16 December 2015 14:19:53 IST

‘Our students are exposed to cutting edge thinking’

Rankings should be a by-product of achieving this goal, says Ashish Nanda, Director, IIM-A, India's top B-school

The Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIM-A) is a public business school located in Ahmedabad. It was the second IIM to be established, after IIM Calcutta. But that’s the only instance of IIM-A having come second at anything. This is clear from that fact that the institute has secured the first place in this year’s The Hindu BusinessLine-MBAUniverse.com B-school rankings. Responding to an e-mailed questionnaire, Ashish Nanda, Director, IIM-A, described the institute’s journey and what places IIM-A as first among equals. Excerpts:

How has IIM-A ensured that it stays on top as India's best B-school. What is the secret sauce?

There is no sauce, and definitely nothing secret about it. IIM-A is unique in several ways compared to other top B-Schools.

For one, we are an institute of management education, not just a B-school. We are committed to our vision of educating leaders of enterprises. All our activities — from recruiting through coursework, to student life, to placement, and alumni relations — are organised around the guiding principle of educating leaders of enterprises.

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This goal of establishing a vibrant and lively educational environment that nurtures leaders is best reached by the paradox of attempting to achieve simultaneously what might appear, at first blush, to be opposites. Although we have a meritocratic and challenging admissions process, we are trying to ensure diversity of backgrounds and experiences among our entering class to ensure that classroom learning is infused with breadth of perspective.

Our coursework is rigorous but we employ the case-based approach to learning as well, so that students learn inductively from putting themselves in the protagonists’ shoes and focusing on decisions. Although we ground our learning in the country’s socio-political context, we ensure our students are exposed to cutting-edge thinking at a global level and an appreciation of the international context.

Although many of our alumni are business executives in established corporations, we take great pride in the graduates that choose an entrepreneurial path. And though some of our alumni become impactful grassroots social activists, we also have alumni who are recognised as global business leaders. We don’t seek tradeoffs between these opposites; we try to achieve the best of both worlds.

How do you plan to get IIM-A up the international rankings of B-schools; it had slipped a bit last year?

IIMA has been ranked 15th in the Financial Times Masters in Management Rankings 2015 released in September. Last year, the Institute was 16th in these rankings. So I am not sure that it had slipped last year. The Institute did slip in The Economist rankings. But then, The Economist ’s rankings rely on exchange rates (rather than purchasing power parity conversions) for several metrics, such as compensation upon graduation, making the rankings of developing market business schools volatile and outside the control of the business schools. However, we do feel great pride that, over the past six years, the Institute has ranked consistently among the Top Twenty programmes worldwide in the FT rankings. Further, IIM-A was ranked number one worldwide on placement-related criteria.

We will continue to provide transformational education to our students. We hope that endeavour will be reflected in good rankings. Our goal is to provide excellent education. Rankings should be a by-product of achieving this goal; it’s not our goal in of itself.

How are you ensuring academic and gender diversity in the B-school?

We are reaching out to colleges and encouraging bright, capable women students to apply to IIM-A. We have modified the CAT selection process and our IIM-A’s interview process to encourage diversity of academic backgrounds among selected students.

With the objective of increasing diversity of backgrounds of our students, and without compromising on quality, IIM-A is also recruiting international students to its PGP programme. We have focused this year on attracting students from the littoral states of the Indian Ocean (including East Africa, West Asia, SAARC countries, and South-East Asia).

Let me hasten to add that we are trying to increase diversity while ensuring meritocracy, that is, without offering any special considerations or establishing numerical quotas. We are confident that the opportunity to study in one of the premier global institutes will be an attraction in itself to some of the best and brightest international applicants, and our international students will contribute with their knowledge and perspective to the learning of the entire class.

What are the new programmes and courses IIM-A is unveiling to be current with industry and corporate requirements for talent in a particular sector?

Recently the Institute conducted thorough reviews of its PGP and PGP-ABM programmes as well as its admissions process. The reviews included detailed interviews with alumni, corporates, IIM-A faculty, faculty of other institutions, students and other stakeholders. Based on the recommendations of these reviews, the Institute has introduced several innovations in our PGP and PGP-ABM programmes, effective the PGP 2015-17 batch.

These are some of the changes in our PGP programme:

• Introduction of three new core courses: ‘Government Systems and Processes,’ ‘Understanding Global Organisational Context’ and ‘Having an Entrepreneurial Mindset’.

• Introduction of the concept of flexi-core courses to provide access to additional focused learning over and above the core courses. Initially, flexi-core courses will be offered in Human Resources, Information Systems, and Operations Management.

• Introduction of a course on ‘Experiencing Integration’ towards the end of the programme to integrate learning across management disciplines.

• Flexibility for students to specialise in specific domains (such as Marketing, Finance, and HR) on their meeting specified credit requirements in those domains.

• Rationalisation of courses to reduce sessions load in the first year, while maintaining academic rigour and innovative offerings.

The PGP-ABM programme has been renamed PGP-FABM, with a focus not only on agribusiness but the food industry as well.

We have conducted a strategic review of our PGPX programme and will be making several changes to it, to make it even more effective in coming months and years.

We have restructured our Executive Education programme to align it closer to the research and teaching interests of the faculty and to develop rich two-directional relationships with corporate clients and State bodies. The programme has experienced dramatic growth over the past two years, while considerably increasing its relevance to the institute’s other activities.