Dr. Bakul Dholakia, the former Director of IIM, Ahmedabad joined IMI, Delhi as its Director in 2014. Shikhar Mohan, Founder, OneYearMBA.co.in caught up with him to understand his plans for the institute. In a freewheeling interview, Dr. Dholakia discusses his vision to make IMI the best private B-School in the country and his plan to relaunch the One Year MBA (Executive PGDM) by making it more market centric.
You have worked in Ahmedabad for many years now, first as Director of IIM Ahmedabad (IIM A) during 2002-2007 and subsequently as Director of the Adani Institute of Management. How different is it running a B-School in the nation’s capital?
There are certainly some advantages. The first thing is that because you are in the capital your visibility is much higher. You can leverage the location very well in terms of reaching out to public sector enterprises, policy makers and the government.
Secondly, for many activities: inviting someone for a guest lecture, inviting a company to the campus or to develop international partnerships, being located in the capital is a huge advantage. Delhi is always on the map for people visiting India.
Being based in Delhi also helps us with regards to the Indian Technical & Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC) programme, which is the international training programme sponsored by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. This programme is pursued by public servants in developing countries and most of them prefer studying in the national capital.
What are some of the key focus areas for you at IMI?
For starters while IMI has a very good overall ranking – we are in top 10 or 11 in many surveys and for sure in the top 15 in most surveys, but our placement ranking leaves a lot to be desired. One of my focus areas will be to improve our ranking on the parameter of placements. That will involve re-positioning our institute in the minds of recruiters and potential students.
We would like to over time, become the best rated private business school in the country.
As far as the overall rankings go, we would like to over time, become the best rated private business school in the country. We may not be able to rub shoulders with the top IIMs any time soon, but we aspire to be the leaders among private B-Schools.
Also I plan to strengthen the international linkages for our school – currently we have a presence only in Europe through our student exchange programmes. We must diversify into North America and South-east Asia.
We have about 10 partnerships from which about 5 are active. I would like the active partnerships to grow to at least 20 and to diversify through partnerships with B-Schools in South-East Asia as well as North America.
I also want the scope of our international partnerships to be wider. Beyond student exchange programmes, I would like the partnership to extend to executive education, research collaboration and faculty exchange. The last is the toughest of the lot because of the differences in pay package across countries.
In my tenure, I would also like to see that IMI, New Delhi kick starts a couple of dual degree programmes in which students would spend a year at IMI and a year at a foreign B-School.
The idea behind re-orienting the MDPs towards the private sector is that once senior executives at these companies have attended our programme they will know first-hand the quality we offer at IMI
Also the executive education we are undertaking currently – the Management Development Programmes (MDPs) are largely focused on public enterprises – there is hardly any Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) we would not have done an MDP for. Now we would like to focus on the private sector – basically I want to enlarge the portfolio of executive education we offer at IMI.
You mentioned the focus on improving the placement outcomes at IMI. How do you plan to do this?
The fundamental problem facing IMI right now is that there is a disconnect between the MDPs and the long duration programmes conducted by IMI: the two-year full time PGDM, and the one-year full time Executive PGDM course.
All our MDP’s are focused currently on public sector undertakings (PSUs) – now the problem is that these PSUs do not go to private institutions offering PGDM courses for final placements since their norms do not permit it. So the clients who know us as an institute delivering premium quality students are not our customers when it comes to hiring our full time students.
Secondly, all the training we do for public enterptises is focused on their concerns and issues. So while the MDPs for PSUs build volume, they don’t have a rub off on our full time programmes either in terms of placement outcomes or in terms of development of teaching material or more consulting assignments for our faculty.
Private enterprises, who hire our graduates in droves are as yet untapped by us for our MDPs. The whole idea behind re-orienting the MDPs towards the private sector is that once senior executives at these companies have attended our programme, they will know first-hand the quality we offer at IMI.
This is how the placements at IIMs are built – they have a huge presence in the private sector training market.
From this year onwards we are revamping the one-year full time programme – till now it has been focused on company sponsored candidates but from this year we are going to be focusing more on self-sponsored candidates.
This will contribute to better placements, development of teaching material and development of experiential learning of teachers which will contribute back to learning disseminated in the classroom.
If this loop is not working in a business school, then the school cannot run quality business education.
Why has IMI been focused on public enterprises till now for its MDPs?
Till 2010 the institute did not have a sizable presence in the training market at all. Public enterprises were possibly the low hanging fruit which we could easily capture.
There is a crying need for a separate management council that is manned by people who have extensive experience of managing business schools…an All India Council for Management Education. If this happens then the One Year MBA will get its due recognition and due nomenclature.
Also PSU’s, as part of their corporate policies, have huge training budgets – so it made sense to target and this sector. The economic downturn for instance has not affected the training being conducted by public enterprises as much as it has affected it in private enterprises – the training budget at PSUs is not rolled back with economic ups and downs as opposed to the private sector where training is considered a discretionary spend.
So the revenue from PSUs cannot compromised even now. We now simply need to expand into the private sector while maintaining our lead in the PSU market.
Will more MDPs affect the availability of faculty for the full time programmes?
As per AICTE norms, an institute should have a 15:1 student faculty ratio. With less than 600 students on campus, we need only 40 faculty to fulfill this norm. But we have 62 faculty with us, which gives us legroom to expand into executive education.
You shared your plan of revitalizing the post experience One Year Full Time MBA (Executive PGDM) at IMI. What do you have in mind for the course and what are some of the changes we can expect?
From this year onwards we are revamping the programme and changing the focus of the programme – till now it has been focused on company sponsored candidates but from this year we are going to be focusing more on self-sponsored candidates.
For the first batch of the revamped One Year Full Time programme, there has been a good student turnout this year.
We want to ensure that the one-year programme at IMI has a truly international character.
I want to make this programme market centric. Since a majority of the participants of the one-year programme earlier came from public enterprises and were sponsored by the companies there was no pressure of placements – they went back to their companies after graduation.
Now with a majority of students being self-sponsored, placements for one-year programme graduates is going to be an important focus area for us.
This first batch onwards we are targeting having at least 10 international participants in each batch. With the kinds of applications we are getting these ten participants would typically represent 7-8 countries – so our students can look forward to studying with foreign students and not just Indians with foreign passports. We want to ensure that the one-year programme at IMI has a truly international character.
We are also redesigning the cirriculam for the one-year course in tune with the focus on market.
Unknown to many, IMI has historical connections with IMD, Switzerland (earlier called IMI, Switzerland). Interestingly, IMD’s flagship course is a One Year MBA. Does IMI have any plans to revive these old ties to bolster its One Year Full Time MBA?
I haven’t really been able to apply my mind to this or gotten in touch with them – I have been too busy with other issues. But hopefully by the middle of the next academic year I would revisit the whole international linkages aspect. Since a bulk of European schools all have a One Year MBA as their flagship offering, I do plan to leverage on it in some way.
We want to build international connects for the 5-6 week international module we have in the one-year full time course – I want to ensure it happens at the best B-Schools.
We would also look at building connects abroad for the 5-6 week international module we have in the one-year course – I want to ensure it happens at the best B-Schools. Right now 10 French one-year MBA participants from ESCP France, are visiting us and are learning with our one-year MBA participants – so it has already begun.
Despite all the hype surrounding management education in India, a student in the USA or Europe does not aspire to join an Indian B-School. What steps are required to make Indian B-Schools aspirational for students globally, the same way a Harvard, INSEAD or CEIBS is aspirational for students worldwide?
What is required is a complete refocusing of business education in this country. We have to make it more contextual and cotemporary. If you want to attract the best global participants we can’t just say we are going to tell you something about India – our niche area needs to be developed.
For instance I want IMI to offer the best module on doing business in India.
A recent editorial article in Business Standard said that “India needs an accreditation body which deals exclusively with B-schools to enhance their quality”. Accreditation standards of bodies such as AIU and AICTE are sub-par when compared to global accreditation awarded by Association of MBAs which reserves MBA status for courses that recruit candidates with work experience. What’s your view? Are All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and Association of Indian Universities (AIU) accreditation norms falling short of what’s required?
Absolutely, we need a new body to govern management education in India. I have myself recommended this to the ACITE review committee – there should be a separate council for management distinct from the body that accredits and oversees engineering colleges.
AICTE was originally intended as a body to govern engineering institutes. There is a crying need for a separate management council that is manned by people who have extensive experience of managing business schools. If this happens then the One Year MBA will get its due recognition and due nomenclature.
Indian institutes get a lot of flak for producing very little research but some say our institutes should focus on educating more people instead of doing more research. The debate is similar to the one between ‘sending a mission to mars’ vs. feeding more Indians. Should research go hand in hand with teaching more people or is research a luxury Indian B-Schools can ill-afford?
I don’t believe that. At IMI research is our business.
That is why at IMI we have re-launched the Fellow Programme in Management FPM) – earlier it was a company sponsored programme but now it is fully sponsored by the candidates themselves.
We are building rigour into this programme – candidates need to spend four years on campus in this wholly residential programme the same way a doctoral student would do at an IIM A.
Financial incentives are needed for encouraging research as currently faculty at Indian B-Schools is drawn to consultancy rather than research since it is financially lucrative – you get paid if you do consulting, you don’t get paid if you do research.
Now the thing is you can’t guide an FPM student unless you yourself have a research orientation. So it will put pressure on our faculty to focus on research.
Secondly, I am going to introduce incentives for research, a model I introduced at IIM A. For every article that is published in an A category journal, there will be a financial incentive. This is required as currently faculty at Indian B-Schools is drawn to consultancy rather than research since it is financially lucrative – you get paid if you do consulting, you don’t get paid if you do research.
Is there any talk of linking career progression for faculty to the quality and quantity of research produced by them?
Yes absolutely – this is something I have already announced. If you have done no research please don’t apply for promotion. And don’t expect that I will confirm you. Your probation would be extended and you woldn’t be confirmed. I don’t want pure teachers – I want teachers with a deep insight into the industry.
And to push ourselves towards better research we have applied for Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation – to qualify we will have to produce research!
These things have all been done in the past 6 months. Many more things are in the pipeline.
Most business schools in India consider research a luxury but in the next five years it will become a necessity. The credibility of business schools will depend upon this. There is a growing awareness about its importance.
Most business schools in India consider research a luxury but in the next five years it will become a necessity. The credibility of business schools will depend upon this.
I hope that international collaborators ask about research credentials before they link partnerships with Indian B-Schools. Many foreign B-Schools will not touch you if you don’t have strong research credentials. Even at IIM A, when I set about establishing these linkages, we had to face hard questions from institutes such as Harvard, following which we made sure that research gets it due at the institute.
I for one am going to pitch IMI as an organization that does research.
As per you, where is management education in India headed – what are some of the changes we can expect over the next 10 years?
I think India will emerge as the hub of management education over the next 10 years. We would be rubbing shoulders with the best in the world.
I expect that out of the 4000 odd b-schools that exist today, about one third will disappear and some 10-20% will consolidate through mergers – so maybe we will have 2500 or so B-Schools then, but a larger percentage of them will qualify as premier institutions.
While the aggregate capacity may shrink, our capacity for offering premier education would have tripled perhaps by then.
This cannot happen without the entire business education sector in India going through a metamorphosis and I am sure this is going to happen.
Is the archaic regulatory framework going to throttle this progress? What needs to be done to ensure this doesn’t happen?
This could well be the case and so I hope that these regulatory institutions also evolve. Just like you have an All India Council for Technical Education you need an All India Council for Management Education – that’s all.
I expect that out of the 4000 odd b-schools that exist today, about one third will disappear and some 10-20% will consolidate through mergers over the next ten years – we will have a lesser number of B-Schools but a larger percentage of them will qualify as premier institutions.
Then this council should be manned by the best professionals who have managed B-Schools earlier.
The regulatory body can remain under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) but it should be a standalone autonomous body – it should be accountable but left to do its job. In turn these bodies should award more autonomy to well managed institutes – higher autonomy should be given to high performing institutes.
This proposal is on the table already and the AICTE committee looking into reforms is considering recommendations put forth by B-Schools – whether AICTE finally recommends the changes we have proposed to the government is something we don’t know as yet.