Space for both IIM grads, varsity MBAs

Undoubtedly, the headline-grabbing Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), a group of public, autonomous institutes of management education and research in India, have been playing a major role in imparting postgraduate, doctoral and executive education in India. These were established on the recommendation of the Planning Commission as India's rapid growth in the 1950s resulted in the Commission facing difficulties in finding managers for the large number of public sector enterprises that were being established in India as a part of its industrial policy. It started with two elite management institutes IIM-Calcutta and IIM-Ahmedabad. The IIMs number 20 today.

When the President gave his assent to the Indian Institutes of Management Act, 2017, giving them the power to award degrees instead of postgraduate diplomas to their graduating students, it upset the apple cart elsewhere! What happens now to the universities which were awarding MBA degrees?

But then, is a comparison at all possible between IIMs and the universities? One clear differentiator is the "Common Admission Test" (CAT), a management aptitude test conducted by the IIMs primarily as an evaluation tool for admission to their two-year PGP programmes.

Widely considered as one of the most competitive exams in the world, the IIMs have an acceptance rate less than 2%, one of the lowest in the world. By choosing the best available raw material, it's that much easier for already brilliant minds to be molded into IIM graduates. Not at all surprising therefore that an IIM graduate enjoys a very high peer, employer and public perception, resulting in top-level placements and record salaries.

Where does that leave students pursuing MBAs at universities? An indicator of their success in management education would revolve around the college's placement analysis; a repeat placement analysis, that is, whether the same companies make repeat visits to colleges to pick students year after year; a review of the colleges' academic results; and the number of students
opting to be entrepreneurs.

This management education is monitored by the university, which sets the curriculum, decides on the courses, scrutinises faculty-student ratio, monitors grading, conducts the final semester examination, and keeps a constant check on the pedagogy.

The colleges affiliated to the universities are traditionally engineering colleges which add on a management department to increase their bouquet of course offerings. A management college in the precincts of an engineering college has its own accompanying benefits.

At university-driven colleges, management students have easier access to computer and information science laboratories, which have a high pedagogical content. This applies to the mechanical and civil engineering laboratories as well, core subjects where management graduates need to be closely associated with production and civil projects, areas where most employment opportunities exist.

Management education requiring quantification, in-depth lessons in research methodologies and probability studies also have in engineering colleges a readily available mathematics faculty to impart this very knowledge to the students. Again, a combined engineering and management college, with its large student population needs canteens, buses, transport departments, hostels, a large support staff, readymade in-house project areas to master management techniques by taking up management positions and running them successfully.

What's the bottom line (to borrow management jargon)? Indian industry has space for management graduates from both streams, the IIMs and the universities. While the IIMs continue to be the most preferred MBA destinations for the candidates, university colleges are also rising in the pecking order as their average salary in placement over the years, faculty-student ratio, ranking positions are constantly improving.

The university MBA colleges, with their strictly enforced and monitored pedagogy, do succeed in imparting greater knowledge to student populations, who need scholastic inputs to aid their transformation, as compared to the autonomous IIMs.

The IIMs, however, with the best of students selected through a rigorous entrance exam, shine in the placement arena. Most importantly, they serve as a benchmark and drive university students to constantly upgrade their skills and competencies.

The Indian job market will always need all types of graduates at both ends of the salary spectrum. While IIM graduates get the top-end assignments, there are several management positions in IT consultancy, services sectors, in the rural milieu, albeit at a lower salary scale, ideally suited for the university MBAs.

India's demographics will require many more avenues for its young population to obtain management education, and both categories of students have a vital role to play in India's growth. But, is the pedagogy imparted by autonomous institutions better or do the well-regulated university-monitored colleges impart a greater quantum of knowledge to the students? This requires an in-depth analysis.

(The writer is Associate Professor, Sai Vidya Institute of Technology, Bengaluru)

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