Bright students lure quality faculty

Professor G Raghuram, Dean Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad explains how they attract quality faculty from India and overseas despite competition from private management institutions

Who: Professor G Raghuram, Dean Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad

What: Is keeping up the tradition of attracting a blend of quality faculty from India and overseas, even after the emergence of private management institutions in direct competition with IIMA

When: Since September 2013

Why: Because overseas faculty can infuse global culture into an institution and make invaluable contributions

Where: Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad

How: By creating a vibrant and enabling teaching and research environment, populated by bright students

The Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA) was one of the f agship units of Brand IIM. In the 53 years of its existence it has stoodout for having maintained leadership quality. Foreign faculty and bright students flock to IIMA like they always have. At IIMA, quality is the most important factor when it comes to employing new faculty. “We look for quality faculty—bethey from India or overseas,” states Professor G Raghuram, Dean Faculty at IIMA.Yet, the IIMA professorial roll is a list of some great minds recruited from within and outside the country, which makes for a highly desirable global culture on the campus.

What beckons?

Understandably, an Indian doctorate inclined on a career in academics, in a field pertaining to management, would jump at the opportunity to join IIMA as faculty. What is curious is—what attracts doctorates from overseas institutions, especially those who are already employed in eminent universities abroad, to join IIMA?

 One thing is certain. IIMA’s salary structure is not the carrot attracting foreign faculty. Unlike private B-schools, IIMA cannot offer more experienced faculty (from India or overseas) salary beyond its prescribed norms.

Adjusting to Indian living conditions can also be testing for those used to Western lifestyles.Professor Pavan Mamidi, a recent IIMA joinee who was previously working at Harvard Law School, says getting used to the living infrastructure outside the campus has been a challenge.

 “Engaging with the city of Ahmedabad can be a very strenuous exercise,” he shares. Then how does it come about that a fairly regular stream of overseas faculty has entered the portals of IIMA since it opened its doors, and the likes of them are continuing to do so even now that they have higher-paying professorship options in India?

The faculty magnets

 A blend of positives is helping IIMA offset the few negatives that slight its image as a good place to work at.

TEACH INDIA’S BRIGHTEST STUDENTS:

A stringent filtering system ensures that only the cream of the crop of IIM aspirants actually gets into IIMA. In 2013, barely one out of every 475 applicants made it to the Post-Graduate Programme. Aspirants to IIMA must first sit for the Common Admission Test. Those who clear that sit for an aptitude test. Then their academic and professional backgrounds are reviewed. It is not a must for aspirants to have work experience. In 2013, 270 of the entire batch of 380 students had some work experience. An overwhelming majority, 95% of that batch had engineering backgrounds.

Only 18 students were from other disciplines—agriculture, commerce and science. None had a background in the arts. Teaching bright students is exceptionally rewarding. “IIMA students challenge faculty, which is an invigorating experience,” opines Professor Raghuram. Bright students stirred Professor Ramanathan Subramaniam, previously faculty at the University of Kansas, to think in terms of relocating to the B-school. He taught a term at IIMA in early 2013. The teaching experience was “better than expected,” he says, for one because “teaching intelligent students is fun.” Some months later, Professor Subramaniam joined IIMA as full-time Associate Professor in Marketing.

RESEARCH POTENTIAL:

Research is a major priority at IIMA. “We encourage faculty to take up research. We have created a stimulating intellectual environment, and an open, flexible culture to that is supportive of research. Be it attending conferences or networking with overseas researchers, faculty at IIMA has a lot of freedom to grow,” says Professor Raghuram. At IIMA, a Research and Publications Committee processes research and publications proposals submitted by faculty members or referred to it by the institute, and identify sources of funds for proposals. Great attention is paid to the relevance, breadth and depth of research.

The Committee suggests improvements to proposals. The possibility of conducting high quality research attracts overseas professors, more so, those with research interests in areas that are “happening” in India and which require their hands on presence—like Professor Mamidi, Associate Professor in Business Policy at IIMA.

Keen to pursue his field of research—social norms, ethnicity, trust, and sustainable negotiations—Professor Mamidi, previously a GLEE Fellow in the Programme on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School, took the decision to relocate to IIMA, subject to retaining his affiliation with Harvard (which he does).

Professor Mamidi aspires to pursue empirical social research, for which he needs to be close to respondents. “Since the people and the context I need to research are here in India, it made sense to shift back. I’ve seen how researchers function at the Poverty Action Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US. They build teams in India and shuttle back and forth themselves. Such a lifestyle is unsustainable in the long run.”

OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE MEANINGFUL ACADEMIC CONTRIBUTIONS:

What can be more rewarding for faculty than the knowledge that they are making unique contributions to an institution? Some of IIMA’s new recruits join with aspirations of taking their respective departments to new levels of excellence. The key is—cutting edge value additions to teaching and research can only be realised when the existing teaching is of high quality, as it is at IIMA.

Professor Mamidi’s aim is to creating a mobile behavioural experimental lab that can tour rural India, run behavioural lab experiments at the grassroots and collate research data. “I have had the opportunity to learn such cutting edge research at Oxford and from colleagues at Harvard. Introducing this experimental research method in India would give me great satisfaction,” he says.

Professor Subramaniam expects that his experience in marketing will complement rather than duplicate the work being done at IIMA. “My analytical/microeconomics orientation would hopefully add flavour to the marketing department that is largely behavioural/empirical in its approach,”

Be Global

IIMA has a track record of attracting Indians holding doctoral degrees from prominent overseas universities such as Northwestern University, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of California, Harvard University, Oxford University, Stanford University, University of Chicago, etc.

Currently out of 92 faculty members 40% fall in that category including Professor Raghuram himself. An alumnus of the 1978 batch, Professor Raghuram, believes he “found himself” during his years at IIMA. IIMA developed a lifelong interest in academics in him. So much that even prior to heading overseas to acquire a doctorate, he determined that he would return to his alma mater one day, which he did in 1985.

Of the last 25 joinees at IIMA (June 2010 onwards), 14 hold doctoral degrees from overseas and a few of these also have some overseas teaching experience. Beyond doubt, there is more to attracting quality faculty from overseas than high salaries.


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