‘Big data to analytics we figure out industry trends for our curricula’

Vinay Kamath | Updated on January 24, 2018

Rishikesha Krishnan, Director, IIM Indore

Rishikesha Krishnan, a long-time faculty member of IIM Bangalore and an expert on strategy and innovation, who has also authored two books, moved as the Director of IIM Indore in January 2014. Recently, Krishnan was appointed a member of the Appointments Board set up by the Centre to select Executive Directors and CEOs for public sector banks, a board chaired by the Governor, RBI. Krishnan has served on a number of committees set up by the Government, NASSCOM and CII, all related to innovation in India.

Krishnan says that from his involvement with the Appointments Board over the last couple of months, the government is serious about attracting good talent to the top positions in PSBs. The government is also committed to run an objective and fair process for selection of these top bankers, he says. In a recent interview, Krishnan talks about his agenda for IIM Indore, its five-year integrated programme, the institute’s large batch size and how the newer IIMs need to quickly come up to speed. Excerpts:

IIM Indore is the first B-school to have introduced a 5-year integrated programme in management for students who pass out of high school. What is the feedback that you have got from industry to this?

We’ve got two sets of feedback. One part of industry is very excited. They are looking for people who come with a different perspective, and not only engineer-MBAs. They want people who have a good grounding in economics and social sciences and have a wider perspective. But, I must confess there is also a more conservative response which comes largely from the recruitment teams and HR. They are saying that these students have not gone through CAT, so they need to prove that they have the same analytical skills which a regular IIM MBA would have. We believe they do. We put them through a lot of maths, statistics and economics courses.

We have our own entrance tests. Selectivity in IPM is almost as good as in CAT. Last year for 120 seats in IPM we had more than 12,000 applications. And our projection is that this year there will be an increase by another 50 per cent. So we are expecting 17-18,000 people to apply this year. Our first batch graduates in 2016.

In that year, they will be part of the same pool of MBAs who graduate from IIM-I, including those in the PGP programme. Won’t that put pressure on the placement process?

Yes, they will be part of the pool of students who are available for placement. I don’t know whether there will be direct competition. Because I think the kind of profiles for these students will be a little different. Even in the regular MBA programme, there are some companies who prefer freshers and some who prefer experience. We might see some overlap.

How are you tweaking your courses to make it more contemporary and suited for industry?

There are various ways in which we do it. Almost all IIMs do a periodic review of the entire curriculum. For example, in IIM-Indore we do it about once in four-five years. And that curriculum review is underway right now and the next batch of PGP will start on the new curriculum. We solicit feedback from recruiters, particularly on what have they found with our students, what are the changes they are looking for, and we also keep track of any big trends that are happening. So big data, analytics, all the buzzwords, normally we figure out the trends in industry and the faculty offers some elective courses in these emerging areas and that’s how they start coming into the curriculum.

With B schools proliferating all over isn’t the MBA programme as we know it today under threat?

The problem is the MBA in India is very heterogeneous. There are really good programmes like what the IIMs offer and then there are really poor programmes as well; everything is called MBA. One has to be cautious when one is talking about this. At least at the top end, IIMs, XLRI, Bajaj, MDI, I think we are all seen to be fulfilling a market need. Otherwise, I don’t see any reason why people would hire them paying fat salaries. Some constant tweaking has to be done to improve the programme. What went wrong is the large scale expansion of MBA and in many cases people just went on from graduation to do an MBA without any understanding of what they are doing, why they are doing it; institutes also don’t know why they are at all in existence.

How do you keep your faculty in close touch with industry?

We do a fair amount of that. For example, recently CII had organised a tour for their members to world-class manufacturing facilities. They were taking their members to Thermax, Mahindra, Volkswagen and a few companies in Pune. We are a member of CII. So when this invitation came I wrote to them that we want to send some of our professors. We like them also to see what’s happening in these companies. So I sent my professors along with the industry team to go and visit these plants.

We also regularly send our faculty to various upgradation programmes. For example, Harvard Business School runs the ‘Participants-centred learning colloquium’ every year. Over the last few years we have sent about 20 faculty members to attend that programme. It’s a two-week programme, one week in Harvard and one week in India. We also send our faculty members to learn new research methodologies, new techniques … We actually have a budget for all these faculty development activities. In addition, we give faculty members an allowance every year where they can identify courses they need to do and they can use that allowance to go and pursue the same. We support collaboration of our faculty with foreign faculty; we invite foreign faculty to come visit our institute. We provide seed money for research projects. We have at least ten schemes to support faculty development.

IIMs have not been at the forefront of research. What are they doing about it?

The IIMs as a group have realised that research is one area where we have not done that well in the past. This is something we started about ten years ago. After considerable effort some improvement has happened. If we look at the same numbers five years ago it would have been significantly less.

For example, the faculty promotion norms in the IIM system have become stricter as far as research is concerned. If you don’t have some significant research output you won’t get promoted. That’s for sure. There is also a focus on getting people to publish higher quality stuff. Almost all IIMs, including Indore, have some incentives for publications. If you publish in a really good journal you get a monetary incentive and that incentive could be as high as ₹5 lakh.

There are various journal rankings. In Indore we follow the Australian Business Deans Council rankings. They have ranked journals according to their impact, quality and so on and they classify them as A, B, C etc.

For a certain number of those journals in the ‘A’ category we give a ₹5 lakh incentive.

We collaboration and seed money is provided for people to undertake research projects. It is a little bit of carrot and stick, the stick is if you don’t do research you don’t get promoted, and the carrot is all these monetary incentives. You have to go to conferences, meet interesting people.

What will be the impact of MOOC on MBA courses?

I doubt it will have a direct impact on high-end MBA programmes. It certainly could have an impact on plain vanilla programmes. For example, if you have to learn basic statistics and there is an online course where the best professor in the world is offering it, one would be better off doing that online course. The experience so far has been that blending is really the key. Not everything needs to be done in the class-room. I think the key to it is actually getting the mix right. Many institutes are doing it. They are saying, ‘you get the basic stuff through the online and then the stuff which needs discussion, where there are more complex problems, more challenging problems that we will do in the class room. All that is slowly creeping into I think all institutions now.

The flipped classroom was one variant of that where again you say you watch the video, read up the book and come. Some version of the flipped classroom was happening even earlier in the sense that many of our courses use a case study for discussion. And there the assumption is that the student has already read the basic material before coming to the class. Now in the flipped class we are saying go and see the video lecture. These are all sort of technological advancements.

Where does IIM Indore feature in executive education?

We have actually fairly deliberately played down executive education. We have not been focussing on it as a big expansion area. We have some regular clients with whom we work. For example, we work with quite a few large public sector enterprises, few private sector companies and work closely with the Madhya Pradesh government. There are some organisations with whom we had some historical relationships, we have been continuing to work closely with them. We have not been expanding executive education too much. Partly we have practical reasons for them. When we started IPM we didn’t have the infrastructure. So we have had to use some of our executive education hostels to house the IPM students.

The hostel built exclusively for IPM students are ready now. Once we refurbish a bit we will start pushing executive education again next year.

How autonomous are the IIMs? Do you have the HRD Ministry breathing down your necks?

IIMs have fair degree of autonomy. Certainly the Government is not dictating to us what we should or shouldn’t do. In the last ten months as a Director, I haven’t got any instruction from the government on any academic matter for sure. I don’t think there is a very big issue there. But there is one new uncertain issue that we don’t know, the IIMs Bill likely to be tabled in Parliament in the Budget session. That will give us degree granting authority. But it will also put in place a new legal framework. The current legal framework is that the IIMs are registered societies. And we have a Memorandum of Association which is signed by all the stakeholders, i.e. the government and the Board. And that leaves out how we should be governed. So in the current framework the Board of Governors have a fair amount of decision making power. We have to follow broad government norms but the Board has flexibility. With the IIM Bill that Society will cease to exist. So we become a legal entity under an Act of Parliament. And that in a sense takes us closer to the Government. So it remains to be seen how that will play out.

Will the proliferation of IIMs dilute the IIM brand?

I think the market is to a large extent able to distinguish and discriminate between different IIMs. So though there is an umbrella brand, the market looks at each IIM separately. That’s reflected in the rankings also — Ahmedabad is where it is and Indore is where it is. As far as new IIMs are coming in, I don’t think it will have an immediate negative impact on the brand. However, what is important is that the new IIMs should come up to speed as early as possible. Past experience shows that the time it takes for an IIM to reach maturity is 15-20 years. We need to find a way of reducing that time. We have so much experience now and one of the key drivers of that is can we create a bigger pipeline of faculty. The faculty is certainly one of the challenges as far as setting up new IIMs are concerned.

I think there is certainly a need to drive an initiative on that which means basically expanding doctoral programmes in IIMs. We have to be more vigorous in attracting faculty, people who are doing their PhDs abroad to come back and join the IIMs.

What went wrong is the large scale expansion of MBA and in many cases people just went on from graduation to do an MBA without any understanding of what they are doing

Published on January 06, 2015

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