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Are too many engineers making IIMs parochial?

M Saraswathy & Vinay Umarji  |  Mumbai/Ahmedabad 

Shortly after Ashish Nanda had taken over as director of Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A), he walked into a postgraduate programme (PGP) classroom and asked how many had studied engineering.

Nearly everyone in the room raised their hands. "I was totally surprised," said Nanda, who then decided to work on getting students from diverse backgrounds into the course.

The premier has changed its recruitment and admission process to ensure people from varied fields, as well as more girls, come to study here. "Particularly, in a discussion-based learning environment, such as at IIM-A, there is a powerful reason for encouraging diversity of students. If we maintain an inclusive learning environment in the institute, students with diverse perspectives and backgrounds provide different viewpoints on situations, contributing to all the participants' learning," said Nanda. (THE IIM BASKET)

IIM-A is not alone in its drive to correct the skewed nature of its classrooms. Last year, in a first among IIMs, IIM-Kozhikode managed to increase the number of girls in its PGP course to 54 per cent from 28 per cent earlier.

This year, with the changes introduced at IIM-A, 28 per cent of the admission offers for the 2014-16 PGP batch went to girls, against 22 per cent for the 2013-15 batch. The changes to the admission process were made in both the stages - the Common Admission Test (CAT) scores and the Written Analysis and Personal Interview (WA-PI).

To each category of the caste-based reservation, a minimum cutoff for CAT scores was applied to generate a shortlist. Earlier, a weighted average of CAT scores and previous academic performance was used to generate this merit list of candidates, who are then invited for WA-PI. This year, the list was supplemented with CAT toppers from five subjects (top 50 or one per cent of candidates for the subject, whichever is lower) to arrive at the list for WA-PI.

Besides, WA-PI was conducted to get a comprehensive idea of the applicant, instead of a pure academic ranking. "WA-PI scores were based on not only academic performance and written analysis but also quality of interview, extra-curricular activities, awards and work experience," IIM-A said.

At IIM-Bangalore (IIM-B), however, diversity means more foreign students and teachers. Devanath Tirupati, director in-charge and dean (academic), IIM-B, said: "Diversity will make them effective managers. We have to prepare them for a global workplace. We would like to go beyond admissions and recruitment. Certainly, admissions and recruitment are important but that's a slower process. We have been doing things to implement this plan and we will continue to focus on these steps that give our students exposure to diverse groups in terms of nationality, gender, academic background and so on."

The new IIMs are not behind, too. K M Baharul Islam, chair, Center for Public Policy and Government, and chairperson, planning and development, IIM-Kashipur in Uttarakhand, said they invite girls, along with their parents, who might join later to tour the campus. "The institute reimburses AC three-tier rail fare to the city and back," he added. The institute gives three extra points to students who did not study engineering and four to girls.

At IIM-Kashipur, for the 2012-14 batch, of the total of 41, 40 were men and 37 had studied engineering earlier. For Batch 2013-15 batch, of the 131 students, 105 are men and 120 with an engineering background.

While final admission data are not yet available for IIM-Calcutta, Peeyush Mehta, chairperson (admissions) said the institute gave extra points to girls and candidates who did not study engineering at the undergraduate or graduate levels. IIM-Trichy does so while arriving at the final merit list.

IIM-A and IIM-B believe increased diversity on the campus will also help push up their international rankings. IIM-A Director Nanda said: "All major rankings look at diversity, typically citizen-origin and gender diversity - among not only students but also faculty and the board. Incidentally, at IIM-A, the percentages of women faculty and international faculty have been rising in recent years. However, our objective is educating leaders of enterprises. If we will achieve our objective, our rankings will be high. Thus, high rankings could be the consequence of our achieving our objective; high rankings are not our objective."

First Published: Thu, May 08 2014. 00:40 IST