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'Global universities must think local '

Q&A: DEVI SINGH, Director, IIM Lucknow

Chitra Unnithan  |  Ahmedabad 

An attractive destination for multinational, India has had successful companies on its soil which have adapted their businesses to the local conditions instead of imposing foreign models on India. Be it food chains, home appliances or even personal care products — companies have changed their product designs and policies to attract the Indian consumer. In a conversation with Devi Singh, director, Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow (IIM-L), tells Chitra Unnithan that foreign varsities will have to understand local needs while setting shop in India:

With India set to welcome foreign varsities, what challenges they may face?
Every region and market is unique in nature. Every organisation that seeks entry into a new market needs to adapt itself to the local factors. This is true for education as well. The foreign universities seeking entry into India will have to study the market closely, offer localised content and case studies and train students not only for the global market but also to fit into the Indian job market. You cannot only talk “global” without a thorough understanding of the “local”. It is therefore ideal to be “glocal”. While the content needs tweaking, the courseware needs to be at par with the offerings globally. Sub-standard education in the name of “local offerings” will ensure immediate failure. The universities will have to ensure that the certifications provided by them in India are at par with the global degrees/diplomas, else there will be no “value-add” to opening campuses in India.

Will IIMs aid them in imparting training or making the adaption easier?
We are committed to excellence in education and will welcome all players wanting to enhance the standard of education available here. If any university approaches and seeks our help and guidance, we will be more than happy to help. They have to develop better understanding and a holistic view of the Indian education space.

What lessons can foreign varsities learn from the existing B-schools in India?

There are close to 2,000 B-schools in India but only a handful of these are considered to be of global standard. So the choice is clearly with the universities entering India: whether they wish to be amongst the thousands that exist or the few who are at the top of the pyramid.

B-schools that have reached the top have done so by immense hard work. There is a dire need for them to be responsive to their immediate business environments, to keep themselves constantly updated on national and international happenings that impact the business scenario and to come up with innovative course content that is topical or yet to become topical.

Like the top level Indian B-schools, the foreign universities have to be closely attuned to the Indian scenario with an intuitive approach to the pulse of the business/market, which comes with associating themselves with the experts in the field. Quality in education comes not just with creating the best infrastructure or having global course content, but from having an eclectic mix of content, faculty, research and students as the four pillars on which the offering will be based.

What strategies can foreign universities adopt to survive in the Indian education system?
We firmly believe that if you offer the best — course content, faculty and research — and choose the brightest students, you will become the best. In addition, the Indian education system is well respected the world over because of its academic rigour and any institution which is able to create a judicious way to engage the student to give his/her best, will win hands down.

Keeping a close tab on the national and international events that impact the businesses is something the top rung Indian institutions have been able to do with perfection. Constant innovation in the offerings and creating robust exchange programmes will also help.

Would Indian institutes face competition from foreign universities in India?
I do not believe the top rung Indian institutes will face any major problems with the advent of the foreign universities. The Indian universities may initially face dilution of their standards as good teachers might get attracted to the large salaries that may be offered by the foreign universities. But this will be reality in the short term. After a year or two, it will be a question of availability of funds for research and development, focus on academia, curriculum, among others, of the institutes in question.

The issue of faculty crunch is all pervasive. Will the foreign universities be able to attract top of the line global faculty in India?
Foreign universities might attract the attention of the Indian faculty with the lure of the dollar salaries initially. But most academically oriented people who are looking at a career in education are not only fascinated by money — if it were so, they could easily get a transition into the corporate sector today. The faculty in India are serious and are willing to look at a smaller compensation package, so long as their interest in research, delving deeper into their subject and educating others are fulfiled. So, in the long run, foreign varsities would not be able to attract the Indian faculty.

First Published: Mon, April 19 2010. 00:01 IST