To align with NEP 2020and Post-COVID World, Standalone B-schools should adopt Collaborative Model, while retaining their Specialization”: Interview with IIM Calcutta Director Prof Anju Seth

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December 30, 2020 interviewed Professor Anju Seth, the first woman Director of IIM Calcutta to understand her views on many issues including her vision for IIM-C, key initiatives undertaken, NEP and impact on COVID 19 on management education. Prof Seth is an alumnus of IIM Calcutta (IIM-C) and a PhD from University of Michigan. Read below the Edited excerpts from the interview
IIM Calcutta Director Prof Anju Seth

Professor Anju Seth, an alumnus of IIM Calcutta (IIM-C) and a PhD from University of Michigan, became the first woman Director of the institute in November 2018. Prior to joining IIM-C, Professor Seth held the position of Pamplin Professor of Management at Virginia Tech and was a Professor of Business Administration at University of Illinois.

As she completes two years at IIM-C, interviewed Prof Seth to understand her views on many issues including her vision for IIM-C, key initiatives undertaken, NEP and impact on COVID 19 on management education. Edited excerpts from the interview follow. 

Q: Dr Seth, you are the first Woman Director of IIM Calcutta, which was set up in 1961. How have the last two years been...
It has indeed been an honour and privilege for me to take on the responsibility as Director of serving the oldest business school in India which is also my alma mater. The past two years at IIM Calcutta have been a journey of adaptation and regeneration, building on the strong foundation of IIM Calcutta,thereby positioning the Institute for a strong and sustainable future.  We have undertaken many new initiatives in line with our vision of global excellence.  Of course, the COVID pandemic created a challenge for us, and I am delighted that we could successfully surmount it and strengthen ourselves in the process.  

Q: So, what is your Vision for IIM-C? Where do you see it in next 3-5 years?
Our vision is to achieve thought leadership in management and to foster innovative and entrepreneurial leaders of tomorrow and deliver high impact on economy and society. We are already well-recognized for the path-breaking accomplishments of our alumniwho have achieved leadership positions in corporates, entrepreneurial ventures, public policy, academia and the social sector.  I would also like IIM-C tobe renowned for the innovative thought leadership by our faculty members with globally- and locallyrelevant impact. Scholars from around the world would want to solidify and strengthen their connection with us. We want to develop a stronger connection and networks between alumni and the “mothership”.  As a woman, I believe it is particularly important to nurture connections among all our community in a spirit of collaboration, inclusivity, empathy and mutual respect for all.

Q: What are the key initiatives undertaken in your leadership?
: We have taken many significant steps in line with our vision of global eminence under the IIM Act.  As required by the Act, towards creating s sustainable foundation for our future, we have made great strides in strengthening our capabilitiesto require accountability and transparency in the processes that we follow for good governance. 

An important initiative that has flourished under my leadership is the creation of an innovation ecosystem to hone the skills of students in our degree programs for careers in entrepreneurship while also assisting the entrepreneurial businesses supported by our incubator.  This initiative is central for job creation and economic and social development of the region and the nation.  An important feature of this initiative is the mentoring assistance of talented and dedicated alumni and faculty teams that work with students to facilitate learning-by-doing. 

To respond to the emerging digital emphasis in higher education and to expand IIM Calcutta’s international reach, we have entered into a partnership with world-wide online learning platform, Coursera, to launch two online certificate courses in "Management Science" and "Supply Chain Analytics" for a global audience.  With this partnership, IIM Calcutta joins the ranks of 170 top universities of the world including Yale, University of Michigan, Stanford and Imperial College of London that offer programmes on Coursera.

We are also poised for expansion and infrastructure development at IIM-C.To support our plans for a world class satellite campus, IIM-C has been granted 5 acres of land by the State Government in New Town in Kolkata.  Given our 60-year legacy, some of our infrastructure at Joka campus was old and needed an urgent upgrade. To support the government’s mandate for expansion for EWS students and our expansion plans that include attracting students from overseas, we have appointed Architect Hafeez Contractor to design the Master Plan of the campus along with the addition of a new academic block and new hostel capacity of about 1000 students. The campus development will be futuristic, environment friendly and ecologically‐sensitive with state‐of‐the‐art iconic infrastructure.

We are making significant investments in building the intellectual capital of our faculty body in line with our aspirations of global eminence. Strengthening and celebrating relationships with alumni has also been an important area of focus.

Q: COVID 19 has disrupted virtually every sector including Higher Education. How has IIM Calcutta adapted to it?
Indeed, this was a year of extraordinary challenge when we had to close down the campus to fight the spread of the COVID-19 in late March. Our teams at IIM Calcutta have shown remarkable resilience and adaptability in transitioning to digital execution.

When the pandemic impacted the world, IIM-C was in the process of interviewing for our flagship MBA programme for the batch of ‘20-22. In light of the lockdown restrictions and keeping in mind the safety of the candidates, we interviewed the remaining candidates online. In order to maintain fairness and consistency among all the candidates interviewed, the Institute decided to not consider the weightage given to the Written Ability Test for the final selection of the MBA 2020-22 batch. Thereafter, we have worked seamlessly to plan, develop and deliver online courses to ensure the timely commencement of the programs. Our online MBA classes commenced on August 3 and the students have been distributed across six sections of class strength 80 of each section.There is an average of 4-5 hours of total classroom live contact hours every day.

Interviews for our summer placements were also conducted online and we have secured 100% placements for our students.139 firms participated in the placement process, of which 43 were the first-time recruiters to IIM Calcutta, for 473 participating students. 

Q: But are MBA teaching-learning goals met fully with online classes?
To be honest, nothing can replace the IIM Calcutta on-campus learning experience!However,COVID gave us an opportunity to rethink some parts of our delivery model. IIM Calcutta is a pioneer in blended management education delivery model. This capability was leveraged fully during this time and we demonstrated our leadership.

Q: Can you share more details of your blended programs?
IIM-C is a front runner in online and blended management education. We conduct more than 30 regular blended programs across the year. Our faculty has built great capability to understand what parts of education is delivered best online and what parts are done face to face. We are now working on launching a full degree programs that is delivered online. We are also working with Coursera for launching a specialized program on their platform for global audience.

Q: So how is teaching-learning in online and blended mode conceptually different from face to face teaching?
A: The online and blended mode calls attention to the idea of ‘learning autonomy’. While skilled teachers can easily garner student attention in a brick-and-mortar classroom which allows them to read verbal and non-verbal cues of learners effectively, in online and blended learning modes students must take greater ownership since they have autonomy over their learning. Once we accept the concept of learner’s autonomy, the way we design and deliver management courses online will automatically be different from face-to-face programs.

Q: Covid 19 has impacted business practices significantly. How should B-schools rethink the MBA program?
A: Yes, the pandemic has significantly impacted all parts of society and business. Both “what” B-schools teach, which is the content & curriculum, and “how” we teach using online delivery platforms, have been severely impacted. Virtually all aspects of business and management practices like consumer behavior and marketing, production and supply chains, people management and organizational capability have changed. Agility and adaptability command a huge premium today. Business school faculty should understand the profound changes in the national and global environment, and “fold-it-in” to their subject matter.  More than ever before, emphasis should be placed on helping learners to that a degree is merely one accomplishment in the journey of lifelong learning.

Q: What is your reaction to National Education Policy 2020? How will it impact management education?
I applaud the bold vision of the NEP, especially its philosophy and conceptual framework along with the values it espouses.  The policy is indeed revolutionary, but for it to become successful, effective implementation is key. For India to truly become a global knowledge superpower, major investment in research capabilities of our faculty is a must.The policy usefully emphasizes the synergies between research skills and teaching skills on the part of faculty, and the importance of critical thinking and problem-solving to address the grand challenges of business and society.  Creating a fertile ground for these capabilities is imperative, so that it is important for incentives of institutions and faculty to be aligned to the vision.

Q: NEP advocates multi-disciplinary education. IIMs and most top B-school are standalone institutions that are not part of a University. So how will IIM Calcutta meet this goal...
 While multi-disciplinarity in educational institutions is laudable, specialized institutions such as the IIM, IITs and TISS are also desirable to focus on deep understanding of specific subject areas like business management or engineering or social sciences.  I believe that standalone institutions like IIMs can adopt a collaborative model that fulfils the spirit of NEP. IIM-C is already following this approach. We are offering a degree program in Business Analytics and another in manufacturing excellence with different IITs and ISI. We plan to build on this approachwith additional collaborations with top institutions.

Q: Many IIMs have started offering undergraduate management programs. NEP also envisages transitioning the stand-alone B-schools, offering diploma, into ‘degree granting institution’. Will IIM-C offer undergraduate BBA or integrated management program?
I believe undergraduate education requires a different model and approach compared to post-graduate education. I personally am a strong believer in an undergraduate education involving a foundational field like engineering or social sciences or the hard sciences with breadth. At the undergraduate level, many students are at an exploratory stage to understand their passion and calling.  A cross-disciplinary education with major and minor areas of study in the university system or in IITs with multiple departments or schools is the right avenue for this exploration. Then, an MBA education can effectively build on that foundation for shaping careers as business professionals or entrepreneurs.

Q: Can you elaborate on recent initiatives to achieve global eminence for IIM-C?
A significant achievement during the academic year was the successful attainment of international re-accreditation for our degree programmes. Three internationally renowned accreditation agencies, namely Association of MBAs (AMBA), EQUIS and AACSB granted us re-accreditation. These international accreditations are crucial for our journey towards global eminence as they provide both affirmation and critical feedback on our strategic goals and processes to achieve them.

Q: Finally, based on your 2 years at IIM-C and your US experience, how do you compare top 25 US B-schools and say Top 10 Indian B-schools? 
In USA, the top B-schools, rather than stand-alone entities, are in universities.  The pursuit of academic excellence typically would have the twin objectives of continuous improvement of curricula to prepare students for leadership positons and cutting-edge research for the creation of new knowledge.  To be a professor is hard-won in that tenured faculty members would demonstrate capabilities and synergies in both arenas.  A great business school nurtures a flourishing hive of ideas that shape the future. Many top business schools also have strong executive education capabilities at a highly differentiated level.And of course, they have a strong focus on maintaining communication and linkages with alumni to foster pride and loyalty in the school. At a more mundane (but essential) level, they have strong processes. 

Similar to IIM Calcutta, many of the top Indian B-schools focus on teaching and primarily measure their success in terms of outcomes of student admissions and placement, whereas some have begun to strengthen their research capabilities with an emphasis to shape the business leadership conversations and deliberations in the global ecosystem. 

Stay tuned to for more updates on IIM Calcutta