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Q&A: Shekhar Chaudhury, Director, IIM Calcutta

'Management is not an esoteric discipline'

Swati Garg  |  Kolkata 

The Indian Institute of Management-Calcutta (IIM-C) is the oldest institute in the IIM system and completes 50 years in November 2011. In these 50 years, while the institute has become a model of educational excellence, it continues to face In the news recently over the uproar from faculty against the recommendations of the Bhargava Committee Report, debates on funding and at IIMs have taken centre stage again. In an interview with Swati Garg, director of IIM-C, Shekhar Chaudhury shares the curricula changes, challenges and possible solutions. Edited excerpts:

How do you see positioned at 50?
At 50, I think we are an institution in evolution. is the oldest IIM in the country set up on November 13, 1961, followed by the establishment of on December 16, 1961. We as an institution believe that this is a good time to take stock of what we have been able to achieve in 50 years. We will celebrate our golden jubilee over two years, starting November 14, 2010, and ending November 15, 2012.

So far we have been focusing on excellence in teaching, and while research has been a focus, we have decided that we will focus heavily on research as well. We are looking at developing collaborative relationships with other IIMs; we have such relationships with international institutes, but not with other IIMs.

What are the curriculum changes you are planning and why?
We did a curriculum review over a three year period, which culminated in our adopting a new curriculum in 2008, which we have already implemented. This was a major overhaul. As a long-standing practice, we introduce new courses, keeping in mind the demands of the market, the sensibilities of the faculty, or the requirements from the students. This year, we are planning to introduce 13 new electives in the Post Graduate Diploma in Business (PGDBM) two-year course and seven in the Post Graduate Programme for Executives (PGPEX) one-year course. These include courses such as financial modeling, operations strategy, sustainable supply chain management, supply chain strategy, performance and risk tools and techniques, excellence and manufacturing: Concepts and tools, law and policy of international trade,  environmental challenges in India, competitive strategy and organisational integration, cross cultural management, institutions, markets and firms: Growth and structural change in China and India by the Economics Group, marketing to bottom of the pyramid consumers by marketing group, leadership excellence: Insights for Indian ethos by Centre for Human Values, information technology and business innovation. 

Some courses are offered because of interest from the marketplace, some because we feel there is a need for new courses when companies come to recruit as well and ask for students with specialisation. Also, with the evolution of the market, we look at courses that would aid curriculum changes. Teachers should respond to the needs of the students. Management is not an esoteric discipline and is subject to continuous change. This was the rationale behind starting the media management course as well. These courses help keep us on track for the achievement of our goal of teaching excellence.

Besides curriculum, any plans of changing the overall batch size?

We have implemented the other backward caste (OBC) quota from the current 400 to 460 in the 2011-13 batch. This means an increase of 60. In the next few years, we are not looking at expanding this further but focus on integration. Also, our goal is to increase the size of the batch strength to 120 students over the next two years after the completion of the new executive hostel.

Are you also going to increase fees?
We will raise the fees for the Post-Graduate Management Programme for Executives in Visionary Leadership for Manufacturing (PGPEX-VLM) from the current Rs 7 lakh to Rs 9 lakh. Besides this, we are not looking at increasing fees again this year.

Excellence in teaching has always been the strength. Would it be correct to state that research is a weakness?
While it is correct that the government has raised questions about the kind and quantity of research coming out of IIM-C, our desire to give more importance to research is not new. The biggest issue has been that we have not been able to mirror our teaching success in research. Here one has to understand that we are not primarily a research institute. We are an educational institution. Our primary goal is to provide excellent teaching, in terms of curriculum, new topics being brought into the courses, new topics that address management issues in the global environment. 

When one talks about new things, it automatically requires research on the faculty’s part. When we are trying to push the institute towards higher levels, we are talking about published research.

With it becoming the second plank for establishment of the institute as a global centre of excellence, what are your plans for encouraging research?
Two-and-a-half years ago we introduced a new research policy. Earlier, the faculty members interested in research would get research grants from the institute for a maximum amount of Rs 20,000 per project. After the introduction of the new policy, facility members can get funding to the extent of Rs 10 lakh for research. There are three categories, with category 3 being the highest. The smallest grant available now is Rs 1 lakh. Over the past two-and- a-half years six Rs 10-lakh projects have been sanctioned. What we want now is large impact-making research — comprehensive topic with a large number of issues allowing the faculty to do empirical research, travel and appoint one’s own team.

This allows the researcher some flexibility, while facilitating inter-disciplinary research, where faculty across groups can team up and propose a large research project. Also case writing, which was not given importance earlier, now comes under focus because we now promote diversity in research. We also need to disseminate research. We are also helping researchers in presenting papers. From once in three years, we now facilitate researchers to make at least one foreign trip a year. Research is being given importance in faculty promotion decisions. We are looking at collaborations with foreign faculty in universities to aid exposure. Funding for the research we do at the moment is not a problem. We have set aside a sum of Rs 2 crore per year as research grants.

Why is it that IIM-C has not been able to deal with the challenge?
The goal for IIM-C remains to reach the highest possible pinnacle when it comes to the quality of teaching and of research. The problem remains that we need faculty geared towards research in a big way. For this we need to provide the right kind of environment facilitating the faculty to get published in the best research journals. We need top quality researchers to join the institute. We might need to look abroad for this kind of faculty. But here the salary levels come into play. For faculty and research in top-notch management institutes in the US, salaries for finance based research could range from $1,50,000 to $2,00,000. What we can pay them here just does not compare. We had tried to get fresh PhDs and while many showed interest none joined primarily because of salary problems. So yes attracting the best talent is probably one of our challenges going forward.

In the context of the Bhargava Committee Report, there is talk of creation of a corpus of funds for IIMs through corporate donations, in exchange for place in the governing board. What would this corpus be like and what it be used for?
For institutes like IIM-A,B and C, funds for routine operations are not a problem. We are, for example, in the middle of a Rs 200-crore campus development project, of which the government has given us about Rs 42 crore. Of the Rs 160-odd crore required, we will spend a substantial amount from the corpus of Rs 170 crore we have built thus far.

The Bhargava Committee Report was meant to address problems primarily related to the newer institutions. Older institutions like ours have training programmes through which we can raise funds. This the new institutes do not have. While we have big goals keeping in mind the expansion of our flagship programme, for which we do need money, as of now funds do not appear to be much of an issue.

Because the salaries in the Indian institutions are so low and we still need faculties who are the best, we try to create income opportunities in the form of training programmes that could ensure income salaries three to four times the salary amount. This however compromises with the teaching and the research time that the faculty members allocate in their overall schedule.

The solution is in providing salaries that are comparable through funding support. If we could get some funding from alumnae and from corporates we would be able to pay some topping-up salaries to attract research talent comparable to the best around the globe. The Bhargava Committee outlines broad points. It should be up to the IIM to get the best possible deals for fund raising.

First Published: Thu, May 12 2011. 00:37 IST