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Arindam Chaudhuri on why ISB is better than the IIMs
Let's first start with the upside to the IIMs and perhaps arguably the most important factor. A great B-school is about its 'course contents' first. And on this first parameter, ISB actually has the only disadvantage when compared to the IIMs.
FISRT THINGS first... Ever since we started Business and Economy, we avoided the temptation of undertaking B-school rankings for the simple reason that IIPM is a B-school that we are very closely associated with; and at IIPM, we have always claimed that we are the best B-school globally when it comes to education. So any B-school ranking brought out by us would have had IIPM right at the top, at least in the three parameters of ‘course contents’, ‘global exposure’ and ‘research and consulting’!
 
But if we were to have finally published such a ranking, our friends in the media would have taken no time to call them biased, however fact-based the rankings might have been. And undertaking a B-school ranking without speaking about ourselves would be next to impossible for an aggressive group like ours, which so passionately believes in our (IIPM’s) superiority. So finally, this is what we did!

We decided to go ahead with the B-school rankings. However, we decided to keep IIPM totally out of it. We didn’t have any editorial representation in the ranking team. We selected the top 30 B-Schools of India – IIPM included – and gave the list to a team of five unbiased members in order to rank all the B Schools. And I am sure no one would think that such kind of credible people – two of them from Infosys  included – could be made to do something unethical! After they gave their rankings, we removed IIPM’s name from the list and gave out the top 29 B-Schools because ethically, it was still not fair for us to rank ourselves as Planman Media is a sister concern of IIPM; and also because the experts did rank IIPM quite amongst the top B Schools!
 
However, having removed IIPM from the rankings, I do think that as the editor of this magazine, I have a right to say what we stand for! So I brought out this article I had once written earlier and made some changes so that our readers have an exact idea of what our magazine believes! This article will give our readers a clear view of why we at B&E think that ISB today is ahead of the IIMs – even if fractionally – in India and in every parameter worth mentioning where IIPM stands compared to the IIMs and ISB. This article will also give our readers insights on why we have always maintained that given the right weightage for specific parameters, IIPM is undoubtedly ahead of all other B-schools in the country! My comparisons will be only between these three institutes (IIPM, ISB, IIMs), because frankly speaking, these are the only three B-schools on whom I keep a detailed track and do my research upon!

But before I begin expressing my views, I must clarify something; and that is that despite IIPM’s ‘Dare To Think Beyond The IIMs’ campaign, I have nothing against the IIMs. Rather, all I have is sheer respect (My father was a professor at IIM Bangalore and is extremely proud of the same. My Managing Partner, my best friend at IIPM and the Editor of this magazine itself, A. Sandeep, is a product of IIPM and IIM Calcutta; and he specifically had gone to study there to have a first-hand knowledge about the ‘IIM way’ before coming back to IIPM to take it up.
 
And finally, my best friend in school and the Head of our news portal, The DailyIndian. com, Partha Saha, is a proud product of IIM Calcutta). We believe we are the best when it comes to education, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know how good the IIMs are or that their students get better placements than our students or even the fact that they attract the best of students of India – though we may still not accept that the final IIM product is, therefore, necessarily better! So, this article is not an attempt to malign the IIMs, but a simple attempt to analyse some facts.

Having said that, let me also state that what I am writing shouldn’t shock many; at least not those who know that the 2009 Financial Times rankings have put ISB as the 15th best B-school in the world and haven’t put any of the IIMs even in the top hundred! Yet, what I hope this article will do is to bring perspective to those rankings and explain to people what management education is all about; since no magazine undertaking B-school surveys in India has even a fraction of the ability to comment upon management education in India, compared to our capability. And it’s no arrogance but pure facts that we present. Almost all of Business & Economy’s editorial team comprises educated MBAs – the reason our magazine is such a sell-out amongst those who love sharp analytical articles instead of pages full of incomprehensible blah blah based upon tens of quotes (the only thing typical journalists can rely upon in the absence of analytical skills).
 
ISB Vs IIMs: What makes ISB special?

Course contents

Let’s first start with the upside to the IIMs and perhaps arguably the most important factor. A great B-school is about its ‘course contents’ first. And on this first parameter, ISB actually has the only disadvantage when compared to the IIMs. While most subjects that are taught at ISB are the same as those taught in the IIMs, the fact is that while at ISB the contact hours with faculty is only about 620 hours, at IIMs this is more than 1,400 hours (Incidentally, at IIPM, this figure is more than 1800 hours – one of the reasons we so confidently believe that no other B-school teaches as much as we do; and when it comes to course contents, our programme – which is a combination of MBA and MA Economics – is superior to everyone else’s).
 
Thus, students at IIMs obviously undergo a more rigorous course when compared to ISB; and it can be safely concluded that the contact hours of students at the IIMs with the teachers are more than double that of ISB students. This one factor itself would otherwise have been enough to make the IIMs better than ISB, had it not been for the other factors that I am about to elaborate upon.

Faculty and Industry interface

Well, while the course contents in a B-school is of the highest importance, very high in importance is also the kind of faculty imparting the course and the amount of consulting exposure they have. A B-school could actually have a superb course, yet be pathetic, simply because the people teaching the course are pathetic. So the quality of the faculty teaching the subjects in B-schools is of considerable importance. Thus, one needs to know what makes for a great ‘B-school faculty’. And here, I deliberately write ‘B-school faculty’ and not just ‘faculty’. A great professor in a history class, for example, just needs to be very knowledgeable about history; in effect, it can almost be safely assumed that if the said professor is a Ph.D (with a good thesis), then he would be more knowledgeable than, say, a professor who is just a Master’s in history. In B-schools, however, that’s not the case.
 
The quality of a B-school professor is not just about his education, but also about the kind of practical experience he has had – comparatively, a history professor cannot possibly have any practical experience of, say, the first World War! Coming back, in the case of a B-school professor who doesn’t have practical experience, the crowning grace then is about how much management consulting work he undertakes. And this is where ISB scores heavily! While IIM professors are, on an average, good (Our extensive research suggests ex-students of IIMs remember about four or five professors as ‘very good’, about the same number as ‘good’; and the rest, they say, are ‘forgettable’), ISB professors are mostly terrific!

The beauty of education at ISB (where students give a high rank to about three quarters of their professors) is about each professor being amongst the best available in that field globally. In any given term in ISB (they have 8 terms of 6 weeks each), students have about 4 papers to study. Most of these papers are taken by two different professors; and out of the 8 professors that they interact with during the term, only two belong to ISB, while the inter other six would generally be top faculty who come to teach from Wharton, Kellogg, Columbia, Haas, Kenan Flagler, UCLA, Michigan, Georgia Tech, HKUST Business School etc. Not that all of them are brilliant, but on an average, they give students a much much better and superior exposure than what IIM professors could possibly bring to the class room.
 
Yes, ISB does lack the numbers when it comes to high quality permanent faculty. However, as long as the studies are sincere and the students are being  taught by and exposed to some of the best professors from across the world, from a very practical perspective, no one should be complaining. After all, from the students’ point of view, it is better to have a great team of visiting faculty than an average team of permanent faculty members. When it comes to industry exposure, it could be safely said that the faculty teaching at ISB has a far wider and greater exposure compared to the faculty at IIMs. It’s worth noting here that there are some IIMs where the EDPs that actually take place after being announced (due to lack of participants) are hardly any number worth mentioning! Most of the IIMs are located in cities of extremely low corporate relevance; and this is another reason why mainstream corporations are hardly ever heard using the consulting services of IIM professors – a reason why the consulting work done by IIPM professors, for example, is much higher.
 
At the same time, the IIM faculty mettle is never tested directly in competition with global faculty, since the IIM faculty never conducts joint workshops with foreign faculty – this is again something that is mandatory for top faculty at IIPM who conduct joint corporate training workshops with the best of the best faculty from the topmost B-schools globally like Kellogg, NYU Stern, Tuck School of Business, Columbia, Judge Business School, Insead etc. (refer to the box), something that even ISB professors don’t! Such joint workshops reveal a lot about the courage and conviction that faculty members have when pitted against the global best; and of course, at IIPM, when we claim that our faculty are the best that the world has to offer, this claim is not without reason, since we have workshop participant feedback forms with the names of these participants to prove how phenomenally corporate India rates IIPM faculty!

Of course, the final aspect to great faculty is communication skills; and most of the global B-school professors who teach at ISB have much better communication skills thanks to their larger corporate interactions and to the more competitive consulting environment in their B-schools, as well as to their natural advantage. Most IIM professors really score less compared to the ISB professors in this respect. In fact, if there are two other institutes that have professors with great communication skills, they are FMS in Delhi (having been an awe-struck student of the current dean, Dr. J. K. Mitra, and ex-deans of FMS – Dr. N. R. Chatterjee, Dr. M. P. Gupta and Dr. M. Adhikari – I can personally vouch for FMS) and XLRI in Jamshedpur. In this regard, I don’t even want to start speaking about IIPM faculty since they are by far superior, and that’s something that sets them – one and all   completely apart!

Thus, I want to conclude by saying that though the contact hours might be lesser, the exceptional track records of the faculty who teach at ISB make up for the lesser number of hours to a large extent; since in management, ten hours from a ‘great’ professor is worth far more than twenty hours from a ‘below average’ professor, and that difference cannot be made up by the affected students reading up a little extra. Of course, to a very limited extent, the fact that an average IIM student has about one  year of work experience compared to the five years that an ISB student has, also places the ISB product in a slightly better position, wherein they can understand the same concepts from their professors through even a lesser number of contact hours.

Placements

Why ISB beats everyone hollow?

Truthfully speaking, once these two of the above mentioned factors are taken care of, there is not much remaining to know about a B-school in reality. But hey, hold on! B-schools are about professional studies! Thus, while judging, say, a Shantiniketan, one  would only go by the philosophy, course and faculty. But in the case of a B-school, it is also about placements. This is where ISB scores heavily! The average salary at ISB is now almost double of that of all the IIMs put together. While about one-fourth of the ISB batch gets placed abroad (as per official statistics), the same is only about one-sixth in the IIMs, though their average inter other national packages are almost at par with ISB.
 
One might always argue that someone with five years’ prior experience is bound to get a better package. But then, unfortunately, that’s something that B-schools are constantly compared and judged by. It also is one reason why though I maintain that IIPM is the best B-school in the country, since the average packages that IIPM students get are still less than those commanded by IIM and ISB students, students still prefer these institutes over IIPM. However, what is worth mentioning at least about IIPM Delhi is that in the last two years, it has had the highest number of international placements in the country. In 2008, the figure was 125, and in 2009, this figure is 55. Yes, the packages on an average were much lesser that those commanded by ISB and IIM students; but nevertheless, a great achievement. Interestingly, in the case of the IIMs, an increase in the student intake itself will bring their average packages down – one reason why they refuse to increase their intake by significant numbers despite being government funded and despite there being a huge scarcity of high quality employable manpower in India.
 
And obviously,  the IIMs blame their ‘inability’ to take in more student son the availability (or rather, on the so-called ‘unavailability’) of high quality faculty – something that we at IIPM have clearly proven wrong by reproducing great teaching skills aplenty.

Return on investment

Again ISB comes out tops

One can by now safely say that the terrific faculty, and through them the global exposure that students get, coupled up with better placements, make ISB a better B-school than the IIMs! However, ISB scores more. The students joining ISB have a natural advantage of saving one year (theirs is technically a one year programme) and thereby earning money in the second year after getting placed! This is something that gives the students at ISB a quicker return on investment despite their course being highly priced in comparison.

Global exposure

Aand why IIPM is the real No 1 here!

Finally, it’s also worth mentioning that in the second and third world country B-schools (like the ones in India), especially in these days of globalisation, it’s very important to give supreme global exposure to students in order to make them internationally competitive. In this regard again, the IIMs lag behind. In reality, IIM students – barring the lucky few who get global summer training assignments – hardly get any global exposure.
 
But it must be said that while ISB, thanks to its global faculty, is ahead of the IIMs on this issue, their students still don’t get the very best. This is where IIPM scores extremely heavily. With one hundred percent of its students going abroad for a study tour and getting exposed to not just the best of global corporations through industry visits in top Fortune 500 corporations, but also to global professors in top B-schools abroad, what IIPM products get is unparalleled! Our research shows that when it comes to global faculty coming to India to teach, those are mostly Indian faculty members of global B-schools who come down; but when students actually get a chance to go abroad and sit inside, say, an IMD classroom with a European professor teaching them (something that leagues of IIPM students have gone through), the exposure is spectacularly different.
 
This year onwards, 100 per cent of IIPM students will be undertaking a joint certificate programmes in global management in five of the top 20B-schools of the world like Haas School of Business and Judge Business School – something that would take the already exceptional levels of global exposure in the IIPM programme to a different plane altogether! However, coming back to the key context, ISB surely scores over the IIMs here as well.

Infrastructure

And finally, though a three acre campus can give exactly as good an infrastructural support to students of a B-school as a hundred acre campus could, the fact remains that thanks to the huge hundred acre campuses the IIMs have had, ‘land mass size’ became a huge issue of inferiority complex amongst other B-schools, their students and corporations. ISB understood the same perfectly well when they started off ; thus, their 250 acre state-of-the art modern campus is, without a shade of doubt, far superior to the dilapidated structures that especially the older IIMs have.
 
The truth is that I don’t subscribe to the concept of judging B schools by their infrastructure – as long as they have a good requisite and modern infrastructure – but since India does that, most rankings do that, I thought of mentioning this aspect too! But as you would notice in our main rankings, we have not given any importance to infrastructure!! That’s because when you are a top 30 B-school, you sure have requisite infrastructure; and it is meaningless trying to say that infrastructure makes any B-school better!

Conclusion

It must have shocked many when Financial Times ranked ISB as one of the top twenty B-schools in the world – far far ahead of the IIMs – and it must have shocked B&E readers further when they saw us endorsing the same. However, we do hope our readers, after reading this story, would now know how to judge a B-school and the reasons why we at B&E believe that despite the IIMs having a distinct advantage in their course contents, it is ISB which ends up scoring over the IIMs. And of course, why we believe that though the big debate is about the two of them, yet it’s IIPM which is the leader.
 
For long, Harvard Business School was looked upon as the undisputed leader in business education. Notwithstanding that, one look at the Harvard rankings over the last few years (see comparative table) clearly tells us that HBS now rarely gets the No.1 rank, and in fact has been ranked as low as No.13 by The Economist just last year. That surely doesn’t make Harvard any worse; it just makes them more grounded and more open to the fact that there are similar good B-schools around; for after all, B-school education is no rocket science or anybody’s father’s property that one can’t impart the same better. The fact that ISB got ranked at No.15 by FT ahead of the IIMs and that in the latest Zee Business B-school Ranking 2009, IIPM got ranked No.1 in ‘Global Exposure’ and No 5 in India overall, is only a sign of the times to come.
 
And in these times to come, the IIMs will more oft en see themselves being ranked below other institutes like ISB, IIPM etc, for the media, one hopes, will soon become more educated about business education and learn to question the current unquestioned apparent superiority of the IIMs; which the media currently doesn’t, due to their lack of confidence and due to their inferiority complexes vis-à-vis the brand name of IIMs. Be that as it may, this surely would not in any way dilute the value of the IIM brand. It will only give respectability to Brand India, for Brand India surely deserves more than one good business education brand. Hopefully, it will also make the IIMs less complacent and more dynamic, something many of their ex-students feel is their biggest flaw.
 
I can only conclude by saying that in a country of a billion people where the best of times are just round the corner and corporate India is getting ready for global leadership, it’s only a sign of happier and much warranted times that there are other B-schools like ISB, which can now lay claim to the top slot. May a hundred more ISBs/IIMs bloom and blossom and may each of them innovate newer ways to give better education and to compete vigorously with the others, consequently making the other better.

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