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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

IIM Sambalpur – When Political Lobbying Mates Charlatanism

It is a sad case with IIM Sambalpur. Being from the same state, it even becomes sadder for me. Apparently the premier national institute in Sambalpur has no students, no faculties, no campus and in all probability, no future too. That certainly isn’t an auspicious start to what many call as the outcome of hopeless political lobbying taking over sensibility and skillful judgment. I always referred IIM Sambalpur (IIM-S) as the example of worst kind of political appeasement. It is no more an institute for me; not at least to the magnitude that the brand IIM has established itself over the years. Why I call this lack of judgmental abilities? Well, the initial choice for the IIM was Bhubaneswar and it is a no brainer why it was so. Even the HRD ministry was interested to have it in the state capital, not 300 hundred kilometres away and at a place that best described as, middle of nowhere. But a lot of political lobbying saw the sane decision being turned on its head and the state government proposed the name of Sambalpur instead. The big questions still remains is why. A year has gone and matters have gone only worse, let alone answering the ‘why’ convincingly. If things continue to go on as is, we may not have to bother about this ‘why’ for a long time because there would be no IIM left in the state. Really a sad state of affairs which most of us feel is only going to get worse from here.

Purists may argue, the scene in all the six IIMs opened after 2014-15 budget session aren’t any different from each other. I agree to some extent but not entirely. There are even cases of firing by neighbours at IIM Amritsar hostel, which is housed in a rented housing society. It is alleged that the students were playing loud music at some obnoxious volume at even more obnoxious hours. That said IIM-Sambalpur appears worst of the lot in comparison and I will tell you why. First of all, the rest five places are far better placed in terms of their ‘city’ stature than what Sambalpur stands for. Being stayed in that place for close to four years I can safely vouch, calling it a city even at times sounds like an exaggeration. Though all six IIMs operate from rented premises it is only IIM-Sambalpur that is operating from a private institute building. Rest five are using government college/university facilities. What was stopping IIM-Sambalpur from using UCE Burla or Sambalpur University campus? Among the six, the number of intake of students for the first year is least with IIM-Sambalpur. It stands at a dismal seven number of students who agreed to join. I am not sure if I should laugh or cry here. There was no internet connectivity for the first quarter in IIM-Sambalpur which wasn’t even the case with IIM-Shilong. To even make matter worse, the designated 231 acres land for IIM-Sambalpur, though in government land, is far from being allotted. In fact, the plan is still in its proposal stage though the institute is well into its second year of operation. If insiders are to be believed, and I have some first-hand information on it, nothing concrete on the plan is coming out in next year and half while other five IIMs are well into their construction phase. So IIM-Sambalpur can very well have to wait till 2018 or may be later for the first brick to be laid out at the designated campus.

Every passing day the idea of having an IIM at Sambalpur looks more bogus than earlier. Even the eloquent Business Standard authenticates the same. You can read it here. Honestly, you may not even require Business Standard to authenticate it since an average common sense would tell you how bad the idea of IIM-Sambalpur was to begin with and probably still is. The history of IIMs would tell a lot on how geographical locations play a vital role in their existence. The two initial IIMS were established at Ahmadabad and Calcutta. Now one wonders – why bigger places like Delhi and Bombay were never considered at that time. There has to be a reason. Accessibility in terms of distance from every corner of the country could be a reason but that is not all. The core idea of having IIMs is to engage students in building future managers to address the managerial demands of a growing nation. And a business school can’t prosper staying away from a business hub. This is true for all reputed business schools across the globe. During the time IIMs were setup, Ahmadabad and Calcutta used to be the two prominent business hubs of India. A little search would show you that more than 93% of the companies back then were having their headquarters at either of these two places. The rules for a flourishing business school haven’t changed much since then. Staying far from the business is a massive disadvantage of any business school. When asked about the dismal performance of IIM-Sambalpur, the director of IIM-Indore, the mentor institute to IIM-Sambalpur, precisely harped on this very point. According to him, IIM-Sambalpur somehow has cocooned itself from real business. Academics is just part of the curriculum. Lack of business interaction with experts from various fields of industry, manufacturing and hospitality is hampering it further. Students while enrolling in to any IIM precisely look at these options, not just academic and Sambalpur is lagging big time here, he added. This pretty much explains why only seven students agreed to join IIM-Sambalpur on its inception year.

Not just the HRD ministry, even the members of the governing board that monitors the functioning of all IIMs had their opposition when Odisha government proposed Sambalpur’s name. They have their reservations with what the state government had proposed and it doesn’t require extraordinary talent to realize that they weren’t entirely wrong with their apprehensions. According to one prominent board member, they even wrote to the state government and listed out the pre-requisites of a place to house such a prestigious institution. As per the ministry of HRD and what they wrote to Odisha state government:
The HRD ministry as well as the state government has to keep in mind two prime issues—new IIMs must come up in a place where there is a “decent level of urban infrastructure like airport and/or a major rail head, and good quality hospitality arrangements. Two, it must be established near industrial clusters as it will go a long way in improving industry-academia collaboration, placement and attraction for faculties to join the institutions”   
And I am sure Sambalpur, being stayed there, meets none of these two criteria. No, not even to the remote possibility. And today it is showing in every aspect of day-to-day functioning of this institute. The initial plan of having faculties from IIM-Indore is not materializing because none of them seems to be interested. Teaching staffs of IIM-Indore are simply refusing to relocate to Sambalpur. This has been authenticated by the public relation officer of IIM-Indore, Mr. Parvez Akhtar. In a letter to the HRD ministry and the IIM review committee, IIM-Indore has shown its helplessness in managing/providing teaching staffs at IIM-Sambalpur because none is ready to go to a place which may be lacking in basics. By the way, these are not my words but those of Mr. Akhtar while participating at the year-end review meet presided by the HRD minister himself/herself.

Lack of faculties is just part of the problem. The selection cut-off for IIM-Sambalpur was also reduced from the standard that all other IIMs follow. While it still stood at 93 percentile for general students in every other IIM, for IIM-Sambalpur it was reduced to 90 percentile. Even the IIMs that opened alongside IIM-Sambalpur never saw this change in their case. This is reduction of the intake quality right there. It is a matter of concern for everyone because it never has happened in the history of IIMs. IIM-Sambalpur screwed itself so bad that the famed institute has to modulate its terms so that they can keep this new irritant of a branch functioning. Even after cutoff, IIM-Sambalpur didn’t find any takers beyond seven. This is such a shameful eventuality for a reputed brand. The whole idea of quality that was attached with IIM is diluted for no reason. Can a premier and reputed institute afford such degradation in standard just because a place on the map is neither attracting students nor those who would be teaching them? Least we talk how far it would attract the potential recruiters is better. I even feel sorry for those studying in IIM-Sambalpur. Their lives are anything but easy and certainly not prospective. A student from the institute even is sceptical if he would get a better pay check than what he was getting from his job before joining IIM-Sambalpur. IIMs are brands, but government opening new ones in any part of the country is not going to help. Business schools coming up away from business hubs are definitely at a disadvantage and it is showing here at IIM-Sambalpur. Surprising even, the present HRD setup seems to have learned nothing from their massive misadventure with IIM-Kashipur. That particular IIM is almost at the verge of shutting down. The pain that was incurred while hiring the teaching staff for Kashipur should have warned them while even thinking about Sambalpur.

As I told to one of my friends today morning – there is no politics in ruining the reputation of a great institute. It is plain and crisp idiocy. When you struggle to even fill one tenth of your truncated capacity, as an institute, you no more remain envious and sought after but become pedestrian. I said truncated because the ministry of HRD had to decrease the initial intake from 140 to 60 for IIM-Sambalpur. Irony here, the institute in itself is at no fault. And to those who were lobbying to have the IIM in the western part of Odisha because it would develop the region; this could be the second most absurd thing that I heard after the claim that Shahrukh Khan loves to drive Hyundai i10. I haven’t at least seen a single example where an institute has developed the city/village. But yes, I have seen a place ruining the reputation of an institute. Indian School Of Mines was one and now I get to see IIM-Sambalpur. Hope and wish to be proved grossly wrong in the long run here but then, will IIM-Sambalpur survive till that long run is over, more so when the benchmark of IIM is already set? I doubt.

 By the way, I am told, there were few jokers who wanted it to be in Berhampur instead. In hindsight, that wouldn’t have been such a bad idea. At least it wouldn’t have been as precarious as what IIM at Sambalpur has landed itself into.

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