15 Jun 2015 19:28 IST

IIM Bill puts some B-schools in dilemma: Director, TAPMI

The move may not significantly impact industry and hiring, adds RC Natarajan

Both the IIMs and these private management schools award a post-graduate diploma in management (PGDM). Many top private management schools in India have modelled their degree structure and operations on the lines of the IIMs. Their efforts to follow the IIM model have helped indicated by the fact that most of their students have been getting good career placements in the job market.

However, the proposed IIM Bill 2015 has put these private management schools in a dilemma. The Bill proposes to replace the postgraduate diploma in management with MBA degrees along with other changes in the management education structure.

Business Line on Campus (BLoC) spoke to RC Natarajan, Director of the Manipal-based TA Pai Management Institute (TAPMI), to get his views on the proposed IIM Bill 2015 and the likely impact of the Bill on private management schools like TAPMI, which also awards PGDM. Edited excerpts from the interaction:

What are your views on IIM Bill 2015?

Right now I feel that higher education in management is facing some kind of mild turbulence. The number one factor for this is the intended introduction of the IIM Bill in the next Parliament session. This Bill will empower IIMs to give an MBA degree instead of PGDM, and instead of a Fellow Programme in Management, a doctoral programme with a PhD degree.

India is the only country where leading B-schools are awarding PGDM. It takes a little bit of effort on the part of every candidate who goes abroad for further studies to convince institutions that our PGDM is actually equivalent to their MBA.

Normally students and our faculty members highlight to them about this equivalence by citing IIMs as examples. When IIMs shift to MBA, this example cannot be given and the private schools have to highlight their own merit. We at TAPMI don’t have any issues, as we have AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) accreditation.

Why did IIMs choose PGDM?

They did not want to come under any university and wanted to retain their internal autonomy, in terms of academic, administrative and financial freedom. They could have still had financial freedom but academic freedom is crucial for innovation. Quality was ensured by the autonomy. Though there is nobody to check the quality of management education in IIMs, their own self-regulation and self-discipline have made them centres of high-quality education.

Some institutions like ours, SP Jain and XLRI are styled on the same principle of an autonomous institution. We went in for PGDM also because the diploma is recognised by the Association of Indian Universities, a wing of UGC. AIU recognises the PGDM as equivalent to a postgraduate degree and an MBA degree for the purpose of appointments in government and public sector undertakings. And the Government has accepted the PGDM as equivalent. Now the Government is planning a shift with the Bill.

We have no objections to taking the PGDM away, putting IIMs under body corporate structure and therefore making them degree-granting authorities. We are only asking why the accepted model has been made irrelevant now. I wish the Government spelt this our more clearly.

Autonomous institutions have to follow the law of the land, whether they are PGDM institutions or MBA institutions. We have to make a choice. But this is creating an unsettled feeling among many of the private PGDM schools.

The other concerns are?

The one that is likely to follow is the concern that the Union Ministry of HRD is examining abolishing the UGC and the AICTE, and plans to have one council for higher education. Our worry is that we really don’t know what the role and style of functioning of the council will be.

If the council follows the process of giving a one-time approval at the beginning and then backs it up with a quality-checking and quality assurance mechanism periodically, such as what the AACSB or even NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) does, then we have no problems.

But if it takes the route of AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education), which gives approval every year, then we have oxygen only for a year at a time, and every year we have to go back to them, filling and signing so many pages. This puts a lot of clerical burden on us, and there is a lot of uncertainty.

If it follows the UGC pattern, which is an approving and recognising body, this puts other conditions on the syllabus, such as a course should have this and that. If it becomes a highly regimented control system, then it will stifle our quality and innovation approach.

Further, will the council allow us to stand as an autonomous institution offering a PGDM? Or will it say the PGDM is not acceptable? If it is the latter then an institution has either to become a university by itself or join a university under affiliation or amalgamation. So, the picture is still very uncertain.

What does the industry think?

The picture is not the same for everybody in the PGDM group. There are those, like us, among the top-level institutions with global accreditation who may not really be worried about the impact of IIMs giving MBA at least for three years. We are not certain what is going to happen after that. The reason why I am confident that nothing is going to happen in the short term is that students select a programme based on its quality and the recognition by industry.

Industry does not look so much at the school’s certificate but, rather, the quality of students and alumni. So this move may not have too much of an impact on industry and hiring.

Companies want good management graduates, and are not unduly concerned about the nature of the degree. They are also taking students from institutions that don’t have AICTE approval and paying them good salaries.

If the higher education council says that we cannot function as autonomous institutions offering PGDM, then we have to necessarily change. We may then ask for autonomous status. If IIMs are autonomous, we are in no way inferior.

If industry is not really concerned about the degree, then why don’t you work without approval?

That option is not acceptable to TAPMI because as a group (Manipal) we do not want to do anything that is not acceptable to the Government. That is our established principle. We respect the law of the land. Principles are something we would not like to compromise on. So the question does not arise.

What is the advantage of being an autonomous institution?

You are free to carry out your own experiments. You are accountable to your own governing body and, because you are a standalone institution, you can be nimble-footed. Postgraduate management education is a highly competitive market. To remain nimble, you have to have autonomy – academic, administrative and financial. Being part of university may be attractive for giving out MBA degrees. But it does not ensure the same kind of autonomy. Therefore, it is difficult to be flexible and nimble.

Given the final option, we would opt to go with Manipal University. Their strength lies in international collaboration. We stand to gain a lot by being a part of that ecosystem.

My only question is the timing of this move. Whether we should do make changes at this stage, or should give it about three-five years and see how the market moves. Meanwhile, we will try for autonomous status, aiming to be an autonomous school of excellence that is allowed to award a degree. If it doesn’t work out and if PGDM is also de-recognised, then we may try for a university status. If that is not granted, then we have the option of joining Manipal University. We are not unduly perturbed.