CLASSROOM DIVERSITY

Walking into one of the seminar rooms on the Indian Institute of Management — Ahmedabad (IIM-A) campus, one overhears an animated discussion among the students. The topic: academic diversity at India’s premier B-school. With 95 per cent of the current batch — 362 students out of 380 students — being engineers, the thinking will surely be alike, is the refrain.

It isn’t just the students who are worked up over this preponderance of engineers in IIM-A. Those who manage the B-school, too, are agitated. And they intend to do something about it during the 2014-16 batch admission.

Ankur Sarin, Joint Chairperson of the admissions committee, says that the institute has changed the formula to calculate the academic performance rating a student gets for the 10th, 12th standard and degree course. More importantly, IIM-A has identified five academic streams from which the top 50 people will be shortlisted, on the basis of their CAT scores, for the next round of written analysis and personal interviews.

Broadly, these disciplines are sciences and life sciences; engineering; arts and humanities; commerce and, any discipline that does not fall under these four streams. “This is the first time we are going to try this. We don’t know what the outcome will be. Nor do we know if we will get the academic backgrounds we desire,” says Sarin.

Learning thru interaction

Says IIM-A Director Ashish Nanda: “If a teacher is just coming to teach fact and data, then academic diversity doesn’t matter so much. But, if most of the learning happens through interaction, and the faculty member is a facilitator, then it is important that students come from different points of view and are surprised by what others say and build on that learning.”

Diversity, says Nanda, comes from different elements, ranging from gender to socio-economic background to academic history. “The participants in an IIM-A classroom would benefit more if this were to happen,” he adds.

Different views

D. Shivakumar, former chief of Emerging Markets for Nokia, and a board member of IIM-A, says that for long, industry has looked at diversity from a narrow gender base; that is, in terms of the number of women employed. “True diversity in future organisations will be about different age bands, backgrounds, nationalities and disciplines. Innovation happens in cross-functional interactions and that’s where diversity will help. Diversity will also help in richer qualitative discussions, since a dominant group always shuts out different points of view.”

vinay.kamath@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on October 16, 2013)
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