‘The time has come for IIMs to start overseas campus’: IIM Sirmaur director

IIM Sirmaur plans to offer dual degrees with foreign universities; it recently set up a Centre for Healthcare Management with AIIMS Bilaspur.

IIM Sirmaur is no longer dependent on education ministry for funding, said IIM Sirmaur director.IIM Sirmaur is no longer dependent on education ministry for funding, said IIM Sirmaur director.

R. Radhika | November 9, 2023 | 10:30 AM IST

NEW DELHI: The Indian Institutes of Management (Amendment) Act 2023 has been criticised for giving the government a larger role in the functioning of IIMs but Prafulla Y Agnihotri, director of the second-generation IIM Sirmaur, said there was general consensus over the policy. He also believes little will change on the ground. Before taking charge in 2022 as the institute’s director, Agnihotri was a professor of strategy and marketing at IIM Calcutta and has served as the founding director of IIM Tiruchirappalli. He spoke to Careers360 on policy, government funding, ranking and his plans for IIM Sirmaur. Edited excerpts below.

Q. The amended IIM Act gives the union government a larger role in the functioning of IIMs. Were you a part of the consultation? How do you see this affecting IIM Sirmaur and older IIMs?

A. The amendment basically talks about how there will be a Visitor who will act as the chancellor like in the IITs [Indian Institutes of Technology]. We, on the other hand, had a chairman of the Board of Governors. After the amendment comes into effect, we will continue with the board of governors and the Visitor will also be a part of the board as chancellor. The director of the institute will be a nominee of the chancellor who has been added to the panel of selection. Earlier also there was a panel of four members which was headed by the chairman.

Before the amendment was brought, an informal discussion was held with the IIMs. In this discussion, the concept was presented to us and our opinion was sought. Most of us present at the meeting were in agreement with the proposed amendment. The meeting’s focus later shifted to the areas of interest for each IIM, like funding issues.

That none of the IIMs has raised any concerns so far tells you that it does not really affect the functioning of the institutes. Otherwise, there would have been a lot of hue and cry, especially from the top three IIMs. If it were affecting them, they should have raised their concerns but it has not happened yet because it will not affect the day-to-day functioning of the IIMs.

Q. Critics have argued that independent boards governing B-schools have been successful globally and can also work effectively in India. Do you think the amendment will hamper the autonomy of IIMs?

A. When I was appointed by the director of IIM Trichy in 2011, there was no board and important decisions were taken by the ministry. Even in case of older IIMs, the director would be appointed and ultimately it would be ratified by the ministry. Some had argued it was a wrong way of making appointments. In a couple of instances, although I cannot name them, the appointment of a director was completely wrong.

The presence of the government’s nominee [President of India as the Visitor] will be felt only once or twice, at the time of appointment of the directors. Regular functioning and important decisions of the institute will remain with the directors. We cannot ignore the fact that the government of India is one of the crucial stakeholders in the establishment of IIMs.

Q. The current financial year’s budget for IIMs was cut in half. How do you think it will affect new institutions like IIM Sirmaur?

A. We are not dependent on the government for funding anymore. This was the last year of funding. Now we are on our own. It was apprised to the IIMs that the funding will continue for a particular period of time and after that, it will be discontinued. We had ample time to gear-up.

At IIM Sirmaur we have a corpus of more than Rs. 100 crore and the objective is to run the institute with the interest earned on that corpus. Yes, getting funding from the government would have allowed us the freedom to spend without thinking twice on constructive work like faculty development. I would like to send young faculty members in my institute to Harvard University for a 15-day faculty development programme. If I had the government funding, I would have done it. I did it in IIM Trichy where half of my faculty was trained at Harvard or other better schools on the basis of the support I got from the government. Any support that you get from the government is always welcome.

Q. How are the new IIMs generating revenue? Does it have an impact on research funding, class sizes or student fees?

A. There are several ways for us to generate revenue. For instance, when faculties make management development programmes, a part of its revenue is always shared with the institute. A couple of teachers in IIM Sirmaur are also working on industry-led projects where they offer solutions to companies that hired them. There are also public-private partnerships. For example, we have to build new hostels and corporate centres for which we can go to different companies and tie up with them. Through this we have saved a lot of money.

There has been no impact as such. In fact, we had a meeting with the board on August 22 where a proposal to set up a centre for healthcare management was approved. It will be funded by some of the pharmaceutical companies located close to our campus. The centre will focus on healthcare research and consulting. It will broadly focus on healthcare management. It will also offer specialised courses. We would need a hospital to offer hands-on experience for which we are planning a collaboration with one of the AlIMS [All India Institutes of Medical Sciences].

Q. IITs have started on the journey of developing off-shore campuses. Do you see IIM Sirmaur on the same path?

A. In my opinion, the older IIMs should start overseas campuses. I have been arguing for this for several years. The time has come for IIMs to start their own campuses abroad, to make a claim that we are one of the best providers of management education. I am aware that we are still young compared to eminent management schools abroad but we should also create IIMs as a next-best destination after the US, Europe and Australia. For IIM Sirmaur, it may not happen in the near future. Instead we are collaborating with foreign institutions to offer dual degrees.

Q. IIM Sirmaur’s ranking has also slipped from 69th to the 98th position among management institutes this year in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF). What happened?

A. The current ranking represents 2021-22 and that was the year we had to increase the enrollment. The batch size doubled. The NIRF rankings emphasises on student-teacher ratio. Some of the faculty had also quit that year. This ultimately affected our rankings. During the pandemic, the spending on library resources had dropped. In other aspects, like student experience, industry connect, and placements, we have gone up. We have now recruited excellent faculty and are bringing more excellent teachers to our institution. Since last year, when I joined, we have recruited 23 faculty members. Soon, an international faculty will join us.

Q. The institute’s 2023-25 PGP batch saw 39 percent enrolment of women — a significant increase. What changed?

A. The woman candidate, apart from good education, looks for a safe environment. We offer them that. Paonta Sahib (Sirmaur, Himachal Pradesh), where our campus is located, is an extremely safe place. It is in the foothills of the Himalayas. The Himachalis are very humble and the most hospitable people, attracting women to our campus.

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