How free is the IIM

It has to negotiate between business and government

Written by Debashis Chatterjee | Published:February 10, 2012 2:24 am

It has to negotiate between business and government

The one-line summary of the clamour for autonomy of IIMs is this: leave the institutional leadership and affairs of the IIMs to IIMs themselves. This,like Sachin Tendulkar’s hundredth hundred,seems so near yet so far in coming. Autonomy is a tightrope walk in which IIMs have to negotiate between two powerful gorillas on either side — business and government.

Leaders of for-profit businesses are not terribly shy to cast IIMs in their own image. The driving logic of commercial education is to fit the student to the job market like a nut to a bolt. Who cares if this runs at cross purposes with the mission of higher education,which is to help actualise human potential and to create social and intellectual capital? To apply a pure marketplace mentality to education is to defeat the very purpose of higher education. The market is merely a mechanism to sort out the efficient from the inefficient. The market is blind to what’s good and what’s bad,what is ethical or what is socially desirable. It is the academic leader’s duty to tell these businesses to simply mind their own business and leave the IIMs alone.

Here is a look at the other gorilla: the government. Several times in the past,the political priorities of the incumbent government and compulsions of bureaucracy have affected the location,governance and administration of the IIMs. Many IIMs are forced to locate themselves in remote geographies with the avowed aim of “developing the region”. Based on market logic,locating a business school where the market is should be a pragmatic decision unclouded by constituency politics. Yet,there is always a method in our political leadership that only the divine can decode.

The unique capacities of government,business and academia should be mutually enriched rather than diminished by the haphazard setting-up of institutions of excellence such as the IIMs. All world-class institutions exist at the intersection of three forces: attractor for global academic talent,flow of funds and enlightened governance. The first of these is the work of the institutional academic leader,the second is the province of business and the third is the responsibility of the government. As long as each institution sticks to its core purpose,autonomy would be a non-issue.

Through a recent communication,the ministry of human resources development has communicated to IIM Kozhikode amendments in its Memorandum of Association and Rules. Here is a gist of the autonomy and accountability measures in IIMs as prescribed by the ministry:

The director of IIMs will be appointed by the chairperson of the board of governors of IIMs wherein the board will recommend to the Central government three names based on the findings of a search-cum-selection committee constituted by the board. From this list the Central government shall choose one person for appointment as director. IIMs will have some degree of operational autonomy to create faculty and non-faculty posts in the institute and to make such appointments as are necessary within the overall ratio of faculty to students and faculty to non-faculty as may be prescribed by the Central government. The chairperson of the IIM board would be appointed by the Central government from a panel of three names recommended by the board. The tenure of board members,except the chairman,director and faculty representatives,will be restricted to three years. A member of the society or board will cease to be a member if he or she fails to attend three consecutive meetings of the board with or without leave of absence.

While the appointing authority of the chairman of IIMs and directors still rests with the Central government,the appointment process itself and short-listing of names are passed on to the IIM board. A semblance of operational autonomy is allowed in the form of making contractual appointments and topping up salaries within the broad framework of government-prescribed rules and norms. If the expectation of autonomy was complete relinquishing of control of government from IIMs’s functioning then such an expectation was too far-fetched.

Ideally,institutional autonomy should enable an IIM to do the following: Recruit and employ academic and administrative staff at its own discretion; recruit and appropriately remunerate faculty of global standards; determine its own academic programmes and content and open extension campuses anywhere it is feasible and desirable to do so; frame its unique criterion for students’ admissions in accordance with institutional mission; raise funds from the market and non-governmental sources without compromising its independence; manage its own finances and budgets within the framework of the law of the land; have a board of directors that would help IIMs negotiate the paradox of being globally impactful,while negotiating local interests and sensitivities; and institutionalising succession planning for directors and academic leaders so that a leadership pipeline is created and transition traumas prevented. Thus,the quest for excellence within IIMs goes on unhindered by political interests so that partisan political wish does not become the IIM’s command.

The flip side of autonomy of the IIMs is the question of accountability. To make IIMs accountable on the same parameters as world-class Ivy League schools is as impractical right now as measuring heart rate with a thermometer. For over 50 years,the IIM mandate was not to compete for talent globally but to produce quality managers for the nation. That is what we were accountable for. In a deep sense,autonomy and accountability are integral to each other. Our accountability is not only to external stakeholders but also to our internal integrity and excellence that has been the characteristic of the IIM’s institutional culture so far. The key role of an IIM is the conceptualisation and creation of managers of the future and to create exceptional value for new generations. The primary purpose of the IIM’s quest for autonomy is academic freedom and the power to direct its resources in a way that supports and sustains our vision for India’s future.

The writer is director,IIM Kozhikode

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