26 Jun 2015 17:43 IST

B-schoolers need to start enterprises that invest in the social good: IFMR Director

Social consciousness must be infused into management education, says PK Biswas

Walking into the leafy campus of IFMR in Chennai’s Nungambakkam, with a big banyan tree forming a canopy over the old-world main building on a humid summer afternoon, it’s like stepping back into an era when time moved slower. Talking to Director PK Biswas, it’s clear, however, that the Institute for Financial Management and Research is moving ahead rapidly in cutting edge areas.

PK Biswas, Director

Biswas outlines IFMR’s policy of giving pride of place to a certain kind of old-school, research-driven academic rigour. But he is equally excited about the vibrant new campus in Sri City, an SEZ about 50 km north of Chennai, and the drive to chart a new course in hot topics such as data analytics and financial engineering. Set up in 1970 as a not-for-profit society, IFMR is sponsored by ICICI, the Kothari group and other industrial houses. The 45-year-old Institute is rooted in an ethos of social awareness. Its objective “of moulding ambitious young men and women into competent and socially responsible organisational leaders in a global setting,” — stated at the top of its goals — clearly sets it apart from most other B-schools.

Academic diversity

“It’s important that students are aware of the cultural implications of corporate decisions,” said Biswas, emphasising that making social sciences integral to management studies is now more important than ever. If, some years ago, engineering and commerce were seen as de rigueur base courses for a management degree, there’s a marked shift towards creating more academic diversity by selecting candidates from liberal arts and social science backgrounds, he said.

IFMR's new campus in Sri City

“Such a trend has been visible in the West for some years now, and it is time more management schools in India encouraged such a flexible and inclusive academic environment,” said Biswas, adding: “While IIM-A has made a conscious decision to take in fewer engineers than its usual 95 per cent of each batch, IIM-Calcutta is selecting more women candidates. At IFMR, though, engineers form just 70 per cent of a class.”

Alongside changing the student mix, the institute also believes in an annual exercise of refashioning about 10-15 per cent of the curriculum to introduce new skills that students need in order to adapt to the ever varying environment. “Tackling relevant case studies to come up with new corporate or economic strategy shifts forms an important part of this approach,” said Biswas.

Social awareness

With the start-up ecosystem growing rapidly, IFMR is placing more emphasis on entrepreneurship and, specifically, on social enterprise in the microfinance area, said the Director.

“Management graduates are ideally placed to tackle poverty,” he said, adding that: “With the CSR Act mandating that companies spend a portion of net profits on social projects, there is now a strong platform to bring about change. One aspect of this is the potential to create viable employment opportunities for the marginalised sections.”

IFMR, he said, encourages many of its students to start up ventures on their own, often after they have worked for some time, and later, to invest in the social good, especially in education or healthcare. It is crucial that such awareness is created among students in all B-schools by encouraging value-based discussions and analysis, said Biswas, underlining the need to give back to society. After all, he asks: “What’s the point of India’s successful Mangalyaan mission if lakhs of children are still starving?”

Research focus

Research has always been a priority, right from the time the institute was set up, explains Biswas, describing it as the Institute’s USP. IFMR has a system of giving financial incentives and grants to encourage its faculty to engage in research that results in published papers. Teaching staff who are pursuing research are allowed to take on minimal teaching responsibility. Professors are also urged to participate in workshops and conferences, and to involve students in such projects as well.

Mentorship in such research is crucial. In a system that has been successful over the years, the teachers mentor and guide students in the latter’s live research projects as well. IFMR has made a conscious decision to induct a certain number of PhD students as some of them may turn into good faculty later.

Indian case studies

The students too are motivated to adopt an attitude of academic inquiry. One way the institute incentivises this is by offering student scholarships. Roughly 16 per cent of the students benefit from scholarships, for which the Institute has raised funds of over Rs 50 lakh this academic year (2015-16). It has also tied up with banks in an arrangement where there is no burden on the parents. IFMR pays the interest component of the loans and when the students graduate, they get jobs and start repaying the capital.

An interesting outcome of IFMR research is the focus on creating a significant bank of Indian case studies so that students are exposed to real world corporate and economic situations.

IFMR conducts several short-term courses in written analysis and communication, research methodology and business analytics. It is keen that the staff and students engage in qualitative research through group discussions and people surveys rather than just churn out numbers.

“In today’s world, soft skills and effective communication are as important as sound academic content. People have to be able to convey with clarity the results of their research,” said Biswas, adding that the media has a vital role to play in disseminating the kind of information and knowledge that comes out of research.

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