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“The Credibility of the Faculty, Outputs and the Promoter is Vital to Every B-School Brand”

Dr. Rajendra Naragundkar

 The second edition of the Indian Management Conclave (IMC) 2011 was held on August 11-12,  2011, in New Delhi on the theme —  the ‘New DNA’ for Indian management education. The  Conclave saw eminent leaders from the academic and corporate  world addressing a congregation of 500 delegates.  On Day 2, in  the Special Session, Dr. Rajendra Nargundkar, Director, IMT  Nagpur, took up the topic of ‘Building an Academic Brand:  Branding Challenges for a B-school’. Presented here are excerpts  from his speech…

How a B-school brand is built is no great secret but I think it starts with the credibility of the promoter and if that is missing, the credibility of the entire brand takes a hit or can deteriorate over a period of time. One of the major reasons the IIM’s have gained stature is due to their admission process. When I attempted the CAT exam in 1981, there were about 10,000 applicants for about 360 seats in the three IIM’s. This ratio has only become tighter, in spite of the new IIM’s set up in multiple cities and the seats available in them.

The credibility of the faculty is equally important. If you take student quality as a given, then the credibility of the faculty along with the process, the curriculum and the methodology come into play. Whether you use a mix of innovative methods or not also contributes a great deal towards building the brand of an academic institution; and all of us in the management education field must watch out for this.

The credibility of outputs is also increasingly important whether we like it or not. Placements form a major chunk of what a B-school can talk about or expect to be talked about. Another aspect of output, which is not spoken about often, is the research output and the intellectual, original contribution of the Indian faculty. Often when we talk about B-schools, we either associate them with a large consultant faculty or with the research output of the faculty or doctorate students, in some cases. An original, intellectual contribution is definitely a big plus point, which unfortunately has been neglected for years by some of our B-schools; hopefully not anymore.

At IMT Nagpur, we have done a lot of things to build the brand, along with the other constituents of the IMT system. Today, the oldest campus is in Ghaziabad and the newest one is in Hyderabad; and with the campus in Dubai, we have an international presence as well.

But I would like to tell you about a lesser-known, university-affiliated B-school in Bangalore which I had the opportunity to head earlier. This is a part of an institution called PESIT, a well-known engineering college in Bangalore. The reason I want to talk about this institution is because while IMT is a fully autonomous B-school, PESIT is not. However, despite that, we succeeded in some small measure at PESIT as well and made some significant strides towards building the brand.

The faculties at all IMTs are highly productive in terms of research, conference papers, publications and journals. We actively encourage them to participate in conferences and I think there is hardly any faculty member who has not presented a paper at an international conference. At PESIT, they have to go by the university syllabus along with a hundred other constraints. You cannot change the syllabus but even within those constraints we managed to set up a scholarly journal. The faculty contributed to the research papers and we conducted industry seminars that were organised by the students; we had four in just one year. And we were eventually ranked among the top 50 B-Schools which is not easy for a university-affiliated B-school.

At IMT Nagpur, we have about 45 members in the faculty and in the last two years every one of them has presented at least one international paper; many have been published; some have received awards like at the NACRA (North American Case Research Association) last year (a case written by a faculty member was presented the award for the out of non-North American contingent). We use the CAT for selection at IMT and our student quality is among the best in the country.

I see two major challenges with regard to research output here which may be basic but there are other manifestations of it as well. Faculty in many cases is self-satisfied; they have little motivation to push themselves further. They often think, ‘what is in it for me?’ The students also seem to be a self-satisfied lot after they clear the CAT and have got into the B-school of their choice. They often feel that there is nothing in it for them so why should they push themselves further because anyway they will get placed through the B-school or brand. So in both cases, it is probably the job of the leadership in some way to motivate these two constituents because if they do their job well then you can sit back and see the brand grow by itself.

About faculty conducting research or MDP; what’s in it for them, really? My take is that it is for their own development and is incidental that the brand or the institute also grows because it’s finally their career at the end of the 30 or 40 years that they would have put in, and it is what they would have contributed to the discipline of management. It is one thing to take up an existing textbook and teach out of it for 30 years but faculty must think about what they have given back to the profession or the field of management education. Writing books, for example, can serve as a major morale booster and can help build your personal brand and I speak from experience; I have written two books and am writing my third one currently.

Students can also be involved in doing many things — conducting innovative seminars or inviting industry leaders. Learning to organise such events is an added benefit to what a student can learn from these leaders. They can also write original cases. At IIM-K I got my students to write about 15-20 original cases which I subsequently used in my book with credit to the students. They see their name in print; that can be a huge plus for a student body.

Presentation, computer and research skills that they learn in B-schools will hold students in good stead all their life. Again I speak from experience; I still use the data analysis skills I learned during my Ph. D programme at Clemson University in my faculty training and research programmes.

Our alumni is strong; about 1,300-1,400 in Nagpur alone, not counting the other campuses, and we have made great efforts to keep in touch with them in the last two years. I have personally met more than 500 alumni in the last 18 months and we hope to continue with the process. It will pay off in the long run because any B-School that you look at — XLRI, the IIM’s or any other nationally or internationally known one — the alumni play a great role in giving back to the institute in more ways than one.

Our industry interaction is exceptionally strong, in fact it’s compulsory for every faculty member to invite a guest speaker from the industry for every course they teach, and we have had over 150 guest speakers in the last one year alone. They come in as part of the course and the faculty, not just the institute, have the right to extend these invites, which makes it easier for them to decide when they want guest speakers to be a part of their classroom schedules.

A residential campus, in my view, also fosters a discipline which is missing in many B-schools and is another factor that helps build a strong brand.

Everyone sitting here has considerable experience of working with at least a couple of educational brands if not more, so what I have said may not be dramatically new and different from what some of you would have seen and known. But hopefully I have been able to bring about in a change of heart which will lead all of us in the right direction in our work, where we can contribute towards brand building through our academic institutions, in one way or the other.