Oct-Dec 2012

PhD Training in Management in India: Is There a Doctor in the House?

PhD Training in Management in India: Is There a Doctor in the House?

The ever growing demand for B-school faculty with PhDs in India presents us with an opportunity to develop a new and more relevant model of doctoral education – one that uses scarce resources more wisely and better answers the needs of both candidates and institutions alike, argues Professor Phanish Puranam. A longer version of this article was published in two parts in “Indian Management,” an All India Management Association (AIMA) journal.

Doctoral  education in management  in India  is  in crisis1.  There   are  about   4,000 business  schools in India  today, with estimated  faculty  strength  of 30,0002.   While  a few hundred schools may have recently shut down,  the available data indicates that the number of management institutes  in the countr y is growing  at a compounded annual rate of about 15%. These schools collectively  have the approved capacity to offer  postgraduate  degrees in management  to about 350,000 students ever y year. If the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE)  mandate to maintain 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 also require that professors and associate professors together  make up a third of the faculty  strength  and that they should  all have PhDs (or equivalent qualifications).  Thus, there is no dearth of demand for management faculty with PhDs.

Rather, the problems lie on the supply side. The country has about 500  doctoral  programmes  spread across various universities and institutes  of national importance.  Together,  these produce  well  under 1,000  PhDs in management and allied  topics  in a good year (there are normal year-to-year fluctuations in doctoral programmes worldwide).  I suspect that even more critical  than the shortfall  per se, may be the danger that it will be met, at the expense of quality (and perhaps after wasting significant resources). This, therefore, seems an opportune time to stop and reflect on the purpose of a doctoral  programme  in management and on the future of doctoral education in India in particular.

In this  essay I argue that the resources invested in doctoral education in management could  be invested more effectively if we recognised that there are in fact multiple  possible objectives for doctoral education in management,  and that  achieving each requires different  kinds of investments. As a corollary, it follows that not ever y institution need offer all kinds of doctoral training. I conclude by noting that India could  well  play a pioneering  role  in developing the implications of this idea.

Background … and an Important Disclaimer

The dominant  model of a research-based  business school  in the  developed world  owes its  origins  to the ideas of the Nobel laureate Herbert  Simon and his colleagues at Carnegie Mellon  University.  These pioneers set out to construct   a business school that attempted  to marry  the  rigour   of basic  research in the   (social)   sciences with applied  knowledge from the domain of practice3. For  a polymath  with remarkable   organisational   skills   like Simon,   the task may  not have seemed insurmountable; yet,  as Simon  himself  famously  recognised, keeping  the two epistemic communities of research and practice mingling constantly in a fruitful  manner rather than separating out would require enormous and constant administrative effort. This, in a colourful analogy, he likened to the effort required to keep an oil and water emulsion from separating.

To what extent the oil and water have remained emulsified  is a topic  of keen debate and discussion among the top  business schools in the world today4. The  situation   has become  a lot more  complicated since  Simon’s   initial statement,   at  least  in part because  of the growth  of doctoral  programmes in business schools that  increasingly produce  faculty members with skills comparable to those in the older noted  above are really  challenging the  continued importance  of scientific  research in management; indeed, many of the critiques can be read as deploring the insufficient importance  given to the scientific method  by researchers who lose sight of the centrality of understanding  phenomena in their desire to cast it into a particular  disciplinary viewpoint6.

Thus, my arguments below do not involve  a rejection  of the critical  role  of scientific  research (and by extension, of doctoral training in scientific research) in a business  school. Rather, my arguments are that:  a)  producing   researchers is  not the only possible role for doctoral training, and b) that there are new ways of delivering  the training  itself.

All PhD Aspirants Don’t Want the Same Thing

Let us begin by recognising the persity of reasons for which  candidates actually seek a PhD  in management (whatever it might say on the programme social science disciplines,  but with  their  own sense of academic identity  and no great desire to muddy their hands in the world  of practice. The situation has also not been helped by the perception  that the social sciences have not  been very successful at providing  a robust  basis for improving policy and practice5.

The doctorate is undoubtedly a research-based degree, but this does not imply that the recipient need only pursue a career in research. Prima facie, there is a market for Educators and Sophisticated Practitioners with PhDs.

The  final  word on  the  design  of a  business school, and by implication  of doctoral training in a business school,  has therefore by no  means  been said; this alone is sufficient  reason for us in India to avoid an uncritical  adoption  of existing  models of doctoral education. However, an important  caveat is worth  stating: the most widely  successful system for developing reliable and valid knowledge in any field of human endeavour still remains the scientific method − and all its accompanying features, which include a reliance on abstraction, mathematical rigour, the importance of reliable measurement, the validity of causal inference  through experimental  design, the principle  of falsification,  peer-reviewed research, etc. No one, not even the  proponents  of the critiques prospectus, or indeed, in the admission application). While I cannot claim to have data from  a systematic survey, my conversations with  colleagues and friends engaged  in the  doctoral  education  space in India suggest that there  are several different  segments in the market for doctoral education here.

1.  Researcher: Following the award of a degree, the recipient  aims to take up  a (typically  full- time) professional academic career in a university department or business school, in which research and publication  in peer-reviewed journals  will play the most significant part, though some teaching responsibilities  will  also exist.

2.  Educator: The recipient  of this degree will take up a professional academic career in a university department  or business school (or  in more than one on  a part-time   basis).The primary activity engaged  in is teaching, though the individual may  occasionally   engage  in case   writing for pedagogical (rather than research) purposes.

3.  Sophisticated Practitioner: In this  case, the graduate will (re)  enter a career in industry, or occasionally, public  policy. The primary activity neither involves teaching nor research, but rather the practice of management itself. In the  case of each of these kinds  of PhD seekers, the  creation  of knowledge in some form −  whether  in terms  of peer-reviewed research, pedagogical material  or the building of best practice/ policy − features in their post PhD activities; however, there are some other categories of PhD seekers for whom  this is less obvious.

4.  Job  Keeper: As the  AICTE   mandates begin to take   hold, many   assistant  and   associate professors who currently  do not have PhDs will be forced to earn them in order to be promoted or retain their  positions. While  some will see this  as an opportunity to enhance their  skills as Researchers or Educators,  others will  simply  see this as a ceremonial requirement to be completed in order to keep their jobs.

5.  CV Builder: For inpiduals in this categor y, the PhD degree is essentially a vanity product. Apart from  enhancing their  CVs, the training  plays little or no role in the post-PhD life of the recipients.

6.  Stipend  Seeker:  For  some  candidates, the stipend  they  receive as a PhD  student  may be sufficient  reward.  The  degree itself  may play no role in the individual’s  future,  and indeed completion  may not be a priority.

I will take it as self-evident that no doctoral programme would  see Job Keepers, CV  Builders  or Stipend Seekers  as their ideal candidates for admission. Let us take a closer look at the first category:

The Researcher segment is the one and only segment   typically    served  by   B-school   doctoral programmes in high status institutions  in the US and a few others around  the world  such as INSEAD  and London  Business School. A typical programme  of this sort is highly  selective; often,  less than one in 20-25 applicants is selected, and selection continues after admission through hurdles to be cleared in terms of coursework  and  paper  requirements.  Exit midway is common   and may reach  as high  as 30-40%. The researchers produced  at these institutions   go on to compete to publish in the top peer-reviewed academic journals in the  field  (acceptance rates are typically well below 10% in these journals and impact factors well above 3.0),  and if successful, may be awarded “tenure” – a lifetime  contract. The job security and the intellectual  freedom this provides is supposed to spur efforts in the period leading up to it, and the process of awarding tenure is presumed to screen out those who would desist from research activity post- tenure.

In India, the model of doctoral education we have adopted is one that, at least on paper, focusses exclusively on producing Researchers. It is doubtful though that this has been a very successful move; we can certainly say from the publication data that only a small handful of researchers in management successfully publish their research in the world’s top-ranked journals.

Whether  this particular  system is the most efficient  one to produce  high-quality  research (or even to indirectly  build  good teaching and problem solving skills through mere engagement in the research process) is not my main concern here. Instead, I want to point  out that even if it works perfectly, the process of doctoral  education  and postdoctoral  life for Researchers consumes  a lot of resources and involves significant attrition  at various  stages. While  there  is also some scepticism  today about the value of most of the research that is successfully published, I do not find that unsettling; this is the hallmark of any search process  in a  complex problem  space. Commercial R&D  is no different,  with many failures  for ever y success.

Thus,  I  do  not doubt for an  instant  that scientifically  valuable and practically  useful ideas do emerge from  management research. To  take just  a few examples: consider the impact  of research on the practice of asset pricing, market mix modelling, the location of firm boundaries, negotiations, core competencies or brand equity; or the debunking of popular wisdom that occurred through  research on M&A performance  or art  investments.  However, we must recognise that the odds of success and the upfront resource commitments  are closer in image to the search for blockbuster  drugs by pharmaceutical companies,  rather  than  an assembly line producing Maruti cars like clockwork. Perhaps that is as it should be, but that is not the whole story.

Taking PhDs for Non-researchers Seriously

There  are many more  ways to make a living  in the pharmaceutical  industry   besides   engaging   in the expensive  and  risky search  for blockbusters.  Yet, in the market for doctoral education, the Educator and Sophisticated  Practitioner  segments are virtually ignored by the top B-schools; in fact, they are actively screened out.

The doctorate  is undoubtedly a research-based degree, but this does not imply that the recipient need only pursue a career in research. Prima facie, there is a market for Educators and Sophisticated Practitioners with  PhDs. Educators are an important  part of the ecology of ever y major  business school today − where they often hold titles such as affiliate or adjunct faculty - and play a critical  pedagogical role. Business schools the world  over are recognising the importance of maintaining a healthy mix of faculty in the Researcher and Educator categories, with  appropriate  incentives that account for the different kinds of career risks and rewards of each track. I doubt anybody today would really question the value of Educators (or Sophisticated Practitioners who serve as guest lecturers)  who  have obtained a thorough understanding of the background literature and theory in a domain through  a doctoral degree.

Spending meagre resources to try to offer all things to all candidates is a recipe for all-round mediocrity. Putting everyone through a poorly delivered Researcher training programme (even if we throw in the option to do it part-time) and hoping that we end up with reasonable Educators and Practitioners is futile.

The demand for doctoral  education  by practitioners   is  latent  and  yet  to be  exploited  in India.  Management PhD  programmes in Germany, in contrast, have historically  taken the Sophisticated Practitioner   segment very seriously, complemented as  it is  by an ecology  in which  corporations  value Sophisticated Practitioners  with PhDs. The Henley DBA  is a well-respected doctoral programme  in the UK that caters to both Educators and Practitioners, and there are a host of others today in Europe7.

In India,  the model of doctoral  education  we have adopted is one that,  at least on paper, focusses exclusively on producing Researchers. It is doubtful though  that  this  has been  a very successful move; we can certainly  say from  the publication data that only  a small  handful  of researchers in management successfully publish their  research in the world’s  top- ranked journals8. Thus, the over whelming majority of the PhDs in management in India, either by choice or despite it, are not successful Researchers despite very likely having gone through  a programme that aims to make them so.

This would  be somewhat less worrying if Indian PhD  programmes were at least churning  out high quality  Educators or Sophisticated Practitioners.  In fact, if the most useful fruits  of research  can flow relatively freely  across national  boundaries (i.e., can be imported),   but teaching and practice must be delivered  locally,  then  the case can be made that developing Educators and Sophisticated Practitioners naturally takes priority  in India. However, I do not believe this  is happening  either,  because producing Educators and Sophisticated Practitioners also requires at least some specialised inputs, distinct  from those that  go into creating Researchers. Educators need more training  in pedagogy and curriculum design, while Sophisticated Practitioners need more training  in diagnostic  and  consulting  skills.  With the exception of the IIMs  and a few other premier institutions (whose few graduates naturally  stay within the system), the skills needed to deliver these kinds of doctoral training are not widespread.

Spending   meagre   resources   to  try   to  offer all things to all  candidates  is a recipe  for all-round mediocrity.   Putting   everyone through    a   poorly delivered Researcher training  programme  (even if we throw in the option to do it part-time)  and hoping that we  end  up  with reasonable  Educators   and Practitioners is futile. We may end up producing Job Keepers, CV  Builders  and Stipend  Seekers, but no outstanding  Researchers, Educators or Sophisticated Practitioners9. Paradoxically, the  top business schools around the world  value enormously the few individuals who turn  out be masters at all three  – research, education and practice. But their  doctoral training does not aim to produce  such people, and I think  this may be wise − we can revere the outliers like Raghuram Rajan, Nirmalya Kumar or Sumantra Ghoshal, but we cannot yet reliably produce them. My point is that we can improve on the traditional model of doctoral education by producing specialists in each track  without  necessarily trying to produce triathletes.


Thus, a solution  I submit for consideration  is to explicitly  design multiple  tracks for doctoral  education. This need not mean that candidates are put in one track or another the day they enter  a programme  (though  that is also possible); rather,  similar  results could be achieved by letting  candidates sort themselves in an informed  manner into the track that suits them best.

Thus,  while  a core  set of courses would be common across these tracks (see the Appendix for an indicative curriculum), candidates could  sort  themselves into different  streams, perhaps after the “Introduction   to  the   Field” course sequence. Requirements under one track could well be electives under another (e.g. pedagogical case writing could be required for Educators but could be an elective for Researchers). The thesis each type of candidate writes  will also be qualitatively different. For instance, a thorough investigation of and creative solution to a single company’s  problems  should  be perfectly acceptable for the award of a degree in the Sophisticated  Practitioner   track  (this is  common in engineering   schools),  whereas  a thesis  based on a pedagogical innovation,  or say a field  trial  of one, would  seem natural for an Educator.  Standards for what constitutes the right level of sophistication for these kinds of projects at the doctoral level (rather than,  say the Master’s level) will  have to be evolved.

There  may also be  concerns about  “brand dilution”   and whether it would  become necessary to label  degrees from the three tracks differently (e.g. PhD  vs. DBA  vs. an Executive DBA).  That  is one solution and could avoid confusion particularly in the early stages of a new  regime.  I suspect though that   these   concerns   are   exaggerated;  recruiters will very likely  develop the competence  to be able to understand which  “track” a  candidate   is  from, whatever it says on the degree.

Of course, not ever y institution  needs to cater to all  three  tracks;  there  may well  be  gains from specialisation. The ability  to pay for the  degree  as well  as the cost of providing training also varies widely across these segments. One could conceive of stand- alone doctoral programmes that primarily  train just Sophisticated Practitioners  or Educators. However, the economies of scope and possibilities  for cross- subsidisation I have noted  above suggest that this choice of “product  mix”  needs to be carefully thought through.  For business schools who take their  research mission  seriously, having a programme that trains Researchers  is a must,  but they could additionally consider  programmes  that  train Sophisticated Practitioners (which may bring in additional revenue) and Educators  (thus  filling  an urgent  need in the ecosystem). Perhaps the biggest gains will  come from the ability to invest scarce resources − scholarships, faculty  time and  research  budgets  −  in a   more discriminating manner.


One fact seems inescapable: the next  few years will see a dramatic  explosion  in the scale and importance of doctoral education in India,  given the mismatch between demand and supply. To meet this demand, we can keep doing what we are doing, which is basically  trying  to replicate  a particular   model  of doctoral  education  (which  also happens to be the most resource hungry one) with insufficient resources to support it; we will print  many degrees but  I am not sure  we  will educate many  doctorates.  Or we can  be  innovative  and  tr y  to use the opportunity to build better  models from scratch  − ones that work for us and  are free  of the legacy constraints of models from around the world. We could do for doctoral education in management what the Indian mobile  telephony  companies  have done for the global telecommunications sector.

I have proposed  one blueprint,  which  involves recognising the broader possibilities  of doctoral education  in management. Surely there are other possible blueprints. Let the conversation begin.


I have had the benefit of discussing the ideas in this paper with several colleagues on  several occasions: Professors    Jay  Mitra (FMS),  Massimo  Warglien (Venice), Markus Reitzig (Vienna), Nirmalya Kumar (LBS),  Madan Pillutla  (LBS),  Ravee Chittoor (ISB), Sanjay Kallapur  (ISB),  Chirantan  Chatterjee  (IIM-B), Bala Vissa (INSEAD),  Jasjit Singh (INSEAD),  Quy Huy (INSEAD) and most recently with the doctoral educators who participated  in a  workshop on “Building  the Foundations of Management Research in India,” organised by  AIMA.   Dr Ganesh  Singh (AIMA)   and Research Associate Deepak Jena (ISB) provided  the statistics quoted on the first  page. My thanks to all of them. All errors (and inflammator y opinions) are my own.

Appendix: An Indicative Curriculum  for  a Multi-track  Doctoral Programme in Management

Minimum general requirements common to all fields and tracks

1.       Basics of scientific method and philosophy of science: Essentials of hypothesis formulation;  theor y as  explanation;    mechanisms;   the   principle of falsification; the nature of progress in the sciences; business school  research  as applied social science.

2.       Understanding     Organisations:     Basics      of organisational        behaviour;        inpidual motivation and cognition; decision making and learning; groups; the nature of authority; hierarchies; organisation structures; culture and  networks;   the  organisation  designer’s perspective.

3.       Understanding   Markets:   Basics    of  micro- economics; rational choice; demand and supply; perfect    competition;    monopoly; duopoly and oligopoly; introduction  to game theor y; the policy maker’s perspective.

4.       Quantitative  methods:  Basic statistics; t-tests; ANOVA and ANCOVA; Ordinar y least squares regression; factor analysis.

5.       Qualitative   methods:   Basics    of  qualitative methods;    case-based   research    strategies; induction from cases; categor y construction; inter viewing  skills;  linguistic   text analysis; Boolean qualitative  comparative  analysis of cases.



1 I will use “management” to refer broadly to all the fields taught in a business school. Since my familiarity  is greater with some fields  than others,  I ask pardon in advance from  colleagues who might find my arguments to be either irrelevant, or worse, incorrect about their particular fields.

2 Data      sources      include:      http://www.aicte-india.org/ misappmanagement.htm, accessed October 22, 2012; AICTE Handbook  2013-2014; UGC annual reports (2005-06 to 2010-11); Higher Education in India at a Glance, UGC 2012; Hindu Business Line article (http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/features/ newmanager/article3505650.ece).

3 See for instance Simon, H. A. “The Business School: A Problem in Organizational Design,” Journal of Management Studies 1967

4 For  an indicative,  but  by no means isolated  example, see Khurana, R., and J. C. Spender. “Herbert  A. Simon on What Ails Business Schools: More than a Problem in Organizational Design,” Journal of Management Studies (2011).

5 See for instance the critiques  of Tooby J., and L. Cosmides.“Better than Rational: Evolutionary Psychology and the Invisible Hand.” American Economic Review (1994); E.O. Wilson. Consilience: the Unity of Knowledge. New York: Knopf, 1998 and Giggerenzer, G. Bounded Rationality: the Adaptive Toolbox. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

6 It is also worth bearing in mind that most of the fields of research that exist in a business school are at most decades old; for their youth relative to the older social sciences, I would argue that some fields like finance, operations research and marketing are already giving a good account of themselves.

7 The Harvard DBA was not explicitly designed to focus on producing practitioners  or educators per se, to the best of my knowledge.

8 See the  analysis  in  Chapter  6  of  India  Inside  by Nirmalya Kumar  and Phanish Puranam, HBS Press, 2012; the gist  is summarised in: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/ view-point/taking-stock-of-indian-management-research/ articleshow/7440640.cms

9 The counterexample  of  the  natural  sciences  may  come  to mind, where the same PhD programme apparently trains both academic researchers and those who work in the corporate world, but this is misleading because the academic researcher must also undergo extensive postdoctoral training while the corporate researcher need not.

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