Ranking B-schools can elevate standards

livemint.com | Premchand Palety

This is the eighth year that I have ranked Indian business schools for Outlook magazine. After every survey appears, skeptics spring up with usual questions: What is the purpose of such surveys? Is it merely to increase circulation or raise advertisement revenue for the magazine? Then, there are integrity issues, such as whether a higher rank would lead to more advertising for the publication from such B-schools.

There is no denying the commercial aspect of such surveys, in the sense that such special survey issues are marketed to potential advertisers and, because they often tend to be best-selling issues, there is plenty of demand for ads. But, our survey doesn’t owe its genesis to the marketing department of that magazine, the idea originated from responsible persons from industry and academia, whose prime concern was the poor standards of Indian management education.

In our case, the magazine’s advertising department also has no information about the rankings until the findings are published. Every year, one can see a number of B-schools that have advertised and yet don’t figure in the ranking. This year, Mint also ran highlights of Outlook’s ranking on 7 September—16 pages of ads in the magazine came from B-schools that weren’t ranked at all. Besides, many B-schools who advertised didn’t improve their ranking compared with last year. If many B-schools advertise, the primary reason is its effectiveness in reaching out to their target audience.

As an independent research organization, we have also made it a policy not to have any sort of commercial relations of our own with B-schools. We get paid a fixed amount by the magazine to do the survey. To ensure transparency, we also keep our data open for all participants.

Students and recruiters do use our ranking to augment their decision-making process but that was not our primary goal. For many students, the best ranking perhaps is to sort B-schools in terms of median salary. We do provide placement statistics in our survey for their information.

The exercise’s primary objective is to promote healthy competition so that in the process quality of management education improves. When we started the exercise eight years back, most B-schools were little more than placement agencies. We had conducted a pilot study and found that even in some of our premier institutes, the state of affairs was pathetic. Outdated business cases from the 1980s were being taught in some of the Indian Institute of Managements (IIM). More than 70% of B-schools that we surveyed didn’t have a single faculty member who had authored a case or a research paper or a book. In most schools, pedagogy and curriculum were outdated and interaction with industry abysmal.

Hence, we decided to base our assessment primarily on hard facts rather than on perception of stakeholders. The parameters used in our survey were also refined in a workshop held in IIM Bangalore in 2001. All the directors of IIMs and other top B-schools participated in the workshop and contributed to our methodology. Since then, every year the methodology is reviewed to make it more relevant.

The evaluation parameters are such that they try to facilitate B-schools, not only in churning quality professionals but also in playing a leadership role in giving direction to industry. We don’t want B-schools to be content just in disseminating existing knowledge. We also want them to create new knowledge, practices and skills. A B-school’s faculty has to constantly interact with industry through joint projects, generating cases, training and consultancy to be up to date and have a positive impact on students. These days, having international linkages is equally important. Schools also need to do research in pedagogy so that the process of learning becomes increasingly user-friendly.

In short, our B-schools need to transform themselves into learning schools. For this to happen, there needs to be a research environment in the institute that gives freedom to the faculty to try new ideas. And one objective of rankings is to facilitate such an environment.

We did achieve some success in our prime objective. Since ours is a transparent methodology,every year, B-school directors get to know their weak areas and work to improve their rank. In this year’s survey, 77% institutes had at least one faculty member who had authored a research paper that was published in a refereed journal. Many B-schools are now very proactive in generating case studies. Besides research output, we can also see improvement in faculty strength, industry institute interaction, infrastructure and international linkages.

Still, some B-schools that are resting on their past laurels and brand equity need to change their paradigm. As Charles Darwin once said, in the race for survival, it is not the strongest or the most intelligent of species that survives, but the one that adapts to the changing environment.

Premchand Palety is director of Centre for Forecasting and Research (C fore) in New Delhi, from where he keeps a close eye on India’s business schools.