Published: 23rd September 2019
Good research and happy students are our priorities: IIM Udaipur director on being the youngest in the top 20 list
IIMU’s Director Janat Shah shares his plans for the premier institute — it’s not just about the rankings and accreditation, the way IIMU looks at education makes it stand out
Indian Institute of Management Udaipur (IIMU) is located near the beautiful Aravalli Range and the scenic beauty around the campus is enough for anyone to fall in love with it. And that’s exactly what happened with me when I visited the institute. Though they are one of the youngest IIMs to come up in India, the institute, as per the NIRF ranking, is one among the top 20.
But when it comes to IIMU, it’s not just about the rankings and accreditation, the way IIMU looks at education, their 35 different clubs and committees for students — all this and much more is enough to convince anyone to opt for the institute. Prof Janat Shah, Director, IIMU, who has worked as a faculty member in IIMB for over 20 years, gives utmost importance to communicating individually with the students.
He says, "There is a regular flow of communication between me, the students and the faculty. Even before the new students join us, I write to each one of them and tell them about what we expect from them and what they can expect from IIMU. Once the number of students increases this individual communication might come down, but everyone should feel comfortable enough to come up and speak to me. For example, a student came to me once and shared their idea of reusing the water used in washing machines. We implemented the idea for domestic purposes on the campus. Though IIMU is going to grow larger, we have to ensure that we are all on the same page." Excerpts from an interesting interview:
IIMU earned accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) last year. How did you manage to earn this accreditation in such a short time?
We have been focussed on the long-term goal and from day one, our vision has been to make this institution a global one. When we started the journey and bagged the accreditation in December 2018, only three IIMs including Bengaluru, Kolkata and Ahmedabad had earned the AACSB accreditation. During the process of getting accredited, we learnt a lot from all global institutions. It's a five-year process which we started in 2013 to improve every aspect of IIMU including faculty, students, education, infrastructure, research and so on. A mentor from New Zealand guided us through it. At the end of the process, three deans from leading international business schools visited IIMU to observe our work closely and give us a report on the same. And this is how the process of accreditation takes place. It is a matter of pride for us to be recognised as one of the youngest institutes to have earned this accreditation.
You said that the institute learnt a few key elements in these five years. What were they?
Before we bagged the accreditation, we made sure our vision was clear. It encouraged us to make sure that the research programmes, the teaching faculty and students were linked to our vision. Otherwise, there is a tendency to do things in bits and pieces which is all ad-hoc. This also helped us ensure that we are on the path to continuous improvement. Another factor was to focus on the learning framework which means our students are not just graduating, but identifying the learning dimensions and improving on them every day. I think that because we were practicing all this from an early stage, it became the foundation of IIMU. This way, we are more focused on long-term issues and processes rather than the short-term ones.
Serious discussion: Harsha Bhogle, famous Indian commentator who visited the IIMU campus recently communicated with the students (Pic: Facebook)
What are the new programmes that you have on the list?
We are launching a new programme which is a one year MBA in Digital Enterprise Management (DEM) which will have Business Analytics and Technologies as primary pillars of the subject. This unique programme will start in 2020 and has been designed for experienced professionals aiming to explore new and emerging technologies and intending to gain a managerial understanding of digital enterprises. The DEM programme will provide students with an opportunity to develop a working knowledge of emerging technologies and acclaimed practices as the course curriculum has been prepared in consultation with industry experts. If you look at the top ten companies in the world, they are all making use of the digital platform. That business model is surviving primarily because of the digital platform. Similarly, if you ask most of the traditional companies about their top initiatives, they will mostly prioritise digital marketing. Hence, we thought of taking the lead in this space. We have initiated a Center for Digital Enterprise and an academic advisory board for developing this new programme. The board constitutes of founders of successful digital companies in the country like Quikr and Info Edge India. Senior leaders from leading consulting companies including Ganesan Ramachandran from Accenture and Kamesh Mullapudi from Deloitte and many others are also a part of the board.
Which programmes at IIMU encourage entrepreneurship?
In the orientation programme, we bring in our alumni who have initiated their own start-ups to interact with our students. Whenever students speak to such entrepreneurs-cum-alumni, they tend to consider them as their role models. Thus, we plant this seed at a very early stage. Next, we provide students with all kinds of financial support, infrastructure and so on for the time they want to launch their own start-up. There is something called Placement Holiday in IIMU. In this regard, if because of any reason the start-up doesn't work out, then they can come back to us. We will help them by connecting them with our placement cell and get them employment.
Apart from this, during the two-year MBA programme, if they have an idea for a start-up, then the students can work on it instead of opting for summer internships for one or two months. Essentially, we looked at some practices followed by IIM Bangalore and IIM Ahmedabad when it comes to entrepreneurship and implemented them here. We also have a student club called Saksham. They meet regularly and encourage students to take up entrepreneurship.
How do you make your students work-ready?
We are preparing our students for the world of practice. While our curriculum is designed in a way that makes students work-ready, we also make use of live examples and give them real problems to solve. Apart from this, students work on their projects which involves working with industries. Here, they learn how to apply skills in the industry and their process of working. We also bring in a number of industry experts to give talks. Lastly, we also collect feedback from the industries to understand their gaps and how we can bridge them.
IIMU's beauty: The bird's eye view of IIMU campus and the scenic beauty around it. The total campus measures 350 acres and very less land has been utilised to save enviroment (Pic: Digvijay Chauhan- IIMU student)
What are your plans with regards to making IIMU stand out among other IIMs?
Primarily, IIMU must stand out on two dimensions. While the first dimension is research, the second dimension is the way we look at student clubs and committees. When it comes to research in management programmes, India has several challenges and has not been known globally on this front. Hence, from the beginning, we have been focusing on research activities. We expect our faculty to be part of the global research programmes. For example, if a faculty member is pursuing research on sustainable supply chain, then they must be in dialogue with researchers who are working on the same across the globe. There are 24 top journals according to a list put out by the University of Texas, Dallas and we encourage our faculty to publish their work in them. We have created an ecosystem where we creatively involve young faculty members and the visiting faculty to teach the second-year programme. If we give you a list of the people who are our visiting faculty, you will find that these people teach even in IIM Bangalore and Ahmedabad.
The activities that are conducted in student clubs and committees in IIMU help students learn leadership and execution skills. When it comes to students, we celebrate diversity as there are youngsters from 22 states and two countries who are currently studying in IIMU. The students of IIMU recently invited Naaz Joshi, a transgender who has won the Miss World Diversity title for three consecutive years. She spent a day on our campus and spoke about the issues that the LGBTQIA+ community face and about providing employment to them as well. Similarly, students have invited several dignitaries to our campus and the management never interferes with this. When students look at the NIRF ranking, IIMU is among the top 50 and one of the youngest institutions. I think a combination of all this is what sets IIMU apart from other IIMs.
India is facing severe water crisis and since IIMU is located in Rajasthan, which receives less rainfall when compared to other states, how have you been tackling the water crisis?
By the time we started, water issues had already become prominent. Since we were working with an architect who is world-renowned and sensitive to these issues, the whole campus has been designed in a way that it has five water bodies. Every drop of rain that falls will be harnessed and utilised in later stages. These water bodies are all interconnected and will help us become water neutral over a period of time.
You have been in the profession of teaching for two decades now. Have you observed any differences in the education system then and now?
I think the demands of students have gone up. Similarly, the institutions and companies want the students to excel in different dimensions. Earlier, if the student knew whatever we taught, it was enough, but today, because of the idea that we are in an uncertain world and new technologies are coming up, the expectations are much higher for the students. There are also many opportunities. For example, entrepreneurship was never looked at as an option. Now, many schools are looking at it as an option at an early or later stage. Also, non-conventional careers like using management skills in art or theatre practices are something truly different.
Coming up with a start-up might be easy, but it is difficult to survive in the market. How do you help students deal with this during the programme?
By definition, entrepreneurship is a risky venture and one cannot guarantee if you will succeed in it. This is the reason that we encourage dialogue between students and entrepreneurs who come here to interact. We make sure that students have done the necessary homework before they come up with a start-up.