IIMs must leverage real autonomy

Capitalise on the freedom to take decisions and grant degrees to stimulate our research ecosystem and grow globally

By Author PD Rai   |   Published: 5th Jan 2018   12:03 am Updated: 9th Feb 2018   8:11 pm

The struggle for autonomy has been going on within the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) from inception.

Initially, this was addressed by just staying away from the main system and awarding Post-Graduate Diplomas in Business Management (PGDMs). Registered as societies and not coming under the purview of any of the controlling institutions like the University Grants Commission (UGC) or the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) helped in this process.

The pull and push from the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) was to bring it comprehensively under its umbrella, especially in the first IIM Bill draft brought in by the then minister. However, an about-turn happened with Prakash Javadekar taking over as HRD Minister. He and the Prime Minister’s Office ensured a draft Bill that had “autonomy” at its centre.

Body Corporates

The Indian Institutes of Management Bill, 2017, stands passed by both houses of Parliament as on December 19, 2017. The Bill witnessed unanimous support across the political spectrum. It is the element of ‘increased autonomy’ that swung the majority opinion in its favour. The Bill recognises IIMs as Institutions of National Importance and aims to provide them an independent statutory status to ensure uniform governance. And, yes, the IIMs will be able to award an MBA degree.

Now, all IIMs have been instituted as body corporates. The autonomy to take administrative decisions, approve development plans and grant degrees now lies with the Board of Governors. The importance accorded to the alumni in matters of governance is evident from the provision that up to five members of the Board will be from amongst the alumni. The power to appoint the Director and the Registrar of the Institute also solely rests with the Board. This is a significant step towards establishing independence in the functioning of the IIMs.

The passage of this Bill will also stimulate India’s research ecosystem. It is hoped that this legislation will play a pivotal role in improving the ranking of Indian educational institutions among higher education institutions globally. The IIMs must capitalise on this reform as it also gives individual IIMs primacy over their curriculum design.

Rebuilding, Rethinking

As the only representative of the IIM community in the Lok Sabha, I understand it as a great privilege to be part of this landmark legislation.

This huge systemic reform will propel our premier management institutions nationally and, indeed, globally. These institutions, including the IITs, have served our country well. They now deserve to be promoted through such legislation, which will allow them to innovate and re-think and rebuild their institutional capacity. The 21st century demands such landmark ideas and those can only happen if we allow many more heads to grapple with the issues rather than being directed by the HRD Ministry.

The IIMs are built on the solid foundation of knowledge garnered through teaching, consulting and research. Faculty thus impart cutting-edge curriculum to young minds who are the leaders of tomorrow. One important outcome of increased autonomy would be that, like the Ivy League institutions and other universities that offer management courses abroad, the IIMs will be able to propel themselves forward. This will also ensure that there are innovative means by which no student who is worthy of an IIM admission would be left behind.

Addressing Elitism

Speaking on the Bill in parliament, I responded to the questions raised by fellow members on elitism and the need to respond through service to society. I understand where my colleagues are coming from and that is certainly a genuine concern. I listed out instances where the alumni of IIMs have contributed to development in great measure, within and outside India.

The IIM alumni who have become entrepreneurs in diverse streams are today giving back to society and India. They are doing this through building angel funds and by being a medium for more startups to thrive and succeed. Let us also consider the Jawaja experiment of Ravi Matthai, first full-time Director of IIM-A, after he stepped down. It is an example of how a project on educational innovation went on to become a successful rural development initiative and resulted in the formation of the Institute of Rural Management, Anand.

Another example is the launch of incubation centres that give the required fillip to startups. The incubation centre of IIM-Calcutta boosts startups in Odisha, West Bengal and the entire northeastern region.

Knowledge Generation

Today, the IITs are body corporates and are recognised as Institutions of National Importance. However, they are still governed by the IIT Council at the Central level of which the UGC chairman forms a part. With the successful passage of the IIM Bill, devolution of greater autonomy to these premier technical education institutions will surely be addressed soon. The new Act is, no doubt, seen as the harbinger for the next generation of IIMs and IITs.

In the present educational ecosystem, the next challenge would be knowledge generation for India by Indians. Investment in infrastructure and human capital to encourage research and development is essential to steer our technical education in the right direction. Keeping ahead in this global race is crucial for India strategically as also to solve the burden of poverty and disease in the long-run.

This is truly the first significant reform in the higher education space that the NDA government has ushered in with the full and unstinting support of all the parties represented in Parliament. It is a fine example of bipartisanship.

Now the ball is in the court of the IIMs to use this as a pivot to attain the glorious heights the nation expects of them.

(The author, an IIT and IIM alumnus, represents Sikkim as MP in the Lok Sabha)