The Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have been the vanguard of management education in the country. Over more than 50 years, they have made global impact with their graduates leading large corporations as well as B-schools across the world. This reputation of being premier institutions of global reckoning may be attributed primarily to their unique governance model developed by founding fathers such as Vikram Sarabhai that provided autonomy and flexibility. In fact, IIMs have long refrained from seeking any accreditation support from third-party agencies or even the government. IIMs know that their distinctive value system characterised by self-regulation has contributed to their success and not any external endorsement. They have even resisted the certification of the usual regulatory bodies such as AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) and UGC (University Grants Commission), maintaining that their standards are way beyond the minimum requirements of these bodies. Many IIMs have even boycotted popular business school rankings in the past, citing limitations in the methodologies. In fact, when it comes to management education in our country, the Post Graduate Program (PGP) and Fellow Program in Management (FPM) of IIMs command much stronger recognition and preference over the ‘globally recognised’ MBA or PhD degrees that universities provide.
It is, therefore, quite disheartening that, in the last five years, several IIMs, including first-generation ones, have entered the race to get accreditations from European and American private agencies (such as AMBA, EQUIS and AACSB). These foreign agencies charge significant accreditation fees—much more than what any of the IIMs have ever cared to spend on conscious reputation-building efforts. These agencies thrust their own standardised processes on participating institutions, which include interference with the admission criteria, academic curricula and the institution’s systems and strategies. It is perplexing how IIMs, who have always been touchy and vocal about their autonomy, are quite willing to surrender it so easily to commercial, foreign, third-party agencies that charge high fees.
Even more inexplicable is the fact that some IIMs are paying to get accredited from not one but up to three such foreign agencies—to vaunt a ‘triple crown’. Imagine the confusion and chaos when you try to meet three different sets of standards and the wastage of precious funds if the standards are actually aligned. Obviously, the agencies claim significant advantages for their certifications and a growing number of B-schools carrying their stamps. But it is doubtful if these advantages make any sense for IIMs. What are these claimed advantages, anyway?
One major claim is quality improvement as accreditations are supposed to certify education quality. But note that institutions, particularly those that are focused and specialised, rely more on quality of their people than processes to manage their affairs. IIMs are management schools themselves with over five decades of experience in building or mentoring several institutions in the country such as the new generation IIMs. It is disconcerting that the same IIMs now need external validation of their programs and learning processes. It is hard to believe that the elite IIMs cannot shape their own curricula and academic processes to serve Indian students—their primary market. A standardised model imported from a foreign context, on the contrary, is sure to ruin the unique model of IIMs that has, for long, fostered creativity and flexibility.
Another contention is improved student preference and increased enrolments. Most foreign accreditations are designed to help aspirants select a quality program. So, global B-schools, in order to increase applicants’ pool, find value in getting accredited. However, in case of IIMs, over 200,000 students compete (through the Common Admission Test) for close to 3,000 PGP seats and are willing to pay up to Rs 20 lakh in fees for the coveted diploma. IIMs—unlike their European counterparts—face a problem of plenty, which has led to the government establishing newer IIMs in recent times.
Accreditation agencies claim improved job opportunities for graduating students. It would be interesting to verify how many Indian recruiters care about global accreditation while visiting IIMs for recruitment. Most would not have even heard of these accreditations. For recruiters, IIMs are an important destination as the top talent in the country are nurtured there. The formidable position of IIMs in job placements is certain to persist in the near future as they continue to attract bright students and their alumni occupy significant corporate positions.
If the argument is that such accreditations help IIMs go global, it makes sense only if IIMs decide to set up campuses outside the country. India has the largest youth population in the world which is bringing leading global B-schools to the Indian market for enrolments. It is imprudent for IIMs to think of leaving this market where they command leadership and instead compete in other geographies. Incidentally, realising this, IIM Indore recently closed down their operations in Dubai. As regards attracting foreign collaborators or global faculty, potential partners would always be attracted to top institutions in a country as per ranking and reputation in the local market.
Further, most IIMs have had strong relationships with leading European and American B-schools on their own strengths, much before they even started applying for global accreditations. To conclude, two sets of relevant questions arise. One, for the significant costs of getting accredited by a global agency, what is the return on such investments? Are the promised benefits at all meaningful in Indian context? Are the existing accreditations being leveraged by IIMs to gain direct or indirect advantages, if any? Two, if IIMs feel the need for quality control or external feedback, why not make it peer-driven, as is the practice in academia? Can the IIMs not jointly set up a body which will set standards for themselves and other Indian B-schools? Why compromise autonomy to foreign agencies when it is otherwise fiercely guarded? These questions may require critical analysis and debate, but we believe that in line with their core values, IIMs need to denounce foreign accreditations and refocus attention on national priorities.
Keyoor Purani & Rudra Sensarma
Keyoor Purani and Rudra Sensarma are professors at the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode.
Views are personal