During his recent visit to Chennai, IIM Kolkata director Saibal Chattopadhyay, spoke about his plans for the institute and his vision to make the IIMs more relevant to society. Excerpts from an interview with Vasudha Venugopal
How relevant is management education now? With talks of financial crisis, do you think B- schools might lose their charm among students?
Management has always been relevant. The idea of offering management education is to equip the next generation with requisite skills to take businesses forward. And, I essentially believe, the slowdown in economy is a temporary phenomenon. It is unlikely to affect the demand for management courses.
What are your plans for IIM-Kolkata? Would you focus on strengthening the scope of research?
Our primary strength is research. Even the recent rankings have revealed that in terms of research output, the number of peer-reviewed publications, citations, international publications, IIM-Kolkata is the best in the country. My job will be to be sustain that focus. We now have 90 faculty members and many of them are very young. Around 40 joined in the last eight years, and some of them are involved in outstanding research, comparable with international research. We have applied for accreditation from what is considered to be the most prestigious global agency — The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). The accreditation will come through in a year, and will be testimony of our research output.
Some IIMs have demanded more autonomy to make their own decisions. Do you also feel the need for it?
In terms of functioning, we enjoy full autonomy as the government does not interfere in our functioning affairs. We have a responsible board that discusses important issues and works on policy decisions. Whenever there is a national policy, we abide by it as every institution in the country should. We are not hassled about funds, as we believe after 50 years of existence, we cannot be asking the government for money. The genesis of our existence is different from the other B-schools. Our founding fathers wanted us to be islands of existence, different from others. And, we have done well on that front. There are 13 new IIMs now.
How do you see your relationship with other IIMs? Do you look at collaborating with them, or is there heavy competition among the IIMs?
There is healthy competition among us, at least the older IIMs, in terms of getting students, companies and teachers. But we have to understand that IIMs exist for a national cause. We have to take that to a different level now. Getting good faculty members is an issue everywhere now. We are in a slightly better position when compared to the newer IIMs. So, there is nothing wrong in helping them with our strengths. We have been mentoring IIM Ranchi since its inception. We are also in talks with IIM Raipur, to let some of their students study here for a semester. We are working out the modalities of the programme now.
What are your expectations from the proposed Indian Institutes of Management Bill which would give business schools the power to grant degrees?
There are apprehensions, but I don’t see a problem with the existing Bill. I don’t agree with some new IIMs that it will erode their freedom. But when the Bill is likely to be passed remains a question, because there have not been recent discussions on it. More important Bills are being legislated now, and there are pending Bills too.
Will the quality of students in IIMs come down drastically if foreign universities are allowed to open their campuses here?
The major threat is — they will certainly take our good faculty members. I am not worried about students’ quality going down because there is a healthy, competitive pool of students taking CAT every year. I am worried about my faculty going out because Indian institutes cannot compete with the salary levels offered by the foreign universities. But there is something to watch out for as well. We have collaborations with international schools which can only be deepened when if it happens.
Does IIM-Kolkata have any plan of setting up a campus abroad?
We have just entered a huge new campus. Improvising and building on it is a priority now. After that, if funds permits, opportunities come, we will certainly think of campuses elsewhere.
What are your plans on increasing the diversity on campus?
The low intake of female students has always been a concern. This year, we have taken some directions to ensure more girls come into the campus. Also, work experience is not mandatory for getting into IIM-Kolkata, unlike many other IIMs. We do give some weightage to experience but we give more importance to certain other factors.
You have two programmes for working professionals. What is the response to these?
PGP-EX, the course for executives is going really well. We also offer an MBA in the manufacturing sector wherein we take only 30 students. We have collaborations with IIT-Madras and IIT-Kanpur for the programme. The intake for this course can be increased if the manufacturing sector in the country does well. As of now, 90 faculty members teach the 30 students, and the investment on them is pretty high.
Do many students from IIM-Kolkata go for entrepreneurship? What are the efforts being taken by the institute to encourage its students to start their own companies?
We have a Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation that supports the ideas of students and helps them if they want to go for their own ventures. Also, we now support the winners of the Tata Social Enterprise Channel, by providing them access to our teachers, mentors, alumni who have their own businesses.
We were also one of the first to have a centre to promulgate corporate ethics and a sense of social responsibility in our students.
What are the major changes that were introduced in the curriculum of IIM-Kolkata recently?
Since we are an old institution, we have always been perceived as a theory-based education institution. But now, we have moved to a combination of theory and case-based teaching. We have a tie-up with the Harvard Publishing House, and with that every teacher in IIM-Kolkata can use any number of Harvard case studies in her class. Students have unlimited access to such cases too.
What are the major government projects IIM-Kolkata is working on?
Recently, we were asked to do a live study of traffic during the last IPL cricket match at Eden Gardens and present a report on the dispersion pattern of visitors. We made a presentation on that. We have also submitted our report on Teaboard structuring in West Bengal. Some of our faculty members are also studying the supply chain of material in Kolkata’s local fruit and vegetable markets. We are helping Alaknandha Roy in her experiment with prison inmates who have been awarded heavy penalty for murders. The year has been tough in terms of guaranteeing placements for students.
Do you think educational institutes have the responsibility of finding jobs too?
We are the largest IIM, and we have never had problems with placing our students. Placements are entirely managed by students and the institute only facilitates it. This year, we managed to place over 452 students in five days which is remarkable.
The interaction was organised by the IIM-Kolkata Alumni Association (Chennai Chapter).