Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nurturing Institutional Excellence: Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad- Change at IIMA

T. V. Rao
( Extracts from a chapter from the book  "Nurturing Institutional Excellence: Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad" edited by Professors Vijaya Sherry Chand and T. V. Rao of IIMA Published by Macmillan India).

My main qualification for writing this article is my 38-year-old association with IIMA, first as a full-time faculty member for over twenty years, and after that, as a Visiting or Adjunct Professor. I have narrated in detail my experiences of institutional processes at IIMA in an unpublished monograph on institution building brought out by the Ravi J. Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation at the IIMA in 1993. I consider my association, if not close work, with almost every Director of IIMA beginning with Ravi Matthai, as an additional qualification. I joined the Institute just after Ravi had stepped aside as Director. Udai Pareek, another stalwart of the IIMA, Ravi and I constituted the Education Systems Group. I had the privilege of working very closely with Ravi, first for five years when we were part of the Education Systems Group and then for another five years when he was my friend, philosopher and guide. The three of us held the first seminar on Institution Building in Education and Research at IIMA. Subsequently, we conducted a few programmes on “Managing Change in Education” and initiated a project called ‘Educational Innovations in Rajasthan’, which was funded by the Indian Council of Social Science Research. This project later on came to be known as the “Jawaja Project” or “The Rural University.” It was during these years that I came to learn from Ravi about the rationale behind the various processes at IIMA: faculty evaluation and development, upward delegation and his concept of decision making by upward delegation, the teaching philosophies, the differences between IIMA and IIMC, the mission and vision of IIMA, “The IIMA wheel,” and so on. In my view, what I learnt from Ravi from these interactions and the various discussions that Udai Pareek used to draw Ravi into, apart from what I experienced at IIMA as an insider and outsider, are the most important qualifications I have for writing this essay.

When I look back at the last fifteen years and ask myself if things have changed, my response is, “No. Not much has changed.” Of course, there are new buildings, the new campus, new programmes, a much larger Post-Graduate Programme (PGP), and many other features. But the culture of IIMA seems to have remained more or less the same. In fact it is not very different from what it used to be in the 70s and the 80s when I was a full-time faculty member. Perhaps there have been a few changes in the culture which may need a more analytical eye to see; perhaps my perceptions are biased and I see what I want to see.

What has not changed? The preparation required for classes and the hard work put in by both students and faculty, faculty complaints that students are not as serious in their second year as they are in their first year, stray issues of copying and punishment to be awarded for copying, concerns and debates about placement (the media attention that placement receives now is definitely greater), cribbing about the Director and ‘his coterie’ (irrespective of who the Director is, this crib has always existed and I have come to realize that this is a feature of every institution; fortunately, at IIMA the level of cribbing seems to be lower than in most other places), poor attendance at faculty meetings as well as at seminars offered by outsiders, the struggle to get faculty teams to meet for a thesis examination or for a project meeting or for designing an MDP, discussions on faculty autonomy, research and programmes, complaints about teaching load—all these seem to be persistent. Some improvements are clearly apparent. There is a gymnasium and a newly-constructed faculty club to facilitate interaction among the faculty and their families. On the other hand, the inactive badminton club gives one the feeling that informal interaction among faculty has come down. I suppose the changed world of cable TV with hundreds of channels, the internet and social networking, have all changed people’s lifestyles. The campus culture may have changed, but I can see that the basic character of the Institute and its culture have retained their essentials.

The self renewal mechanism of a periodic review of the various activities, a practice that was initiated in the early years, remains strong. The programmes, and the Institute itself (through the Committee on Future Directions), go through this process. Some of the review reports get implemented well, others are not so fortunate. In fact, after a PGP Review carried out in the mid-80s which saw most of its recommendations implemented, there was another review in the mid-90s, which did not see many of its recommendations getting accepted. A large portion of the responsibility for implementation or non-implementation, is attributed to the Institute leadership. The leadership often gets blamed for implementation by one section of the Institute and for non-implementation by another section! There are other instances of how this self-renewal mechanism has worked. The Faculty Development Programme, which is about to enter its 33rd year, was the recommendation of the Committee on Future Directions in the late-70s. I was a member of this Committee. The Public Systems Group (PSG) was an initiative of the then Director, Samuel Paul. He combined the Education Systems Group and the Health and Population Unit to form the PSG, adding energy, transportation and urban management to its mandate. The difficulty in integrating knowledge from these five very different sectors was not realised at that time. It was felt that all these constituted Government systems and, therefore, working on these would be fulfilling the original mission. The current status of the PSG with separate centres or teams for health, education, transportation etc. is more a reflection of the need for separate structures to deal with the external world. Some of the centres recommended and initiated in the early-90s, like the International Management Group, have died a natural death for want of champions or external constituents to make demands on the system.

I tend to take the view on the basis of all this that IIMA has not changed its culture in the last fifty years. In addition to some of the indicators noted above, a key constant has been the culture of treating every one as a peer irrespective of whether one is an Assistant Professor, an Associate Professor or a Chair Professor. This lack of consciousness of designation or what is called “peer culture”, and the associated issue of equality with respect to measurement of work load, remain strong features. This is in spite of the fact that in the last fifteen years the number of programmes held specifically for identified companies has gone up phenomenally, since such programmes have come to be accepted as equivalent to consultancy.

The student fee has gone up and the Institute has become self sufficient in its funding without having to depend on the Ministry of HRD for funds. The desire to build a big corpus, and the less than satisfactory response from the alumni to this appeal, still remain. The bonhomie at the silver jubilee get-togethers has gone up; the promises from the alumni to support the Institute while they are visiting the Institute and the ease with which such promises are forgotten as soon as they return to their professional lives, remain the same.

In sum, I would like to say that if we were to factor in some inevitable societal changes, IIMA has not changed at all. The culture remains the same: businesslike, scholarly, serious, always concerned about time and talent, reasonably quick in responding to outside changes, slow to initiate new changes, self-renewal conscious, proud and process sensitive.

It is against this background that I have decided to study the changes a little more systematically by seeking the views of students, staff and faculty members. Fortunately, I had conducted a survey of student perceptions of the Institute’s environment in 1977. I repeated this study in 2010. At the moment, there are only two faculty members still at IIMA who joined a couple of years earlier than I did (1973), and 22 faculty members who were at the Institute during the 21 years of my stay at IIMA continue to be on its rolls. The remaining 53 joined after I left my full-time job at IIMA. Of the faculty members who are currently full-time faculty members, 18 joined the Institute between 1994 and 2000, and 45 joined after 2000. To get their views about change at IIMA, I first requested them to share their opinions, through the electronic notice board. As expected, only one faculty member responded. I then sent out individual requests. About 25 faculty members who had joined in the last five years were requested to share their experiences, and another 30 who had spent more than 15 years at the Institute were requested to answer a questionnaire on change at IIMA. Of the 30 faculty one third responded and of the 25 faculty about half replied. Their responses are presented below. A few academic associates and administrative staff also responded to a similar request, and some of their responses are reproduced here with very little modification. While I do comment on the results of the student survey, I have presented the views of faculty, academic associates and other staff with very little analysis of my own. This will, I hope, help readers appreciate the views of the respondents as they were expressed, and also enable them to form their own judgments. We begin with student perceptions of ‘Change at IIMA.’

Student Perceptions of the Campus Environment: Have We Changed in the Last 33 Years?

A study was conducted in 1977 of the student preferences for various activities and their perceptions of the institutional environment of IIMA (Rao, 1978). At that time, 38 students of both first and second year PGP had responded. The current batches of 2009-2011 and 2010-2012 were surveyed using the same questionnaire in November 2010 and 108 students responded. The percentage responding is similar in the two cases.

The first part of the questionnaire called “Activities Index” is based on Stern’s work of measuring student motivations using Henry Murray’s motivational profiles (Stern, 1969). Henry Murray identified 30 different motives of people and Stern developed a student activity index as a measure of student motivations. In this chapter no attempt is made to analyse student motivation though data are available for such an analysis. Only a summary of the changes observed is presented. Of the 117 items on which the students indicated their preferences or motivation, about two thirds show little or no change. The areas where change can be observed is summarised below.

Student Needs or Preferences Indicators of their Motivation, 1977 and 2010

The following are the areas where the student profile seems to be different in 2010 as compared to 1977.

• About 25% more students prefer to hide their failure or humiliation from others as compared to those 33 years ago.

• About 32% more in the current generation seem to like others ‘to depend on them for opinions.’

• About 33% more in 2010 do not like wearing clothes to attract attention (in all 78% in 2010).

• About 78% (33% more than in 1977) dislike working for someone who tells them what to do and what not to do.

• About 68% do not like arguing with the Instructor (nearly 30% more than in 1977).

• About 25% more like to lead a well-ordered and organized life in 2010 as compared to 1977.

• About 55% more in 2010 seem to like organizing a protest meeting than in 1977.

• About 27% less than in 1977 seem to like reading stories that try to show what people really think and feel inside themselves.

• About 60% more in 2010 than in 1977 seem to like daydreaming about being in love with a particular movie star or entertainer.

• About 65% more students in 2010 seem to prefer doing easy tasks than difficult ones.

• About 30% less students seem to like apologizing when they have done something wrong.

• About 50% more of the 2010 students seem to like being alone or going to places at times when no one else is there (a total of 92%).

• The percentage preferring to be with people who seem always to be calm, controlled, unstirred, or placid has gone up by 30% from 55 in 1997 to 84 in 2010.

• Doing things to strengthen the mind, body, and will power has gone down by 25% from 94% to 69%.

• The percentage preferring to be with people who are always joking, laughing, and out for a good time has gone down by 45% from 81% to 36%.

• The percentage preferring to eat to fill their stomachs to the point they cannot eat any more at all has gone up from 19% to 91%. Listening to friends talk about their love-life has decreased from 77% to 37%, a drop of nearly 40%.

• Sacrificing everything else in order to achieve something outstanding has gone up from 52% to 66% a mere 14%.

• ‘Organizing my work’ in order to use time efficiently has gone down from 77% to 37%, nearly by 40%.

• Avoiding things that require intense concentration has gone up by 44% by 2010, from 19% in 1997 to 63%.

• Telling jokes or doing tricks to entertain others at a large gathering has gone down by 36%, by the year 2010.

• Doing something serious in my leisure time instead of just wasting it with my friends has gone down by about 22% from 58% in 1977.

• About 33% more students in 2010 prefer to be more careful about participating in sports that involve physical harm.

Overall, the survey indicates that today’s student is more serious and less jovial and more reserved and introverted. This perhaps is an impact of the Internet world. Social interactions seem to be much less preferred, and focussed achievement is preferred, adding a lot of seriousness to life.

Student Perceptions of Institutional Environment

The campus culture does not seem to have changed on most dimensions. Taking a 20% difference upward or downward as significant change, the following are the dimensions on which the campus climate seems to have changed (Table 1). Seriousness in studies has gone up in the last 33 years. For example, very few students feel that they are encouraged to take active part in social reforms and political parties though they are all of voting age and have the capacity to influence the direction of the country. There is less debate and more conformity to rules and regulations. Serious intellectual discussions and joking etc. have come down. Students seem to perceive the campus as a lot more serious, businesslike and system and rule and procedure driven. The number of students who feel that dissent is encouraged is also down. This seems to be a major change in the campus climate.


Siddharth, ex-PGP said...

A very interesting read Sir.

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