To be truly called global institutes, IIMs need more foreign students/faculty: Prof Rishikesha T Krishnan, Director, IIM Bangalore

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August 24, 2020 6:30 AM

"Most of the top-ranked universities of the world (let’s say, top 20) have a single campus policy; they believe that to attract the best faculty and students it makes sense to concentrate everything on one physical location."

Prof Rishikesha T Krishnan’s portrait.

On July 20, Prof Rishikesha T Krishnan assumed office as the director of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Bangalore. He earlier served as the director of IIM Indore and is known as a thought leader on the management of innovation. “It’s a privilege to lead India’s best management institution at this most challenging time when there is an opportunity to redefine management education,” he says. In an interview with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, he shares his views on the National Education Policy (NEP), the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), global rankings, and how can IIMs become more globalised institutes. Excerpts:

IIM Bangalore is a big ship. Was it tough to steer it to online mode of teaching after the lockdown?

IIMs are fairly flexible; we didn’t have much difficulty in adapting to online classes. Unlike technology institutes, we don’t have massive physical laboratories, so shifting classes online wasn’t difficult. What we do have is a lot of interaction inside the classroom, and so as long as an online platform allows sufficient interaction to happen, it is possible to teach online.

Of course, we had to take some steps—we needed some technology improvement, the faculty needed to understand the technology and a little training and orientation, but at IIM Bangalore we were able to do it quite fast, partly because we already have invested a lot in online education thanks to our MOOCs platform; for the last six years or so the faculty has already been engaged with online.

How, in your opinion, will the NEP impact management education?

The NEP is broadly positive for higher education in general, because it focuses on quality, which is something we (at IIMs) have been emphasising for quite some time—the importance of accreditation, having a good conducive environment in the institutions, promoting research, and so on. In fact, all the progressive things we have been trying to do at IIM Bangalore are being talked about in the NEP as well, so I would say that the NEP is supportive of the things we have already been doing.

When it comes specifically to management education, there is not much focus on it per se in the report—one section talks about technical education, in which management is mentioned in passing. The thrust of the NEP is on creating multidisciplinary institutions all across the country. In this context, the NEP doesn’t talk much about standalone institutions such as the IIMs.

Recently, a few IITs decided not to take part in THE (Times Higher Education) World University Rankings this year—they argued it being too subjective. Has IIM Bangalore faced any such issues with global rankings?

The global rankings we usually are part of are related to management and business education, such as the FT Global MBA Ranking—this year our Executive Post Graduate Programme in Management moved up six places from last year to claim the 27th spot. In FT rankings, for example, the parameters considered include salary today, weighted salary, salary increase, career progress, research output, and so on. These are well-defined and objective parameters, as opposed to, say, perception, which can be subjective.

At the same time, while the IIMs are quite global in certain areas (research, faculty participation in international seminars and conclaves), we have to focus on two areas—international students and international faculty. These are not easy to address in the short term; even the government has been trying to make India a global education hub, but the progress is slow. In the long run, to be a global institute, you need to have enough international students and international faculty on the campus.

Is IIM Bangalore taking active steps for attracting international students and faculty?

We have made some progress especially in our online MOOCs—we offer more than 40 courses on the edX platform, and in these courses we have enrolment from all over the world; we have been able to create an interface with people globally.

As far as attracting students on the campus is concerned, isn’t it easy to get them from, let’s say, Africa and South East Asia?

South East Asia is quite brand-conscious and they are not that familiar with the Indian higher education ecosystem. We have participated in MBA fairs in South East Asia, but the primary interest we got was from the people of Indian origin in South East Asia. Indian higher education has some way to go before it develops itself as a brand in South East Asia.

As far as Africa is concerned, it can be a little complex; for example, somebody in Africa who has the money to study abroad will likely look at institutes in Europe and the US. To attract them to India you need to offer them a lot of scholarships, maybe dovetailed to the foreign policy of that country.

The NEP allows top 100 foreign universities to set up campuses in India. Will they come?

Most of the top-ranked universities of the world (let’s say, top 20) have a single campus policy; they believe that to attract the best faculty and students it makes sense to concentrate everything on one physical location.

However, beyond the top 20, some might consider setting up a foreign campus as a practical way of expanding their footprint. So, in the top 20 to top 100, some might be interested (to set up a campus in India).

Academics such as the IIT Delhi director recently said that the NIRF should have an international component so that the best Indian institutes can benchmark themselves to select global institutes. What is your opinion?

One must understand that each ranking serves a particular purpose. The NIRF was started by the government because prior to this there wasn’t a well-designed system of ranking Indian institutions; there was a need for an objective and a rigorous method to rank Indian institutes so that Indian students can make an informed choice. The NIRF serves that purpose and I don’t see any reason for it to have a global component. My personal view is that such a step will dilute the purpose for which it was set up in the first place.

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