Friday, October 15, 2010

IIMs to focus on research

Ahead of the opening up of the higher education sector to international players, the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are looking at ways to ensure that they retain a competitive edge. Part of this effort is to beef up the research component of IIMs. Suggestions range from publishing a management journal on the lines of the Harvard Business Review to hosting an annual IIM World Research Conference to greater participation of IIM faculty in boards of companies and policy making committees of industry association. A move that will also help improve the faculty pool of these institutes.

Not all IIMs are similarly placed to deal with the situation. Newly-established IIMs will face the same challenges as the older ones at Ahmedabad, Calcutta, Bangalore and Lucknow . In this situation, a common and concerted response appears to be the most viable option. A committee set up by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) headed by IIM Calcutta Chairman Ajit Balakrishnan has examined the twin challenge.

The entry of international players, the committee felt would significantly change the environment and present a challenge to the IIMs capability to attract top quality faculty and produce world class research. To meet these challenges, the Balakrishnan Committee has made a slew of recommendations. These include the IIMs come together to help increase the output of their doctoral programmes, jointly publishing a journal aimed at practising managers, holding annual international conference on management. Increased research would require the optimum use of faculty resources, to this end the committee has suggested establishing a high-end video conference system to share faculty and developing pedagogic tools using technology .

The committee is of the view that IIMs must increase their Ph.D. output. At present, the doctoral programme faces several challenges. The first is getting quality applicants. The absence of a sizeable number of high quality applicants means that there are often just one or two doctoral students. This makes the doctoral programme uneconomic; the cost of funding of a doctoral student for the four-year programme is about Rs. 3 million. These challenges need to be dealt with, as a robust doctoral programme would not only improve IIMs research output but also augment the institutes' faculty. The committee has recommended a pooling of resources — in some courses the doctoral programme could be offered jointly by IIMs. A model already exists in IIM Calcutta’s Manufacturing Excellence Programme which is jointly offered by IIT Kanpur, IIT Madras and IIM Calcutta.

Another step to improve research output is to increase the institutes internal funding of research projects. This as opposed to external sponsorships. It is being increasingly seen globally that external sponsorships result in skewed output as sponsors reserve the right to examine the final outcome of the project.

It is being suggested that IIMs jointly produce a quarterly practitioner oriented journal on the lines of the Harvard Business Review. The journal will showcase research articles from across the IIM system. To ensure participation across the system, the management of the journal should be held by rotation. It has been suggested that IIMs also sponsor journals devoted to specialised areas of management. To improve networking and ideas flow, an annual IIM World research conference has been suggested as well. The Balakrishnan Committee has visualised a new role for the ministry as well — moving away from a command-control system to that of ensuring high quality. This would require the ministry to step in and fund collective action welfare-inducing initiatives in the IIMs.

Source: The Economic Times, October 15, 2010
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