Oct-Dec 2012

A Regulator’s View on Doctoral Education

Phanish Puranam,  the  Roland Berger  Chair Professor  of  Strategy and Organisation Design at  INSEAD, interviews  M M Pallam  Raju, Minister  of Human Resource Development,  Government of India about the challenges facing doctoral education in management.

Phanish Puranam: As management academics, many of us feel  that research and doctoral education in management in India is an area in urgent need of fixing. Yet, if I step back and look at the scale of the challenges in education in general in India – whether at  the  primary,  secondary, collegiate or  graduate levels – I must ask, with all humility, where do you see research and graduate education in management in the larger  scheme of priorities for  the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry?

Honourable HRD Minister: Research  and  graduate education  in management  in particular  and other disciplines in general  is  a serious  concern   for the Ministr y of Human Resource Development  (MHRD). My ministr y  is  making  all  efforts   to understand specific  problem  areas and also provide  possible solutions both on a short-term  and a long-term  basis. Global social responsibility  and generating sustainable value for  business and society to increase the GDP– these are the major  thrust  areas for us in MHRD. Infrastructure  sustainability is an equally important area  for us. Corporate  responsibility  in finance, marketing or strategy  is  also being  discussed.  Our government  has also made efforts  to promote corporate social responsibilities or ethics.

I further  believe that focussed research should bridge the  gap between academics, research and practice and  should  also impact  management values. The frameworks, curricula  and details of business school education impact students.

I would  stress that  a strong  social commitment   in research is extremely important  for improving quality of life. I believe that  when  research is focussed on the  benefit  of humanity,  it shapes the  thinking  of academics, supports and enhances current knowledge available in the area and provides  solutions  for societal problems.

Research methodology should become an integral part of the curriculum,  both in management and other disciplines.  As engineers say, the  questions of why, what, how and where need to be answered. Faculty upgradation  and value addition  through  case studies within  the curriculum  are other avenues to explore. Research administration   and infrastructure   are key to helping improve the quality of our management institutions   and universities.  As a policy,  we actively promote  collaboration  between the best global institutions  and the best institutions  in our country.

The frameworks, curricula and details of business school education impact students.

The government’s own data suggest that there is a significant shortfall between the demand for business school faculty with doctoral degrees in management and the supply. The 4,000 odd business schools in India with an estimated faculty strength of 30,000 have an approved capacity for offering postgraduate degrees in management to about 350,000 students every year. If the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) mandate for maintaining a student to faculty ratio of 15:1 is taken seriously, and assuming a two year programme, then we are already looking at a shortfall of about 16,000 faculty members. The AICTE norms for faculty positions at management schools require that professors and associate professors together make up a third of the faculty strength, and that these should all have PhDs (or equivalent qualifications). We also know that in a good year, the country produced between 500 to 750 PhDs in management and allied topics. Does the HRD ministry have any plan to deal with this enormous gap?

There is no denying that the key indicators of quality in an institution  are its students, its faculty, the infrastructure  and the institute’s  network  with the outside world and other stakeholders. The  shortage of good faculty  is a global phenomenon  and  not unique  to India.  However, our endeavour   has  been  to encourage  faculty  to improve   qualifications   and  do  research.  We  have  tried to contribute to the growth of numbers at the PhD  level through  innovations  such as providing research grants, research scholarships, travel grants and financial  support  for innovations. Though  the numbers  two years ago were  found  wanting,  the above innovations have certainly produced faculty with better  qualifications  and  quality  though  the development of collaborative research.

Central institutions  such as the Indian  Institutes  of Technology  (IITs) and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have contributed   to enhancing the  current  numbers of PhDs. Other institutions  have also made  significant contributions in terms of producing quality management postgraduates.

We are  actively pursuing collaborations with the best in the world and we seek to imbibe the best practices available currently.  The  AICTE  norms  for faculty positions have actually contributed  to improving the faculty quality and numbers since, in my opinion,  they are enabling in nature and facilitate the promotion  of the above objectives.

Purely  in terms  of percentages,  we  have augmented faculty  capacity by at least 25% through enabling  mechanisms  such as an increase  in the numbers  of research  fellowships  and  scholarships. Our  world-class management institutions,  the IIMs, are also free to appoint tenured professors who have excelled  in their  areas wherever they are available

One idea that some of us involved in management doctoral education have been discussing is the idea of “streaming”– to explicitly create different doctoral training tracks to produce researchers, sophisticated practitioners and educators in management. The argument is that this would allow more efficient allocation of costly resources across these different tracks and would recognise that neither the demand for all three tracks nor the inputs needed for them are the same. Does this idea resonate with you?

Research administration and infrastructure are key to helping improve the quality of our management institutions and universities. As a policy, we actively promote collaboration between the best global institutions and the best institutions in our country.

The argument that streaming would allow more efficient  allocation of costly resources across three different  directions  as you have put  it –researchers, sophisticated practitioners and educators in management – does strike a chord. But, I believe that the three are so intricately  woven together that they are actually inseparable. Education  is all encompassing in all its dimensions. Possibly streaming into specific application areas may affect  research that  overlaps all three. I believe sophisticated practitioners  need to understand the principles of research, the outcomes of research and also become  good  educators  in management since management itself is the art of accomplishing the impossible.

In  Davos this year,  I  understand that  one of  the major topics of conversation  among academics was the  growing importance of  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS), which may potentially disrupt the traditional models of university education. Do you see opportunities for India to take the lead in deploying such technologies to create the world’s first  fully online doctoral programmes – at least in domains that don’t need physical research infrastructure, or indeed, any fully online graduate programmes

“MOOCS”   are certainly  a  creative   idea  to reach the unreached. The caution, however, is that crass commercialisation  can disrupt  any process anywhere in the world. All such methods need to be calibrated with circumspection for quality.

I believe sophisticated practitioners need to understand the principles of research, the outcomes of research and also become good educators in management since management itself is the art of accomplishing the impossible.

However,  I certainly  see a big opportunity   for India to take a lead in deploying such technology to create programmes that are best suited to this mode of deliver y at all levels, including doctoral programmes. The principal regulator for technical and management education,  the  AICTE  has been assigned the  above task. I am sure they will come up with a paradigm  that would  interest most users wherever they are located and would prove to be a great bridge  for promoting MOOCS.

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