic/administrative and Government scenario.

The IIM review committee was headed by R C Bhargava, former chairman of Maruti Udyog Limited; and has on board Ajit Balakrishnan, CEO Rediff.com and chairman, BoG, IIM Calcutta; and Anusua Basu, retired Deputy CAG. This committee was constituted after a period of 15 years.

Lean BoGs

The Indian Express had earlier reported that a key recommendation of the committee was reconstitution of all existing IIM boards and downsizing them from the current strength of 24-25 members to just 11 members who must have compulsory 75 per cent attendance. These 11-member BoGs for each IIM will comprise six independent professionals, a nominee each of the Centre and state government, faculty besides the IIM chairman and director.

While the Bhargava committee has called for this lean BoG model on the lines of the governing boards of the likes of the Harvard Business School, IIMs feel that in the Indian set-up where government nominees find more favourable places on BoGs, this could affect the IIM board autonomy as with just 11 members on board, not only will the space for a varied and broad spectrum of views and expression be denied but also a case built for undue government interference.

What makes this BoG reconstitution exercise questionable is the committee’s recommendation that a special committee headed by the Secretary, HRD Ministry, and with three other independent professionals on board will make initial selections to the BoGs — something that runs against the grain of autonomous IIM boards. At a later stage, IIM BoGs will be able to fill vacancies on their own. BoGs will also have powers to select and appoint its director, propose name of chairman to Pan-IIM Board, raise funds, determine fee for all courses, create and abolish posts and so on.

“Western model-based lean boards will definitely not work in favour of IIMs at least. The idea of a secretary, HRD Ministry, appointing people to the board is blatant interference. Also, while the review committee talks about 75 per cent attendance of members, it is usually the Government representatives that barely attend these BoGs and most of the time different officials are deputed to attend owing to transfers and other governmental constraints of functioning. Why to have random people on the BoG without any continuity of thought on policy discussions being held over these meetings? That apart, a lean BoG will only be tilted in favour of the Government,¶ says an IIM director on condition of anonymity.

Division of functions

While lean BoG is an imported idea that doesn’t curry much favour with IIMs, the suggestion to separate academic and administrative functions, though a desirable western system, has its own constraints, say people from the IIM community. They assert that though a good system and also followed in many Indian universities, it has not necessarily worked well in western business schools as it has led to strained relations between the academic and administrative sections.

Pan-IIM board

What, however, has made the IIMs unhappy is the recommendation to create a Pan-IIM board. “The whole idea of an umbrella organisation for all IIMs is highly objectionable and unheard of even in the western business school sector. Each IIM comes with a history and pedagogy that is very singular to it, so while IIM Calcutta works on the traditional pedagogical methods of MIT, IIM Ahmedabad works on the more-hands-on Harvard business school approach. IIM Bangalore, on the other hand, caters to the PSU sector in a big way. To club all IIMs under one supra board and force uniformity on them is unfair. Is the HRD Ministry not a sufficiently overarching structure covering all IIMs besides other institutes? This whole idea of a Pan-IIM board seems borrowed from the Pan-IIT board and will not go down well with IIMs at all,¶ says an IIM director.

Consultancy and executive training

Another recommendation that will see IIMs and the HRD ministry in opposite camps is that “income-generation through executive training programmes and consultations should be balanced with needs of teaching and research¶. IIMs say any such move to discourage consultancy and executive training in IIMs would be very bad as the latter in particular is a highly sought-after course.

“There is already a Harvard and Duke tie-up in India offering corporate education. By asking IIMs to slow down on this huge sector, it will only give an opportunity to western schools and varsities to set up shop here and impart training at exorbitant fee structures. While some IIMs can give a far better quality training at lower fee, suggestions to slow down on these are surprising,¶ says an IIM community member.






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