Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Aug 16, 2002
What the IIMs have done
Kala Seetharam Sridhar
A RECENT debate has cast clouds on Indian Institutes of Management. The contention is that the IIMs and IITs have not done much in terms of research or consulting to affect policy-making at any level.
Some are of the view that when Indian business and public institutions and policy relating to business have gone through paradigm shifts, IIMs' voice has not been heard at all.
While there is some truth in this, as current faculty of one of the IIMs, there are several reasons why one disagrees with this view:
Research utilisation: One mission of the institutes is to become socially conscious centres of learning, contributing towards management development, both in India and abroad. It is not clear what the society and public at large expect of the IIMs.
However, all IIM faculty members are actively engaged in consulting and research for various organisations.
One instance is that all the four IIMs were recently entrusted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development with a mega project on evaluating the success of the recently-completed World Bank-sponsored District Primary Education Programme (DPEP).
One agrees that this itself does not do anything to raise the quality of, or the funds being allocated for, primary education.
But it represents some earnest attempts to examine critical problems with various aspects of primary education in the remote/rural areas of eight States, and make relevant policy recommendations. Whether the Ministry takes this seriously or not is a different matter. In fact, most of consulting work is dissipated if no action is taken. The question is not what the IIMs have done to make themselves a force to reckon with, but how much of the research and consulting done by their faculty are being utilised.
There is a vast body of literature that deals with the utilisation of research by policy-makers, which the critics of IIMs may look at.
Policy implementation: Another instance is when IIM faculty members are invited to provide recommendations to the ministries at the time of Budget-making. Few decisions taken by various ministries are apolitical, despite the extensive or in-depth policy analysis provided by researchers.
Most decisions taken at the macroeconomic level take into account factors other than policy analysis that IIMs frequently provide. These include factors, such as political feasibility of their implementation. After all, public choice theory, the economic analysis of political decision-making, tells us that rent seeking is very common behaviour among politicians and bureaucrats, especially during re-election.
Change: Can IIMs affect policy-making in New Delhi the same way that MLAs, MPs and ministers do? Do newspaper articles in times of crises help? Some of them are taken seriously, but are they implemented?
Some of them are probably too simplistic, but are they given heed? In fact, to address the issue of change, IIM-Lucknow has initiated Metamorphosis, a journal for academicians and business leaders who wish to make a difference by breaking paradigms, bringing fresh cutting edge ideas and adding passion to management.
Also, despite the passion for solutions during periods of radical change, it should also be remembered that all changes, solutions and policies can at best be incremental. Also, all those that are critical of the role of IIMs in a period of change, have to appreciate that they are academic institutions as well. In addition to bridging the gap between theory and practice, they also have the onus of having to promote scholarly research in the various areas (functional and non-functional) of management.
Because, without this, they are left behind in the race for global excellence in higher education and research.
Regional dispersal: Yet another issue about IIMs is that they are all dispersed in terms of their location.
For instance, there is no IIT in Lucknow, but there is an IIM. Similarly in Assam, there is no IIM, but there is IIT-Guwahati.
So, IIMs and IITs have been, in some sense, viewed as levers of bridging the inequality in the educational attainment and/or infrastructure among the various States.
So it is well-justified even if the IIMs do some "low-key" consulting as long as they have some impact on the local area in terms of providing employment to a large number of impoverished people. In fact, the presence of IIM in Lucknow has triggered the real estate and infrastructural development of the entire area where it is located.
Not just land and property values, it has also raised the incomes of many impoverished people in the area. The counterfactual to IIM in Lucknow is that many impoverished people would not have found a means of living.
Overall, this is a reminder that those also serve that passively serve, or even stand and wait (in terms of their preparedness), not just those that always `serve', as Milton said.
(The author is Assistant Professor, Business Environment Group, IIM-Lucknow.)
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