Saturday, January 21, 2006

V. Raghunathan says some ungrateful things ...

V. Raghunathan, a former professor at IIM-A, has written an op-ed piece in ToI about why IIMs should go global. There are several different strands in his op-ed, and it takes a while to untangle them so I won't bother with that. There is, however, at least one strand that just freaked me out:

No denying either that the government — not in recent years, but that of the Nehruvian era when free market was a bad word — did a great job of investing heavily in these institutions and others like IITs.

These institutions would not have been what they are but for that investment. But the government also invested heavily in hundreds of other public sector institutions and organisations most of whom have gone to seed.

So is the success of IIMs due to the money the government pumped in or should we give some credit to the early founding fathers of the IIMs and their faculty?

I couldn't believe he was saying such an ungrateful thing! Sure, the founding fathers of IIMs were great, but this argument belittles and insults the huge funding and the extraordinarily supportive environment that successive governments have given to not just the IIMs, but also to other such 'institutions of national importance'.

Raghunathan keeps referring to the government funding in a dismissive tone. We must wonder if he realizes how seriously well off the IIMs are compared to even the second-rung institutions (for example, a management school belonging to a government-run university).

Raghunathan sneers at all those other organizations (started by the government) that have 'gone to seed'. Does he realize that it is the money and resources taken away from these organizations that went to some crown jewels like IIMs, so that they could grow in stature and become world class? All said and done, the pie for higher education was small and fixed, and it was this policy of nurturing one set of high profile organizations at the expense of thousands of others that brought IIMs to where thery are now. Given this scenario, he seems to gloat at the decline and demise ('going to seed') of these other organizations.

I don't know about you, I just found this argument sick.


I have no axe to grind in the matter of the Singapore centre of IIM-B. As I said here, I don't see any merit (nor public interest) in such a move by a publicly funded institution; it's like the University of California having a campus in Michigan, because there are lots of students who are willing to pay good money there. Having said this, if they can convince Arjun Singh and get their way, it's not the end of the world. I can live with that. I was just bothered by a spurious argument (which was also profoundly insulting) being put forward to support an initiative on which public opinion could be divided.


I want to direct your attention to one other argument used by Raghunathan; this one is interesting, because he seems to be undermining his own case here.

... IIMs are to replenish their depleting faculty they need newer challenges. Moreover, it is easier for IIMs to go abroad than to attract international students, executive or otherwise, to their campuses located in decrepit and crumbling cities.

This quote from his last paragraph is invested with rich irony, indeed; somehow 'new challenges' don't go well -- do they? -- when followed by 'it's easier to ...'. Anyways, let's follow his argument. IIMs need to go abroad. For what -- newer challenges? No! Raghunathan says they must go abroad for "international students, executive or otherwise". Leaving aside the question of what is so great about teaching 'international students', just what kind of students does he have in mind? Somewhere in the middle of his piece, he says:

Thus [the IIM faculty] can provide much greater value in executive education to economies like Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Dubai or even Eastern Europe, who otherwise look westwards. [Emphasis added]

Now, wipe that smirk off your face, will you?

Seriously, is it so difficult to accept the premiss that when the government created and pampered (not in real terms, but relative to how the other universities were treated) these institutions on our soil, it probably expected (and would certainly like) them to

  • become world class right here?
  • prove that great challenges exist here, that are worth pursuing?
  • (eventually) attract international students to their campuses in spite of their being "located in decrepit and crumbling cities"?

If these institutions turn around and say they need to go abroad in search of new challenges, isn't it like admitting defeat in the face of the real challenge of fulfilling their original mission?


  1. Anonymous said...

    I do not know what makes Abhinandanan so worked up about my TOI piece. While all the successive governments might have done a great job of investing in IIMs and other Institutions of national importance, perhaps the Government should know when to let go. Otherwise, its position will be no different from the likes of Kurien, who having created great institutions like NABARD and IRMA, seem to want to cling on to their creations forever. I think some of the references in my article (which Abhinandanan finds so difficult or sick to follow) were in this context. References to the close control over Director’s foreign travel or or exchange programme students or restricting the corpus of IIMs were all pointers towards the government’s reluctance to let go. In fact, many of these higher Institutions do not need the government’s support (that seems to bleed Abhinandanan’s heart) any more; but it is the government that insists on continuing their control over these Institutions by various means. Why should the government continue to shower its scarce resources on Institutions of higher learning, when the primary education in the country is crying out for funds?

    To be honest, it is Abhinandanan’s idea of “gratitude” which I find amusing. If I look around the poverty, illiteracy, corruption, filth, and squalor, I do not find much to be grateful about towards the Government. In fact, I find it sickening that the Government should be giving Rs 100 crore of the exchequer’s money to an institution like the IISc. An excellent Institution like the IISc should by now have been encouraged and enabled by the Government to not only earn it’s keep and its development plans, but to contribute to the Government instead of perennially supporting it. The fact is the Government is talking about privatization everywhere; why gradual privatization or partial-autonomy of Government owned Institutions should not apply to higher educational institutions is beyond me.

    Abhinandanan seems to have nothing to say about the bankrupt status of the UGC. If he is feeling grateful that the Government has made Institutions like IISc or IIMs or IITs rich by making the Indian Universities, or primary and secondary education sectors poorer, well he is welcome to his emotions. I, for one, am offering no apologies for my ungratefulness!

  2. Abi said...

    Thanks, Prof. Raghunathan, for your visit. I sincerely mean it.

    It may be surprising for you to know that my views on public funding of higher education (particularly professional and management education) are not far from yours. If you have any doubts, just look around this blog. As for privatising (partially or fully) IIMs, I have even suggested (here) that this may actually be a good idea.

    Let me reiterate my main point: IIMs are where they are because of the 'special treatment' (pampering) they received from the government. In particular, they received ample funding, when so many other universities were left to starve. In other words, a poor country chose to create elite institutions by channeling (redirecting ?) sufficient resources to them. Also, it gave these institutions a functional autonomy -- a commodity that was denied to other institutions. Belittling these contributions of the government to the IIMs' success (and sniggering at lesser organizations that have 'gone to seed') is certainly an ungrateful thing to do. No amount of sarcasm in your response is going to change that.

    A second argument in my post was about some reasonable expectations from a society (The Public) that has supported the setting up of elite institutions such as the IIMs, and the continuous flow of funding for so long. Is it too much for The Public to expect the IIMs to show to them (and, to the world) that it is possible to build and run world class institutions right here in India? If the environment poses constraints in achieving this goal, is it too much for the IIMs to work with the government in getting these constraints removed, so that they can soar high right here in India? Why should an IIM go to Singapore? Isn't it like the University of California setting up a campus in Michigan because a lot of students are there? I didn't see anything in your column (nor, in your comments) addressing these issues.

    As for public funding of institutions such as IISc, you are certainly on a weak wicket. The reason is quite simple: fundamental, basic or academic research is sustained largely by public funding, not just in our country, but the world over. If you feel that private funding is enough to sustain basic research, perhaps your views need a reality check.

    I am not sure if you are going to visit again to see this response. It would have been great if you left your e-mail address; I could have alerted you about my response, which was delayed because of a recent visit to Srirangam.

  3. Anonymous said...

    Thank you for your detailed response to my comments.

    Your assumption that I may not visit your blog again was obviously wrong! Can't see why we must not stand up for our belifs and 'have it out' nicely in forums like these! So here I am.

    Now, to respond to your views on my first set of comemnts...

    I have been writing for various national newspapers, particularly ET and TOI for nearly two decades. Practically in each and every one of my articles dealing with higher education, I have always given due credit to the GOI for having had the foresight to have set up some of these higher institutions of learning. My point was that nowhere is credit ever given to the people who set up these institutions or the faculty that built up these institutions. Did you know that the father of Indian management education, the first Director of IIMA, Prof. Ravi Mathai was never even formally recognized by any Governmental system (of the Padma Shrees or Padma Bhushan variety, I mean)? While for chucking or tapping a few balls in a single cricket or tennis season can get twenty year olds Padma Shris, we haven’t shown any ‘gratitude’ (your word) to the founding fathers of some of these Institutions. I was referring to the role (and hence some gratitutde) to these worthies and not taking away anything from the Government, which one has acknowledged repeatedly.

    Yes, these Institutions did grow because of the support of the Government. A child also grows because of the support of the parents. Does that mean you keep babying your kid and ever let it grow and become an independent adult? Having created these excellent institutions, who are presently quite capable of fulfilling their roles, can’t the Government give greater attention to areas like primary education where there is so much to be done. Why keep pumping money into these higher institutions. I quite agree about the public funding of basic research – but you have obviously turned the main focus of my comments to suit your ‘debate’. But we’ll let that pass.

    The airlines, steel plants and sundry other Navaratnas were also set up by the Government; so why should the logic for the educational institutions be any different?

    As for reasonable expectations of society from IIMs (and several other Institutions of higher learning), it is nobody’s (or is it your case??) case that these institutions have failed the society in any way. In a country full of corruption and mediocrity, these Institutions are islands of excellence and integrity in more ways than one. If money alone were to do it, well, I would imagine the entire country should be one glowing example of integrity and excellence since a lot of money has been spent on our public systems since independence. I was showing my gratitude to such people who made a difference.

    As for your defence of the Government, if I did not feel the same way about the Government, I would not have spent four years in a public sector followed by twenty at IIMA myself. But to me ‘loyalty’ does not mean being blind to the flip side.

    I rest my case on this issue for good.

    My email id is

    But I didn't find yours in your blog. Also, I wasn't able to post my comments easily. been trying for three days!

  4. Abi said...

    Prof. Raghunathan: As I wrote to you in my e-mail, I want to point to one area in which I do agree broadly with your views: that privatization of IIMs -- in part or in full -- is a good idea. There are other areas of agreement as well: the primacy of primary education, for example.

    As for whether IIMs have done well, they certainly have done well for themselves. All I would love to see is for them to do even better, so that they become globally recognized centers of excellence right here in India -- attracting bright students and top faculty from all over the world. And, I don't think that's too much to expect.

    Thanks again for your comment.

  5. Venkat said...

    Hello All,
    Good Morning.
    I just want to express my views, but on IITs which are also pampered ones since many decades. Why they can not sustain.

    Why GOVT to continue to support?. Cant they live on their won after 40 years of support also?. The money what GOVT is spending on IITs can be used to groom the mushroom of Engg Colleges from which 99% of Engg Graduates are coming with very bad stature.

    Yes. I do accept with IISC, purely a research based one. Of course, IIIT-Hyderabad which is also have research as its basis but with the supports from Microsoft, IBM. They have prooved within a decade itself.

    May be the blog posting of interest