A member of a Committee of IIM Directors that was involved in the first few drafts of the IIM Bill 2015, one had every reason to feel optimistic. It is not easy for the proponent of the Bill to be an opponent of it as the draft Bill has surfaced in a modified avatar in the MHRD site. No enlightened government would risk its reputation in trying to destroy a golden goose that has helped India shining brighter in the global arena. Nor it is easy to imagine that a segment of our bureaucracy can be so intrusive as to take it upon themselves to decide on such functional aspects as (a) the manner of formation of Departments of teaching in IIMs (b) the qualifications, classification, terms of office and method of appointment of the academic, administrative, technical and other staff of the Institute (Section 36). I do not think this is the current government’s final position on the Bill. I would hope that the Bill can be salvaged through ongoing conversations between the right thinking people in the government as well as stalwarts in the academic world.

Ideally, institutional autonomy should enable IIMs to do the following:

  1. Recruit and employ academic and administrative staff at its own discretion
  2. Recruit and appropriately remunerate faculty of global standards
  3. Determine its own academic programs and content and open extension campuses anywhere it is feasible and desirable to do so
  4. Frame its unique criterion for students’ admissions in accordance with Institutional mission
  5. Raise funds from the market and non-governmental sources without compromising its independence
  6. Manage its own finances and budgets within the framework of the law of the land.
  7. Have a Board of Directors that would help IIMs negotiate the paradox of being globally impactful while negotiating local geo-political interests and sensitivities
  8. Institutionalizing succession planning for Directors and academic leaders so that a leadership pipeline is created and transition traumas prevented. Thus, the quest for excellence within IIMs goes on unhindered by political interests so that partisan political wish does not become the IIM’s command.

Several times in the past the political priorities of the incumbent government and compulsions of bureaucracy have determined the location, governance and administration of the IIMs. Many IIMs are forced to locate themselves in remote geographies with the avowed aim of ‘developing the region’. Based on market logic, locating a business school where the market is should be a pragmatic decision unclouded by constituency politics. Yet, there is a non-market view that makes it possible to see IIMs as engines of social aspiration and societal change. Very often one has seen that a small town with poor air connectivity gets a new identity because of the presence of an IIM. The IIM in Kozhikode, Indore and Udaipur are cases in point. Not all political decisions are partisan or unjustified. In fact the creation of six new IIMs taking the tally to nineteen may not be a bad idea. The potential emergence of IIMs as academic Nava Ratna may actually turn out to be beneficial for India and the world. One wonders if there is a method in political decisions-making that only the divine can decode.

The flip side of autonomy of the IIMs is the question of accountability. To make IIMs accountable on the same parameters of world-class Ivy League schools is as impractical right now as measuring heart rate with a thermometer. For over fifty years, the IIM mandate was not to compete for talent globally but to produce quality managers for the nation. That is what we were accountable for. In a deep sense, autonomy and accountability are integral to each other. Our accountability is not only to external stakeholders but also to our internal integrity and excellence that has been the characteristic of the IIM’s institutional culture so far. The key role of an IIM is the conceptualization and creation of managers of the future and to create exceptional value for new generations. The primary purpose of IIM’s quest for autonomy is academic freedom and the power to direct its resources in a way that support and sustain our vision for India’s future. For me, the vision of an IIM brand is not just to be the best in the world, but to be best for the world.