Knowledge Creation Should Be The Mandate Of Teaching

Dr Himadri Das, Director of MDI Gurgaon speaks to BW Education's Waqar Ahmed Fahad on key issues pertaining to Indian academics

Dr Himadri Das, Director - MDI Gurgaon

Q. For those institutions who do not believe in rankings, how does one measure their performance as an institution?

The ranking is just one measure of performance that is certified by an external ranking agency. That agency could be a government agency like the NIRF which is an initiate of HRD Ministry; it could be a reputed media publication or any other credible external agency. It is just one perspective of measuring the performance of the institution. Besides ranking, there are multiple other ways of measuring the Institute’s performance. 

One very standard measure on the output side is the recruiter’s perception of the students graduating from the institute. This can be reasonably quantified by the salary levels offered, number of international placements, the type of companies that hire. Thus, there are a variety of recruiter centric measures that can be used as a surrogate for rankings to measure the performance. 

If we look at the input side, the quality of students joining the institute could again be a strong measure of performance. This again is based on diverse measures like CAT/ GMAT cut-offs of the students, the kind of undergraduate institution they have gone to, their academic pedigree in terms of marks in previous academic degrees, work experience, the kind of organization they have worked with, roles they have performed, etc. All of these can be quantified to come up with a different index for performance.

Another measure of performance could be the intellectual output of the faculty. Faculty’s job should not only be knowledge dissemination in the classroom but also knowledge creation. So a high performing institute would be one which also creates knowledge in addition to simply disseminating knowledge. Knowledge creation can be measured through research output. The research can include academic refereed journals, articles and applied research like case studies. The various ratings of research journals like UTDallas, FT50, ABDC, ABS and other ratings recognized globally help the institution measure the performance of its faculty.

The infrastructure of the institute is another significant measure of ranking because there is a direct correlation between the quality of infrastructure and the student experience on campus. Students, the experience is an important part of the overall development of the students. Good infrastructure provides them an opportunity to do and learn a lot of other things outside of the academic part which leads to a much better learning environment.

Through all these factors stated above, one can measure the performance of the institute. So by no means, a ranking is the only measure of performance. It is just one measure which combines various other parameters stated above.

Q. What is your vision for MDI and what are the challenges that you need to overcome to compete with other established institutions?

MDI Gurgaon for a long time has been a very reputed business school nationally. There are very few business schools in India which are known for global standing. My vision along with the rest of the organization would be to make MDI, in the medium and long run, an institute of global standing, first in Asia and then the world.

To understand the challenges we will have to first understand the context. The biggest plus point of MDI is the large pool of nationally and internationally acclaimed full-time faculty, which is a huge strength in terms of context. The other strength is our location and the corporate network. We are located in the heart of a business and have deep and long-lasting relationships with a large number of reputed organizations. 

Our international academic networks are decent and have partnerships with a large number of partner schools. To execute our global reputation strategy, MDI will need to start partnering with some of the top global schools and start benchmarking its intellectual capital creation with what is globally considered as the best practice. It is only when we benchmark against what is being done by the very top schools in the world, will we have any chance of getting there. It is not a question of having it happen overnight, these things take several years but the journey must start now. Another thing to keep in mind is that the Indian business school space is getting very crowded, so we have to at all times differentiate ourselves, we cannot be just another business school which has a large number of good faculty and expect to do well just on that. With this strategy, I do not think we can even survive. So it is important to create a set of clear distinctive differentiators for each of our stakeholders with a compelling value proposition.

Q. Tell us about the foreign collaborations and Student/ Faculty Exchange Programmes that MDI offers?

We have 60+ foreign collaborations with academic institutions primarily in Europe, some in North America and some in Asia, but mostly Europe centric. We need to broaden the geographic spread of these partnerships, try to have more in Asia and get into Latin America, maybe some of the good schools in Africa, especially South Africa and be better networked in North America. Most of the top business schools are in the US and we have to create a presence in the very top echelons.

Right now student exchange is the main form of international engagement, where students from MDI go for a term to partner school and students from a partner school come to MDI for a term. This exchange program provides students with a valuable experience in both directions. This has to be extended for the institute as a whole, beyond just students.

We also have some faculty exchange but that is not significant compared to student exchange. That is one area where we have to work on. We will have to start doing things which we have not done before like joint executive education programs, joint research, and joint consulting so that we can leverage these global school partnerships and create value for a variety of our stakeholders. By doing joint executive education we will be able to create a value proposition for our clients who come to attend these programs. Joint research projects will help make the global academic community aware that MDI is also on the map of very good quality research and that they are partnering with the best. Joint consulting projects, the corporate sector will become aware that MDI has a global network and together they can deliver value. 

It is, therefore, important to leverage the international collaborations by doing these additional value-added activities, beyond just the standard run-of-the-mill student exchange and faculty exchange.

Q. Government plans to set up one IIM in every state. Will that affect MDI as a preferred institution for MBA?

When the government plans to establish a large number of IIMs they start off with a dual advantage, one being the IIM brand and second is the new IIM Bill which has given them the right to give an MBA degree, which we do not have. MDI gives a PGDM (Post Graduate Diploma in Management), an AICTE approved diploma, which the Association of Indian Universities says is equivalent to MBA.

A number of schools are saying the IIM Bill has created an unlevel playing field of MBA versus PGDM, but I believe the alphabets on the degree do not matter anywhere as much as the quality of students we attract, the quality of research we do, the quality of education we impart, and our contribution to industry through our students who graduate and the training programs we conduct. So if we do our things right and if we build those very distinct differentiators offering a variety of compelling value proposition to all of our stakeholders, I do not think the IIM Bill is going to matter. The external stakeholders are smart enough to know that you cannot just assume and IIM MBA necessarily guarantees high quality. You could expect quality when there are a few IIMs. The new IIMs might get a head start but finally to sustain they will have to add value. 

There are other challenges in India, where people prefer to settle down in urban areas. So if you will set up IIMs in every corner of the country, attracting top-quality faculty will be very difficult, because faculty will not only think about going and working in an IIM but they will also take into consideration various other dimensions affecting their family members, such as job opportunities for their spouse, good schools for their children, and healthcare facilities.

The opening of IIM in every nook and corner of the country will, therefore, not seriously affect an institute like MDI. If we do nothing and just sit idly we would get overrun, but if we create distinct differentiators for our stakeholders, then I do not think we have absolutely anything to worry about.  

Q. What has been the reason for low research output in India and how to improve it in Indian institutions?

Traditionally Indian B-Schools had no focus on research because the focus was always on good teaching and getting the students good jobs, as well as executive education and consulting for the corporate sector. The focus has been single stakeholder-centric and that has been the corporate world. There was no responsibility of any institution towards the academic community at large. This is the community which is adding to the body of knowledge and is doing knowledge creation. That has never been the focus of Indian B-schools because B-schools always have been corporate-centric.

That traditional mindset is now shifting, many of the Indian Business Schools are trying to get into global rankings and attract young faculty who have done their PhDs from places like the US where there is a strong research culture. Young faculty with a very strong interest for research and publication want to continue publishing in reputed journals. This considerable shift in the attitude has started changing the internal culture of Indian B-Schools. Another major change is the organizational strategy shift according to which we cannot serve just one stakeholder. Being a part of the academic community, we owe responsibility towards serving this community, where peer group recognition is earned through knowledge creation.

Another mechanism that has encouraged research is by building incentives for good quality research. There have always been incentives for teaching, training and consulting, but historically there have been no incentives for research. As human beings respond to incentives, one way to encourage research is if you start incentivizing the research. Many good business schools including MDI are giving very generous incentives for good quality research measured and benchmarked on global standards. This is shifting the corporate-centric mindset to include the academic community as well.

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