08 May 2017 20:06 IST

‘We want to expand our public policy programme’

In his first-ever interview to media after taking charge, IIM-B Director Prof G Raghuram shares his agenda

Prof G Raghuram, a faculty member at IIM Ahmedabad since 1985, recently took over as Director of IIM Bangalore. A specialist in infrastructure, transport systems, logistics and supply chain management, Prof Raghuram, who has a PhD from Northwestern University, a PGDM from IIM-A and a BTech degree from IIT Madras, intends to bolster the public policy group at IIM-B. He was the Indian Railways Chair Professor from January 2008 to August 2010 as well. Excerpts from the interview:

IIM-B was set up with a public sector focus, given the large base of PSUs in Bengaluru. Can it have a similar orientation in the future?

Unlike at IIM-A and IIM-C, when IIM-B started, the Founder-Director wanted to create managerial talent for the public sector. Since Independence, and well into the 1970s and 1980s, the public sector was important. Even at that time, the private sector was hungry for talent and they valued what this talent could offer.

So, in many ways, the objective was not being met as people moved to better paying and more satisfying jobs in the private sector. In PSUs, there is a hierarchy, then other principles of excellence come in. Later, one of our Directors said that the original focus was not working and that we should change the focus to be more of a general management institute.

That does not mean that our emphasis in impacting the public sector, public management or public policy is any less. We have the Centre for Public Policy (CPP), which has transformed from the sector-specific departments we had to faculty who look at public policy in a basic, conceptual sense and apply that to different domains. We have started a one-year programme in public policy for those who have already chosen to move into this area.

Government domains do not require an MBA at the entry level. However, a lot of our sponsored research is from government bodies. Our star faculty are advising NITI Aayog, the Health Ministry, DeITY, the Department of Agriculture, and so on. The nature and extent of engagement has changed when compared with what was envisaged. To set the context, today, the government itself says that a lot of things it was doing should be done by the private sector. So, it’s the L&Ts and GMRs who are doing that. And those who join those organisations end up impacting public works.

The government also realises that there is so much more analysis it should be doing. But it does not want to increase the number of people, so a lot of analysis is being outsourced to consulting outfits. If you walk into any Ministry, you will find secretaries sitting with people from these consultancies, who could very well be IIM alumni. If our people develop their antennae in being able to do this by working through these organisations, it will make an impact.

Do you plan to strengthen the public policy discipline at IIM-B?

When I came in as Director, they also made me Professor of the Centre of Public Policy here. We are going in for more recruitment, as we would like to expand that group, and strengthen the programme. We also do a slew of executive education programmes in public policy, and we aim to do more. There’s a strong legacy of public sector we can leverage and move up the value chain. That’s something I would definitely like to see happen at IIM-B .

Are you looking to get funding from the corporate sector and your alumni for such expansion?

Definitely! First, it is essential to build a sense of ownership. Our most important stakeholders are our alumni, and many of them are in senior positions. We would definitely like to reach out to them. Once there’s a certain consistency of direction, we will reach out to those in the corporate sector, who would like to contribute to education.

We would also like to increase development funds. We want to expand our doctoral programme, which is pure cost initially, but in the long run, impacts institutions. The programme gets the faculty to do research and increases our brand value. We would like to get additional resources for young faculty and faculty chairs. The government has given us 110 acres of land for a new campus 27 km away from here and we need to start developing it. It’s a big opportunity.

If one goes by placements and jobs as a barometer for the economy, would you say growth is back?

Well, like most of the top IIMs, we too had a great placement but the time duration to complete the process was longer than usual… a few days longer, actually. Earlier, it would get over by the 3rd or 4th day. This time, we had a small tail, which shows that the hunger in the market is not as much, and this is an impact faced by all IIMs.

To say that the economy has completely turned around may not be right. In general, placement for the top 75 per cent of a batch of 400 is hardly an issue. All top recruiters anyway come for recruitment. But it’s tougher when you get to the last 100-150, where placements are influenced by the companies that come, the salaries they offer, and the students’ own performance. So, I won’t say the economy is fully back on track.


How do you intend to improve the diversity at IIM-B, in academic and gender parameters?

The top companies are looking at high-quality raw talent. Because of the nature of CAT, more engineers get selected. To me, diversity is an essential part of adding to the learning process, and we need to be diverse on as many dimensions as possible. A B.A. with sharp talent, or a doctor, or a veterinarian, may approach an issue from different perspectives.

IIM-B is ahead on the gender ratio. Experience is another diversity indicator and IIM-B is working on that. In a way, the government’s own social class diversity is good for the institution, and India itself is culturally varied. But we need to get international diversity and dual degree programmes, and get to a level to attract international students to take a degree from here.

It’s already happening in China — there are many international students going to Chinese universities to get an MBA. It’s a great way to understand a country. If an ‘India factor’ comes in, IIM-B is ideally positioned. Second, of course, we need to see the entry requirements, because if we apply the same needs as the Indian market, people of the same calibre here can enter top-rated schools globally, maybe with a scholarship.

Since I am interested in diversity, can I look at the second slice? These are things to explore and we need to work out a proper strategy on whether we want to spread wide or spread deep. Maybe Israel or Ireland, maybe Africa, maybe some of our neighbours, who have a certain feeling for India. We want to pick up five or six countries and look at attracting students from there.

IIM-B is among the top 20 B-schools in the FT rankings. How can you push it to be among the top 10?

There are some issues where we may be at a natural disadvantage despite the quality of the education and gender and faculty diversity. While within India, we are good on diversity factor, at the Board level, from an international perspective, we may need to move further.

The rankings even look at alumni writing in. We need to build alumni connect and get them excited to write to ranking agencies. IIM-B is an early starter to move into high-quality research output, but again, in terms of numbers, we may not be there yet. We are working on it; our values and messaging are clear, but these things don’t happen overnight.

Is it time to redefine management education? Or the case-based way of imparting knowledge?

Let’s go to the fundamentals. Management education is delivered in a context that largely targets real-life issues or issues of organisations doing well. The number of basic principles that can apply across the board are given to an extent, but there is a much larger learning necessity where you have to look at a specific context and from there, connect to basic principles, because contexts vary all the time either due to change in technology or the nature of people.

Anybody who goes out can go with a set of basic principles in economics or behaviour or in quantitative methods. But there is a larger set of advanced principles they have to derive for themselves by continuously studying contexts. And this is what management education is all about: there are the fundamentals and you have to continually exercise them to look at contexts and extract principles.

The case method is a natural, so I don’t see it easily drop off. Basic principles can be taught through MOOCs, and other textbooks or lectures, but the case pedagogy will remain. Maybe, in a more enriched sense, you can take it a step further and say go into the field and understand the real-life context through fieldwork. That part of the pedagogy is critical. Technologies of delivery will change, but pedagogy will remain the same.

Does IIM-B have close industry interaction to offer courses on the skills industry needs?

There is a continuous flushing in and out of courses, due to the high quality of faculty. Electives are pretty much current. The question is: do we want to create a different kind of employable person, other than a general management MBA?

The answer is possibly yes, we could think of a PG in Data Analytics, where you educate the person on the management context but specialise in Big Data Analysis. Law is another area that is playing a significant part in management, especially in infrastructure; a lot gets pulled back when someone is not happy with a contract or there are different interpretations. We need people who understand law, regulation, setting up contracts, along with a management degree. We could look at programmes integrating the two.

Broadly, I see three directions which need to be prioritised. We are doing our current programmes well, so the HRD ministry is asking us to scale them up. The second is to do programmes for people who can go out and deliver in other organisational areas, apart from general management. The third is at the back end.

Can I create high-quality values of learning at an undergraduate level, given our processes and systems? And would we want to extend there? We need to get a sense of which we want to get done first and be successful.

With so many IIMs now, what happens to the premium IIM brand?

Earlier, the government insisted on treating the IIMs equally, but now, there is a brand and there is an equally prominent sub-brand. There is an IIM and an IIM-A or IIM-B. The market understands that. It already is (premium) when students take the CAT and choose a B-school and in recruitment — the market already understands the relative positions. The government supports the newer IIMs and is asking them to plan on being on their own eventually.

What are your plans on increasing faculty strength?

We have full-time plus visiting faculty. We have 102 faculty, and we can go up to 120 or more. We have opened up two sets of recruiting. We open up for practitioners as Professors of Practice, who are primarily good teachers. In principle, they won’t need a PhD though, of course, we would like them to be academically inclined.

Then, we also have a senior fellow programme, which has two channels of entry — our superannuating faculty and external people who have a connect with education. The board has approved this and we now have to get going. My predecessors have set the platform for me. I’m a lucky guy, but now I have to deliver.