30 Mar 2021 20:01 IST

‘B-schools need to take international benchmarks more seriously’

Rama Velamuri, Dean, School of Management, Mahindra University

Rama Velamuri from Mahindra University suggests B-schools fund their research infrastructure generously

S Ramakrishna (Rama) Velamuri, who has been recently appointed as the maiden Dean of Mahindra University’s School of Management, has over 36 years of experience in the academics and industry. The School of Management will begin undergraduate programmes this academic year.

 He has been associated with global institutes such as China Europe International Business School (CEIBS, Shanghai), IESE Business School (Barcelona, Spain), Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, Bocconi University and the Indian School of Business. He talks about the various issues related to management education and faculty scarcity. Excerpts from an interview:

Why are there so few globally acclaimed B-schools from India?

In the latest Financial Times Global MBA 2021 rankings, we had five Indian schools in the top 100, ranked 23rd, 35th, 44th, 48th, and 94th. This lacklustre performance of Indian B-schools in global rankings stands in sharp contrast to the global prominence Indians enjoy as B-school academics, managers, and entrepreneurs. If you look at the criteria that constitute the rankings, they include measures such as international faculty, international students, international board, international courses and research, on all of which the Indian schools fare poorly.

It seems that Indian B-schools have not attached much importance to these benchmarks in the past. Many of the best Indian B-school programmes did not even follow the basic international nomenclature, calling their degrees PGDMs instead of MBAs and FPMs instead of PhDs.

The IIMs were set up to provide managerial talent to Indian industries and they were focused on fulfilling this mission for the first several decades of their existence. Measured against this performance criterion, they have been very successful. Nobody can fault the quality of education they have provided or the strong linkages to industry they have been able to build over time.

The entry of ISB in 2001 brought about a number of changes. ISB was the first to explicitly benchmark itself against the best international B-schools in every respect, which has brought it remarkable success in a very short time.

What are the building blocks of a good B-school?

A former Dean who I worked under used to say that the most important place in any academic institution is the classroom. I have been associated with three academic institutions — IESE Business School, the Darden School at the University of Virginia, and the China Europe International Business School — where teaching excellence is the foundation on which everything else is built.

I believe that our students are primary stakeholders and as educators, it is our duty to provide them with an exceptional learning experience. If we do a good job in teaching, we are automatically serving the organisations that hire our graduates. The second building block is the intellectual capital and thought leadership, as they set any academic institution apart. Land and physical infrastructure are no doubt important, but it is much more important to invest in intellectual capital by providing a good research infrastructure, generous research funding and research support, and creating a vibrant research community.

India is a predominantly family business dominated economy. Do we need India-specific management education?

I firmly believe that sound management applies to all organisational types: family and non-family businesses, for profit and not-for-profit organisations and private and public sector organisations. Each of these types of organisations has its unique strengths and challenges.

For example, family businesses generally benefit from the long-term vision of the families but may face challenges in balancing the needs of the businesses and those of the families. These unique aspects need to be studied and addressed, but the principles of good management apply across the board.

How can we improve faculty quality in India?

To improve faculty quality, we need to improve the quality of our PhD programmes. Unlike in the sciences and some social sciences (most notably, economics), the FPM and PhD programmes in Indian B-schools have not provided the type of research training required to publish in the top international peer-reviewed journals.

In the past decade, a few B-schools have significantly improved their research training and we are beginning to see the fruits of this investment. However, the vast majority of doctoral programmes in business have a long way to go.

There is a vast diaspora of eminent academicians of Indian origin in business schools in North America, Europe and South-East Asia. I am sure they would be highly motivated to contribute to improving research quality in India. For example, the International Association of Chinese Management Research (IACMR), which was founded in 2002 to catalyse research on China-specific issues, has grown to 8,600 members in 90 countries and holds conferences every two years in mainland China where scholars working in mainland Chinese universities get to interact with those based abroad.

I hope the Indian Academy of Management (INDAM), founded in 2007, can replicate the success of IACMR. The government can also set up a platform to provide research training to PhD students from all Indian b-schools.