Monday, May 16, 2011

IIM-A Professor Questions Autonomy Need, Reignites Issue

Just when the IIMs' relentless pleas for autonomy are finding favour in the power corridors, an insider view rekindles the decade-long debate. A senior professor at Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) has questioned the need for autonomy, described as functional independence by academicians, in a book that argues government role is necessary for better accountability.

Finance professor T.T. Ram Mohan says IIMs (Indian Institutes of Management) run the risk of turning into "teaching shops" without government funds and monitoring. "It is often asked why the government cannot exit the boards of IIMs and leave things entirely to eminent professionals as it happens in the corporate world.... Any government withdrawal would create a dangerous governance vacuum with adverse implications for the very character of the IIMs," Ram Mohan says in his soon to be published book "Brick by Red Brick".

The arguments against autonomy are restricted to one chapter and Ram Mohan says he had expressed his views earlier as well. The book largely delves on the colourful persona and the contributions of Ravi Mathai, the first full-time Director of IIM-A, and says there has been a devaluation in the Mathai model at the institute. The book is critical of the waning faculty governance at IIM-A, powerless boards and faculty councils.

The IIMs known for attracting country's top talent that aspires for millions-plus salaries on passing out have been lobbying hard for autonomy since a decade. The institutes argued autonomy would help them pay better salaries, attract foreign faculties and assist in setting up overseas campuses. The IIM-A was at loggerheads with the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) headed by Murli Manohar Joshi in the early part of 2000 and its then Director Bakul Dholakia put up a sustained fight against what he claimed was government interference.

During his tenure, he had several run-ins with the ministry and said in one of his media interviews: "... for institutes of higher education to excel globally, withstand the pressures of global competition, they require ideological, financial and operational autonomy". Dholakia who now heads a private B-school did not comment on the book. The present IIM-A Director Samir Barua too has been insistent on autonomy and said in his convocation address that the institute must be free of all government controls to compete with foreign B-schools that have now been permitted entry into India.

There is a change in the ministry's approach over the years and human resources minister Kapil Sibal has favoured more autonomy to the IIMs. Ram Mohan counters these arguments in the book. "The contention that there is a government devil out there that has smothered autonomy and that, absent this devil, IIM-A would have become truly world class, lacks substance. Over the first four decades, starting from the days of Sarabhai (founder Vikram Sarabhai) and Matthai, no director at IIM-A had any serious complaint about lack of autonomy .... The clamour for autonomy in recent years must be seen for what it is: a thinly-disguised attempt to escape the checks and balances inherent in the government system and enter a lawless paradise made possible by a dysfunctional and ineffectual board," he adds.

Talks of autonomy within IIM-A began only eight years ago when the institute stopped accepting government grants. Ram Mohan believes to avoid government aid, IIM-A has been heavily relying on in-company training conducted by its faculty for the corporate world. This activity has been helping the institute generate a significant portion its annual revenue. It thus sees such revenues as crucial to its autonomy... Institutions that rely entirely on internally generated revenues end up as teaching shops," he says.

"Trying to cover costs mainly through revenue-generating programmes is the road to perdition," he says suggesting institutes should look at philanthropy and private funds to meet their requirements. The government has made "colossal investments" for more than four decades and merely not accepting funds from the government does not take the institute outside the purview of the government. An IIM-A alumni Chetan Bhagat says, "Not just the IIMs, the government in general should encourage autonomy in educational institutes...".

Source: The Economic Times, May 16, 2011
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