Capability Deficit in Leadership of HEIs

Being a Vice-Chancellor or Head of an Institution of Higher Education is not a bed of roses as lot of people and aspirants for such jobs may be thinking. These positions are extremely difficult, and not a lot of bright people want that kind of job. It is an unfortunate situation that the system we have set up in higher education seems to recruit for such positions from a pool of candidates that have neither been trained nor have they been given any incentives to develop the skills necessary for academic leadership. With the rise of alternative education options, crises in financial outlays and devaluation of formal college degrees, HEIs face challenging times in the decades to come and there is more need than ever before to hire the right leaders with the right experiences and the right skill sets.

Repeatedly, media has been flagging the issue about leadership-crisis in HEIs, for public attention, which has always been known to people in academics and the government. News18 had done a story (https://www.news18.com/news/india/unfit-dozens-in-the-vice-chancellor-pro-vice-chancellor-race-515870.html ) in 2012, “Unfit dozens in the Vice Chancellor, Pro Vice Chancellor race.” The Hindu had done a story titled – ‘Public inquiry’ by JNUTA finds V-C unfit for position – on JNU V-C Jagadesh Kumar in October 2017 (https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/public-inquiry-by-jnuta-finds-v-c-unfit-for-position/article19935324.ece ). Times of India had also reported it prominently. It cannot be a mere accident that Prof. Jagadesh Kumar now heads the UGC. Times News Network, in 2019 had published a research finding that 75% of Vice Chancellors in the country were unfit for the job they held.

In academic institutions, faculty begin their careers in the role of entry-level assistant professors usually after their Ph.D. They are appointed based on their prior peer-reviewed publications and teaching skills but rarely because of their leadership and administrative skills. Few years later, the assistant professor applies for promotion presenting a docket of more than 100 pages of documentation consisting almost entirely of research publications, teaching evaluations, letters of recommendation, and grants and awards received. Particularly in top institutions, most of the weight is placed on research publications, then teaching, then service and once again, leadership and administrative experience are rarely given strong weight in promotion decisions. Without strong research publications, faculty cannot be promoted regardless of their teaching and leadership excellence. Sure, some faculty stay where they are as purely a research and teaching faculty member, but the upward career mobility is usually possible only after one has achieved a full Professor’s rank.

Faculty positions such as Professor of Psychology require people who love analysing data, investigating phenomena, and communicating results through writing or in the classroom. On the other hand, educational administrator positions like a Dean, Provost, or a Vice Chancellor require people who love problem solving, making difficult decisions, managing teams and projects, and evaluating and taking risks. Yet, it is very rare for a college or university to hire a principal or a Vice chancellor who has not been a lifelong academic.

Academics sometimes have a bit of an unfortunate reputation of being big picture thinkers, with their heads in the clouds (or ivory tower) and disconnected from the realities of everyday life. They start a research project, and then get excited by another new idea several days later, only to end up after several months with a dozen great ideas yet none close to being completed.

Faculty do not learn how to make decisions as an Assistant Professor, where their main concern is to complete the research project and get it published in some top journal that only a handful of other academics in their field will read. Research publications take months if not years to go through the peer review and editing process. Decisions in higher education leadership, especially in the face of crises such as a pandemic, need to be made within days if not hours. The work context is completely different as well, even though both the jobs are in academia.

One reason why leadership in HEIs has been losing its credibility is that so many academic leaders are not good at making long-run decisions for the health of their institutions. The most obvious example is where they fail protect the integrity of the curriculum in the face of faculty desires to teach whatever the faculty finds interesting. Higher education is quickly losing its value proposition, becoming out-of-date, inefficient, and losing credibility in the workplace, due to mindless tactical tinkering with the curriculum and the processes. We may have been so focused on hiring high-quality researchers and teachers, that we forgot they need to also be high-quality leaders and administrators.

So what is the solution?

First and foremost, early career faculty, regardless of their core field of study, must receive training on leadership, team development, risk management and related skills required for higher education administration.

Second, there is a need to change the tenure and promotion criteria for faculty to pursue such trainings. Unless one wants to remain a research or teaching professor for rest of one’s career, tenure and promotion should be granted only that faculty, who can also lead and administer.

Third and finally, academia should consider outside leaders and businessmen who have the necessary skill sets to lead large complex organizations. There are a whole community of people who got their PhD but decided against traditional research and teaching careers. They may be qualified and exceptional in academic leadership positions.

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The Fall of the Faculty Driven B-Schools

Over the past forty years in many different institutions (Indian and foreign), I have personally observed how the heads of institutions have used their positions to advance their individual interests, essentially turning the institution into a political arena and a personal fiefdom. The rise of such administrative corps and the fall of the faculty has resulted in:

  1. steadily increasing fees to keep the administrative bloat going,
  2. loss of faculty autonomy as casual labour (ad hoc and guest faculty) becomes increasingly prevalent, concepts of academic freedom, tenure and shared governance pass into relics of the past; and
  3. Educational institutions classified as non-profit enterprises using non-taxable income to facilitate the creation of material wealth rather than funding teaching and research.

In the contemporary scenario, the governing boards have distorted the core goals of traditional business and values of management education. The self-promotion and fluff associated with ‘governors’ or ‘board-members’ not to mention their dutiful and mindless staff, who actually carry out their tasks by applying rhetoric of excellence and diversity while protecting administrative interests (not to mention waste, embezzlement, insider trading and fraud, typifying the corporate world), mock the core academic mission.

Increasing administrative expansion in the once-faculty-driven institutional governance has nothing to do with amplified regulation or changing legislation. Personal glorification and professional advancement, rather than commitment to the institution, faculty and students, appears to be the focus of the heads of institutions. A continuous process of jockeying and self-promotion has become the norm, with many directors and heads of institutions using their current positions to advance to a higher ranked school. Heads of Institutions go through the motions, mouth platitudes about how great the institution is, and grease the right palms.

The heads of most institutions are not particularly qualified to hold their positions. Of course, this indictment does not apply to all heads of institutions, but one does not have to be at an institution long before learning that the mention of the names of certain administrators brings with it a certain amount of faculty eye rolling and groans. Why do we expect people who excel at being an academic to turn around later in their careers and lead the ‘business’ side of the institution? It seems like quite the bait-and-switch: faculty are hired for their skills in research and/or teaching, only to be expected later to shift gears entirely and employ a completely different set of skills — ones that they may not actually possess — in leading the institution.

Typically, heads of institutions identify the faculty members they wish to entrust with administrative leadership positions. These faculty members are “uncontroversial” and are seen as “team players”. Being a “team player” and “uncontroversial” in this context means not criticizing, shaming or opposing the head of the institution. This entails shutting down one’s superior instincts and common sense and never (heaven forbid) acting on principle.

Because of this tendency to select those who will not rock the boat, the heads of institutions are careful to exclude out those faculties who may expose their incompetence and real agenda. So there is no question of genuine discussion on serious issues with the administrators. Often, administrators see faculty who are constantly engaged in research on issues of shared governance as well as processes related to the functioning of the institution as very active threats to their heightened sense of authority. For example, the heads of some institutions are unaware of the contents of their institutional handbooks (the place where one finds out the detailed procedures for operating an organization), but do not care that they are unfamiliar with it because they are rule by executive fiat. In this strange world, the only rule that matters is who serves the head of the institution at a particular moment, enabling a creative interpretation of what the handbook actually says; or outright rejects that the booklet is incorrect or out of date.

Faculty members, who directly confront heads of institutions about how messy a particular administrative decision is, will face dire consequences. Even when such oppositions are well meaning and in the best interest of the institution, the head of the institution reacts defensively, insisting that they know best or are privy to confidential information that are beyond the comprehension skills of the faculty.

Heads of institutions are smart enough to know that they should avoid forums where probing arguments, debate and presentation of convincing evidence will be required. When all ducking fails, heads of institutions have used the allegation of “harassment” against faculty and students, who raise troubling questions about problematic administrative practices such as embezzlement, fraud and theft. At the end of the day, however, heads of institutions have many weapons they can deploy to avoid being held accountable for their words and actions.

It is not hard to figure out what this means for the advancement of innovative leadership. For example, in the context of searches for positions of heads of institutions, search committees choose the most boring and conventional candidates, making a point to stay away from those who appear a bit edgy or controversial. Search committees quickly identify preferred candidates based on traditional credentials and experience. Search committees know next to nothing about the world of higher education and are easily deceived by candidates who use the essential jargon of corporate buzzwords—”best practices,” “accountability,” “evaluation,” and “benchmarking.”

The move to rely increasingly on casual labour gives heads of institutions another way to control faculty. Since non-tenure-track faculty can be dismissed at a moment’s notice, heads of institutions do not have to worry about resistance from faculty when it comes to changing curriculum, eliminating meritorious research, or stopping successful programmes. Pretending to mentor faculty, heads of institutions will do what they believe is best. Financial necessities provide a simple way for heads of institutions to undermine the due process to dismantle academic programmes. When all else fails, the head of the institution may insist that an emergency has forced him to forego consulting with anyone in the faculty because time is of the essence.

The cunning heads of institutions understand that they can form alliances with minority activist groups on campus, by posturing as fans of multi-functional agenda being advanced by cliques of these concerns and perspectives in return for support of these activists for their own agenda. As part of this trade-off, heads of institutions look on the other hand to evaluate the low enrolment of some elective courses in certain functional domains, preferring to keep these courses afloat rather than appearing insensitive to the multifunctional agenda, which would result in withdrawal of political support from these politically active advocates on campus.

There is a reign of administrative terror which most of the faculties passively accept as unbreakable. The grip of this terror is ensured by the upper administration, especially the Board of Governors/Trustees who prefer to leave the institutional business to the heads of institutions. The Board of Governors works diligently to prevent faculty from communicating with them, clearly keeping a pleasant vision of the campus at the top of the minds of external stakeholders. Of course, some boards already have some faculty representation (perhaps a slot), but the jury is still out on how effective this representation is in combating administrative power.

Heads of institutions control the institution’s PR organs and, in turn, control public perceptions about their role in the institution. This administrative control over public perceptions of the institution’s functioning facilitates the covering up of administrative misconduct, except in the most serious cases when serious fraud is uncovered on the part of the institution’s head or financial officer. Why rely on the Office of Media Relations to tell where the organization is headed, when employees in that office have zero incentive to tell the truth about the administrative shirking, sabotage and theft affecting the long-term health of the institution?

There can come a particular watershed moment when some of the faculty members realise that it is becoming too unhealthy for them to constantly be managing their response to their head of institution. Such miserable set of people may be left with no choice but to leave the institution or to unionise and litigate to survive. The irony of such development lies in the fact that an institution, which boasts of its proficiency in teaching and researching organisational and human resource management fails in practising what it teaches. 

Those who aspire to become heads of institutions must abstain from any political controversy in their scholarship and public statements. They will have to excise even any evidence of past strong commitments to unpalatable causes and charged statements about relevant issues. They may even go so far as to discard these past allegiances as youthful errors. Then, they have to stay away from any critical assessment of the educational institution. In other words, they will stop criticizing the institution, as well as their place within it. In order to promote themselves as appropriate administrative material, they would portray their faculty colleagues as pampered, lazy and irresponsible, while praising the heads of their institutions as visionary and committed leaders. Of course, they will start talking the latest about “benchmarking,” “best practices,” and “accountability” while expressing their strong desire to attend an endless stream of meetings and retreats. They will dislike tenure, academic freedom and shared governance as irrelevances that stand in the way of smooth managerial control. Lastly, they will express interest in offering life skills courses on event planning and meditation, while imposing shadow courses on the faculty and disciplining those opposing them with appropriate civility training. One can predict with confidence that their rise to the status of heads of institutions is quite likely.

Those few, who are willing to take the battle to the enemy, must commit to do battle with administrators as administrators. This is however, the most difficult choice. One will need to be prepared to face, no wages, measly standards of living, years of darkness, success doubtful; but honour and recognition if successful.

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If Managers desire to be respected, they must first make their work virtuous

Every discipline or profession has its own self-glorifying vocabulary. It is how its proponents justify themselves, sell themselves, and think of themselves and what they do.

Professors arrogantly celebrate what they do in the noble semantics of truth and knowledge even when they spend most of their time and energy battling one another for position in superbly trivial but venomous campus politics and plagiarising to publish to escape perishing. But who would question their commitment to the truth, to illuminating young minds, and to protecting the values of civilization?

Politicians spread out in the concept of public service even while they pursue personal power and abuse the fears and prejudices of their voters. But who would question their virtue of devoting oneself to public service and public welfare?

Eminent ethical doctors feel terribly upset that the doctors, long known as saviours, play a key role in promoting kickbacks and bribes that oil every part of the healthcare machinery. Who would question the value of human life and well-being and Doctors as the angel-guardians who heal and save lives, an undeniably noble cause?

In the case of business, however, the language of self-description is hardly noble or self-glorifying. The simple phrase ‘the bottom line’ and the vulgar verb ‘making money’ summarize a one-dimensional image of business that is disgracefully uncomplimentary and, in the public perception, extremely negative.

We can readily understand why we should applaud people who devote themselves to public service, or search for truth and knowledge or cure illness and save lives. It is not so easy to understand why we should cheer for those who, as they themselves seem to claim, are out only for material gain for themselves. In many ways, business is an exemplary human activity, involving as it does mutual attention to needs, desires and demands, creative and productive activity, face-to-face negotiation, acknowledgment of certain rules of fair play, and the importance of trust and keeping one’s word. When we talk about business as something less than fully human, or as degrading, then these virtues and concerns are lost from view and may even seem irrelevant. There is more than enough cynicism in the world about the callous attitudes in business. We reveal ourselves in the metaphors we choose. The business world is heavily influenced by images and metaphors that shape the strategies, structures and processes of organizations.

Robert C. Solomon (A Better Way to Think About Business: How Personal Integrity Leads to Corporate Success, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) lists some common metaphors used by business that he considers inappropriate to think about business.

Again and again we hear business described as a jungle, a fight for survival, a dog-eat-dog world, a game defined by its so-called winners and losers. “It’s a jungle out there” is one of the most pervasive metaphors that brings into business the classical Darwinian view of the survival of the fittest where the rule is kill or be killed. But this metaphor is grounded on fundamentally wrong scientific premises. Evolutionary systems theory shows that cooperation is an essential strategy in nature, and the jungle metaphor completely ignores this fact. Of course, some of the animal metaphors are charming: A nice boss is a “teddy bear” and a tough negotiator is a “tiger,” but most of them are demeaning. Employees, executives, and competitors are described as snakes in the grass, rats and a wide variety of other rodents, and insects and arachnids. Corporations in turn are described as fish tanks, shark-infested waters, and snake pits, as well as the botanical image of the jungle.

Closely related to the jungle metaphor is the conception of business as war and the marketplace as the battlefield. War, a familiar metaphor in so many corporate boardrooms (“the war room”), conjures up more bloody imagery than Darwinian Theory. The war metaphor feeds on our collective insecurity. Few of us as individuals would initiate a violent conflict.

Self-proclaimed realists will tell you that the world is a rough place, that life is unfair, and that only the ruthless survive. But what they call “real” is only the projection of their own bad faith. Why are hostile takeovers considered good business, whereas taking care of employees is considered soft-hearted and un-business-like? Military metaphors are intrinsically nationalistic, alarmist, pessimistic, conservative, and authoritarian. This has grim implications for the mental health of a productive organization. Paranoia is not usually conducive to creativity or competitiveness.

Just as every discipline has its own self-glorifying vocabulary, it also has its heroes, its role models, those who are admired from afar, looked up to and emulated. University professors sing the praises of Socrates, Newton, Einstein, Vishwamitra, Tagore, Ramanujam and Raman. But in popular culture and films, managers are stereotyped as masculine, selfish, mercenary, conscienceless, greedy, fixers, or out an out idiots. In business, we have a cascade of best-selling books lauding the management secrets of Attila the Hun (a major tribal military ruler in 5th-century Europe, best known for his savage fighting) and Machiavelli (connotes political deceit, deviousness, sneaky, cunning, and lacking a moral code). They are full of enthusiasm for “Sun-Tzu” (the art of war), but they neglect his compatriots Confucius and Kautilya, who know the real “secret” of Asian prosperity: virtue, integrity, and a real sense of community. Now, what does all this say of a civilized modern executive that he should take such characters as a guide to business strategy? And what does it say about business, that it honours such “heroes”?

Less violent but as dehumanizing as the jungle and war metaphors is the idea of business as a money-making machine. The machine metaphor transforms everything human into something cold and mechanical. Emotions, affections, and relationships disappear, to be replaced by mere causes and effects. Corporations are no longer to be identified with the people and personalities that make them up but with the system in which people are replaceable parts and in which personality serves as a lubricant or as grist and inefficiency. The business world as a whole ceases to become a matter of human aspiration and is reduced to market mechanisms. The notion of “reengineering,” for example, captures in a word what is wrong with so much of our current thinking about business. Employees and managers are, after all, “human resources,” to be replenished as needed. Do we expect the carburettor to be loyal to the engine? And what does the engine owe to the carburettor in return?

The sad truth is that the image of materialistic selfishness easily eclipses the many virtues of business and people in business, their dedication to their work and their companies, their surprising selflessness in facing the job to be done, their pride in their products and services, and their relationships with colleagues and customers. People do not just serve purposes; they first of all have purposes and personalities of their own. It is the “art of the deal” that gets celebrated, not the production and distribution of quality (even lifesaving) goods and services. It is the windfall profit, the “killing” in the market, the outfoxing of the competition, the cost-cutting and axe-to-the-max downsizing that make reputations and headlines, not the routine addition of jobs, the satisfaction of jobs well done, the camaraderie within the corporation, the unpaid (but not unrewarded) compensations of integrity.

Competition is extremely valuable and often necessary in business, but it is not as such the purpose or goal of business life. There is healthy competition, and there is sick, debilitating, depraved competition. There is constructive, positive, even inspiring competition, and there is mutually destructive, negative, inhibiting competition. War and jungle metaphors give us the latter, along with all zero-sum games whose point is to punch out your opponent, debilitate the competition, and win at his or her expense. Business competition, by contrast, offers us the best example of the former, in which competition serves as a spur to one’s own excellence and productivity. It provides incentives to improve, creating new heroes, ideals, and possibilities.

How we do business, and what business does to us, has everything to do with how we think about business, talk about business, conceive of business, practice business. If we think, talk, conceive, and practice business as a ruthless, cutthroat, dog-eat-dog activity, then that, of course, is what it will become. And so, too, it is what we will become, no matter how often, in our off hours and personal lives, we insist otherwise.

If, on the other hand, business is conceived, as it has often been conceived, as an enterprise based on trust and mutual benefits, an enterprise for civilized, virtuous people, then that, in turn, will be equally self-fulfilling. It will also be much more amiable, secure, enjoyable, and, last but not least, profitable.

Unless we transcend the dominator paradigm (to control, govern, or rule by superior authority or power), which seems to permeate the thinking and actions of people in Western civilizations, it will be difficult to come up with alternative metaphors and new visions like ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् the world is one family)’ to guide the evolution of the business world and the emergence of evolutionary corporations. Let us be reminded of Trimurti or Trideva (त्रिमूर्ति trimūrti, “three forms” or “trinity”), the triple deity of supreme divinity in Hinduism, in which the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified as a triad of deities, typically Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. Let us not forget that the Supreme-Manager is Bhagwan Vishnu and let us draw out the symbolic and inner meaning of each of His incarnations (https://www.amrita.edu/news/inner-significance-dashavatars).

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First Published 28 Jul 21

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B-Schools Gone Adrift

Harvard Business School defines its mission as “(t)o educate leaders who make a difference in the world.” Tuck School of Business states its mission as, “Tuck develops wise, decisive leaders who better the world through business.” Stanford Graduate School of Business aims to “(c)reate ideas that deepen and advance our understanding of management and with those ideas to develop innovative, principled, and insightful leaders who change the world,” and MIT’s Sloan School of Management says “(t)o develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice.”  INSEAD, the business school for the world, has the mission: “We bring together people, cultures and ideas to develop responsible leaders who transform business and society”

IIMA aims “(t)o continue to be recognized as a premier global management school operating at the frontiers of management education and practice while creating a progressive and sustainable impact on society.” IIMB has an elaborate mission statement, “Nurture innovative global business leaders, entrepreneurs, policy-makers and social change agents through holistic and transformative education – Provide thought leadership that is contextually embedded and socially relevant and makes positive impact – Pursue excellence in education and thought leadership simultaneously without making any trade-offs.” IIM Kolkata states its mission as, “(t)o develop innovative and ethical future leaders capable of managing change and transformation in a globally competitive environment and to advance the theory and practice of management.”

It is clearly discernible from the above that the top-ranked Business Schools of the world are now about ‘leaders’ and ‘leadership’ where ‘management’ is sometimes mentioned in the passing and ‘business’ is practically absent. Some scholars argue that although management and leadership overlap, the two activities are not synonymous. Furthermore, the degree of overlap is a point of disagreement. In fact, some individual see them as extreme opposites, and they believe that good leader cannot be a good manager and the opposite is true.

It is also clear that business schools have substituted leadership paradigm for the managerial one in stating their mission or purpose. The consequential question that emerges is whether the leadership paradigm constitutes an adequate foundation for a professional business school. One of the central features of a bona fide profession is possession of a coherent body of expert knowledge erected on a well-developed theoretical foundation.

Despite tens of thousands of studies and writings on leadership since the days of the Ohio State Leadership Studies, several scholarly reviews of the literature on leadership have found little progress in the field. Most studies failed to even define the terms ‘leader’ and ‘leadership.’ There are almost as many definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept. Competing theories abound. We find great men theories, trait theories, environmental theories, person-situation theories, interaction-expectation theories, humanistic theories, exchange theories, behavioural theories and perceptual and cognitive theories. The dynamics of leadership have remained very much a puzzle. We still know little about what makes a good leader. Research that aims to decipher intrapsychic thought processes and resulting actions involves the study of “psycho-political drama” that relates managerial personality both to role behaviour and to the administrative setting.

In business schools in India, leadership is possibly being taught, using an ad hoc, convenience based amalgam of any of three distinctly different approaches, each of which possesses a certain validity but no one of which in whole or in part, make up for an element of a genuinely professional education. The first approach focuses on content and the transmission of explicit knowledge derived from academic theories in the fields of psychology, sociology, and economics. A second approach focuses on the development of interpersonal skills and their application to small-group situations. In this approach, leadership is conceptualized as tacit knowledge that must be mastered through hands-on practice rather than as a matter of explicit knowledge or content. A third approach associates leadership with personal growth and self-discovery and focuses on giving students opportunities for personal development. This approach gives students a great deal of freedom to explore personal values and use a variety of exercises and self-assessments, such as the MBTI, in an attempt to help students integrate discoveries about themselves into their career choices and professional lives.

Thoughts of leaders and leadership bring a wide array of images to mind, often conveying emotional reactions. Some leaders elicit thoughts of strength, power, and care; others recall the forces of terror, malevolence, and destructiveness. Our pervasive judgments of a leader’s degree of goodness or evil are reflected in epithets such as Ashoka the Great, Alexander the Great or Akbar the Great yet not everyone agrees that they were all great. For some, they were ‘the terrible.’

Our most secret desire, the one that inspires all our deeds and designs, is “to be praised.” Yet we never confess this because to announce such a pitiful and humiliating weakness arising from a sense of loneliness and insecurity, a feeling that afflicts both the fortunate and the unfortunate with equal intensity, seems dishonourable. We are not sure of who we are or what do we do. Full as we may be of our own worth, we are distressed by anxiety and long to receive approval from no matter where or no matter whom. Evidence shows that because narcissistic personalities are often driven by intense needs for power and prestige to assume positions of authority and leadership, individuals with such characteristics are found rather frequently in top leadership positions.

All people show signs of narcissistic behaviour, albeit of differing magnitudes. Among individuals who possess only limited narcissistic tendencies, there are those who are very talented and capable of making great contributions to society. Those who incline toward the extremes, however, give narcissism its negative reputation. Excesses of rigidity, narrowness, resistance, and discomfort in dealing with the external environment is very evident in those cases. The managerial implications of narcissism can be both dramatic and crucial.

Leaders may thus be seen to occupy different positions on a spectrum ranging from healthy narcissism to pathology. These are not distinct categories. These are factors that distinguish between health and dysfunction of the leader. To understand the different types of narcissistic orientations beginning with the most unreasonable and proceeding toward the more functional, it is easier to look at three sets (black, grey and white), which could be referred to as reactive, self-deceptive and constructive (adaptive). In practice, however, a distinction may be more difficult to make. The influence of each of these configuration on interpersonal relations and decision making in a managerial context are different. Does an MBA degree programme add to or mellow down the degree of narcissism amongst the graduates? 

Not having answers to the dilemmas that are described above does not prevent me from raising some questions, though I am not sure, to whom these be addressed to – leaders or managers, of business or business schools:

  • Is it time to stop referring to MBA schools as Business Schools and rechristen them as LEADERSHIP SCHOOLS?
  • Since the focus has shifted to Leadership, is it leadership in any specific walk of life, some limited facets of life or in every walk of life? Are politics, diplomacy, government, security included?
  • Is crisis leadership (response in emergency and unforeseen situations like Mumbai terrorist attacks or shut-downs due to COVID-19) included or is immaterial being no different?
  • Since the words ‘business’ and ‘administration’ are now out from the mission statements of these schools, should an MBA degree be rechristened as an ML (Leadership) in its most expansive form or MBL (Business Leadership) in its most narrow orientation or something in between?

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First published 11 Aug 21

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Peer-Reviewed and Impact-Factor Dilemma in Research

Peer review (as the publishers claim) is designed to assess the validity, quality and often the originality of articles for publication. Its ultimate purpose is to maintain the integrity of science by filtering out invalid or poor quality articles.

From a publisher’s perspective, peer review functions as a filter for content, directing better quality articles to better quality journals and so creating journal brands.

Different journals use different types of peer review. At least four main types of peer review processes are in vogue:

Single-Blind: the reviewers know the names of the authors, but the authors do not know who reviewed their manuscript unless the reviewer chooses to sign their report.

Double-Blind: the reviewers do not know the names of the authors, and the authors do not know who reviewed their manuscript.

Open Peer: authors know who the reviewers are, and the reviewers know who the authors are. If the manuscript is accepted, the named reviewer reports are published alongside the article and the authors’ response to the reviewer.

Transparent Peer: the reviewers know the names of the authors, but the authors do not know who reviewed their manuscript unless the reviewer chooses to sign their report. If the manuscript is accepted, the anonymous reviewer reports are published alongside the article and the authors’ response to the reviewer.

The peer review system is not without criticism. Studies show that even after peer review, some articles still contain inaccuracies and demonstrate that most rejected papers will go on to be published somewhere else.

Despite criticisms, peer review is still the only widely accepted method for research validation and has continued with relatively minor changes for some 350 years.

The impact factor (IF) is a measure of the frequency with which the average article in a journal has been cited in a particular year. It is used to measure the importance or rank of a journal by calculating the times its articles are cited.

The calculation of Impact Factor is based on a two-year period and involves dividing the number of times articles were cited by the number of articles that are citable. To illustrate – Calculation of 2010 IF of a journal:

  • A = the number of times articles published in 2008 and 2009 were cited by indexed journals during 2010.
  • B = the total number of “citable items” published in 2008 and 2009.
  • A/B = 2010 impact factor 

If one publishes an article in a Journal with Impact Factor 2.0, then it must live up to the average citation performance of articles in that journal and it must therefore be cited at least twice in each of the succeeding years, or else, the article will contribute towards lowering of the IF of the journal.

The belief that peer-reviewed publications should be the metric for research success seems to be rooted in the following assertions that are accepted as truths:

  • A peer-reviewed publication conveys more research authority because its findings have been vetted and then accepted by other members of the discipline.
  • The peer-review process is anonymous, more competitive and (supposedly) more objective in its selection process
  • Peer-reviewed publications are more prestigious and convey the expertise of the researcher.

These assertions are oversimplifications that erase the real nuance of peer-review publication. The peer-review process leaves the fate of someone’s research findings subject to the whims of two or three people who, like all of us, are influenced by variables including their own natural preferences for certain kinds of work. It is just a generalization to claim that peer-reviewed publications are always more selective or rigorous. (Admittedly, however, a peer-reviewed publication will almost always take longer to appear in print, which, for some people, adds to the genre’s perceived rigour.)

Peer-reviewed publications are simply not the only place where intellectual conversations are happening and where a researcher might want to share their ideas.

Over emphasis on Peer-Reviewed and high IF journals for publishing has resulted into more of replication and conformist research. Within my limited experience, I have found that most of the people who are creative types produce work that would not make sense in many of the “top” academic journals. They would therefore follow the path of Influencing without High IF Publishing through Usable, Useful and Timely Preprints and overcome the limitations inherent in High IF Publishing without Influencing.

A great research paper is not enough and it requires development, mobilisation, and exposure. A preprint is a version of a scientific manuscript posted on a public server prior to any formal peer review. Once it is posted, the preprint becomes a permanent part of the scientific record and is citable with its own unique DOI. By sharing ones research early, one can accelerate the speed at which science moves forward.

One Rewarding Story:

I am gratified with the fact that instead of waiting to publish my research in esoteric journals with high impact factors, which would have taken their own sweet time to convey their rejection or seeking revision or acceptance and publication, on MODELLING SPREAD OF CORONA VIRUS USING ADAPTED BASS MODEL (ResearchGate DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.30944.43522), I chose to publish it as a non-peer-reviewed, preprint under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC allowing others to remix, adapt, and build upon my work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge me and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

The benefit of giving free access to my Applied Managerial Research to others is that the same has been pursued, acknowledged, utilised and improved upon quickly and proactively. Here are the citations that I am now aware of (in the chronological order of their appearance and not conforming to citation styles):

  • Zeny L Maureal, Jovelin Lapates, Madelaine S Dumandan, Vanda Kay B. Bicar and Derren Gaylo (of Bukidnon State University, Philippines) (August 2020) “Adapted Bass Diffusion Model for the Spread of COVID-19 in the Philippines: Implications to Interventions and Flattening the Curve” International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change.  www.ijicc.net Volume 14, Issue 3, 2020
  • Ted G Lewis (of Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, United States) and Waleed I. Al (of Bahrain Defence Ministry, Manama, Bahrain) (March 2021) “Predicting the Size and Duration of the COVID-19 Pandemic” Frontiers in Applied Mathematics and Statistics.   Vol.6. DOI: 10.3389/fams.2020.611854
  • Ted G Lewis (of Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, United States) (July 2021) “Emergence of Contagion Networks from Random Populations” Research Gate, Pre-print.

The above story has enthused me to do more creative and out-of-box research and not care too much about getting it endorsed and accepted by 2-3 unknown peers. I would prefer to share my research with the world without any delay and leave it to a more inclusive, extensive and democratic review by fellow researchers and audiences. I have been actively involved in delivering keynote addresses at non-academic conferences and writing hard-hitting op-ed piece that shapes public policy. These have often been contrarian approaches to conformist thinking.

The views of pure-applied research which I wish to lay before you have sprung from the soil of abstraction of observations into model-building and therein lies their strength. They are radical. Henceforth management-theory by itself, and management-practice by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality of managerial wisdom.

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First Published 19 July 2021

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Business of Education

Education dates back to the very first humans ever to inhabit Earth. Why? To survive, every generation has found it necessary to pass on its accumulated knowledge, skills, values, and traditions to the next generation. How can they do this? Education! Each subsequent generation must be taught these things. Stretching the idea wider, even animals educate their off springs in matters of safety, food-gathering and survival in some ways.

Education is a Human Right and ‘Education in human rights’ is itself a fundamental human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that education is a fundamental human right for everyone and this right was further detailed in the Convention against Discrimination in Education. Right to education entails

(1) Primary education that is free, compulsory and universal

(2) Secondary education, including technical and vocational, that is generally available, accessible to all and progressively free and

(3) Higher education, accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity and progressively free.

The Right to Education Act 2009 describes modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children aged between 6-14 years in India under Article 21 (A) of the Constitution of India. Compulsory means no child can refuse to be educated.

This act has made education a fundamental right for every child. Delivery of Fundamental Rights would not be a business even if the government were to entrust it to any of its instrumentality, agency or authority.

Any business has customers who have the right to accept or reject the products or services offered to them by the business entity. By this definition, at least education for children aged between 6-14 years cannot be a business.

The history of formal education extends at least as far back as the first written records recovered from ancient civilizations. India had the good fortune of having institutions of Higher Education, Takshshila and Nalanda, even before the 5th century B.C. Education in India was always focussed on careers – Scriptures for Brahmins, battle-science and governance for Kshatriyas, and crafts for others. The Muslim invaders and the Christian Missionaries influenced the education system to a large extent, former using force while the latter using demonstration. Macaulay destroyed the system nearly fully though Swamy Dayanand and his contemporaries tried to preserve it.

Horace Mann, credited with creating the foundation of American modern public education system, saw that the industrializing world demanded different skills than its agricultural predecessor. He prioritizes certain aspects over others. For example, lumping students into groups rather than treating them as individuals. This made “education” much easier, even if it did nothing for the individual student who didn’t adapt well to this new system. It’s worth reminding ourselves now about the key characteristics of the industrial era, and how we can see them manifested in the education system that continues to be emulated in India to this day:

  • Schools focus on respecting authority
  • Schools focus on punctuality
  • Schools focus on measurement
  • Schools focus on basic literacy
  • Schools focus on basic arithmetic

Notice how these reinforce each other. You enter the system one way, and are crammed through an extended moulding process. The result? A “good enough” cog to jam into an industrial machine.

The higher education institutions are plagued by the erosion of academic integrity, corrosion of standards in the curriculum, the oversimplification of admission standards without understanding the importance of true preparation for higher education, and the rise of economic self-interest in both institutions and faculty, places the teaching of classes much lower on their priority.

Even the school education is equally diseased. Government schools face a social burden placed on them by poverty and hopelessness. Troubled children carry the ills of their homes and neighbourhoods into their classrooms every day. In many schools, teachers must feed the bodies and souls of their students before they can even begin to feed their minds. These schools face inflexible bureaucracies, inane regulations, and incompetent administrators and their teachers being called upon to run every chore for the government outside the school other than teaching in the school. High school drop-out rates and students whose performance on Mathematics and Science tests puts them at or near the very bottom of their cohorts elsewhere in the world.

It is this set of facts that has provided legitimacy to the private enterprise in education and has sparked business-of-education initiatives.

The business-of-education thrives on the logic: If you can compete, you will be hired for a job. If you are hired, your virtuous habits would eventually lead to your promotion. As promotions accumulate, your pay increases and eventually you reach financial comfort. Or perhaps even significant wealth!

Is this logic responsible for accelerating the acceptance of education as business?

*****

First published 02 Aug 2021

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Do We Prepare MBAs To Avoid Mistake-Repeating?

Irish statesman Edmund Burke is often misquoted as having said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Spanish philosopher George Santayana is credited with the aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” while British statesman Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Lessons from the past may not always ward off doom, but they can provide insights into the present and even the future.

In June of 2009, an interviewer asked the legendary economist Paul Samuelson what advice he would give to someone entering graduate study in economics. “This is probably a change from what I would have said when I was younger,” Samuelson replied, but “[I would urge them to] have a very healthy respect for the study of economic history, because that’s the raw material out of which any of your conjectures or testings’ will come.”

When you ask any faculty member if economic, financial, or business history is important, they would almost for certain say yes. Yet business schools in India rarely recruit a business historian as a member of their faculty. At most business schools, history provides marginal value at best, it makes an interesting elective, but is not at the core of what they provide to students. While historical questions rarely arise during placement interviews for jobs in investment banking or consulting, the ability to think in historical frameworks provides students of all stripes the capacity for analytical depth that outstrip their peers.

Teaching economic, financial, and business history enables students of business schools prevent the ultimate analytical error: fighting the last battle. Since humans intrinsically look to the past for guidance, they tend to find solutions in the past as well. Formal education in history prevents bad, ad-hoc uses of history in decision making.

While our businesses are unlikely to break the tyranny of the quarterly report any time soon, teaching history forces business school students to think in the long term. Analysts who think in the long term are less susceptible to mistaking volatility spikes for the greater trend, and thus better structure investments and firms that are successful over 20, 50, and even 100 or more years.

Business students are likely to carry a wrong notion that their forerunners were less sophisticated than them, because they have better data, more developed analytic theory, and better computational tools. So they believe that they would not have made the mistakes made by their predecessors. Once they study business history, they would realise that the people of the past were not ignorant bumpkins. We are subject to asymmetric information, negative externalities, and deficient regulatory apparatuses just like they were.

Not political or social trends but economic crises cause profound societal shifts. Political crisis of 1975-77 did not change India but the economic crisis of 1991 forced us to shift our priorities. Not undermining the science, humanities, technology or policy studies, it is largely business school graduates who will make the economic, financial, and business decisions that prepare the ground for massive societal change. As business schools train students to make these decisions, they have the duty to remind them of the implications of these decisions as well.

Business history, together as a body of literature and a community of academic researchers, has both a narrow and a broad definition. The narrower definition includes researchers who conduct primary archival research, although using a plurality of sources and methods, on the history of business enterprises, who belong to the professional business history societies now established in many countries. The broader definition comprises scholars from a variety of social science disciplines (including management studies) who study the historical development of business (sometimes doing original archival research of their own, and sometimes bringing new theoretical perspectives and conceptual frameworks to bear on existing research). These two circles interact and enrich the field, which remains open to multiple methodologies and new questions, without falling under the spell of crippling orthodoxies which constrain research agendas.

The “open architecture” of business history as a discipline means that it is unusually well‐placed to participate in vigorous two‐way exchanges with scholars in adjacent fields. On the one hand, careful empirical research by business historians can effectively challenge or qualify many of the “stylized facts” on which influential theoretical analyses in the social sciences sometimes rest. Corporate governance and financial systems are particularly striking examples, as few if any of the typological frameworks influential in the comparative literature (insiders vs. outsiders, stakeholders vs. stockholders, banks vs. capital markets, common vs. civil law) can account persuasively for the range of variation observed by historians over long time periods within and across countries. On the other hand, comparative social‐scientific analyses suggest new questions for business historians, concerning the morphology and explanation of cross‐national differences in the organization of business interest associations, the development of vocational education and training systems, and other similar issues which have not hitherto figured prominently in national historiography.

A sense of business history is important for business leaders to develop a contextual intelligence; that is, a strong sense of the business environment they are navigating. “11 future lessons we can learn from the history of business” by Jonathan Wichmann (10 September 2018) is a very insightful read from the World Economic Forum (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/09/11-things-business-history-can-teach-us-about-the-future/). 

Indian Institute of Management at Ahmadabad had initial collaboration with Harvard Business School. The institute followed Harvard tradition of the case study approach that required management students to probe into past business dealings to understand the evolution of business operations and strategies. This initiated a new course called Business History. This course was introduced in the post-graduate curriculum under the able guidance of Dr. Dwijendra Tripathi, former Kasturbhai Lalbhai Professor of Business History at IIMA. Nearly all management schools in the country boast of using cases as the pedagogical tool in imparting business education without actively acknowledging that cases are historical events and case-method of teaching involves simulating and emulating history for acquisition of wisdom.

India does not have any “core” business history journal, like the international journals like ‘Business History’, ‘Business History Review’, ‘Enterprises et Histoire’, ‘Enterprise & Society’, ‘Japan Business History Review’ and ‘Zeitschrift für Unternehmensgeschichte’. With apologies to other authors for my ignorance, I am aware of two popular books contributed by Tripathi ­– ‘The Oxford History of Contemporary Indian Business’ and ‘The Concise Oxford History of Indian Business.’ three popular books contributed by Tirthankar Roy are – ‘A Business History of India’, ‘The Economic History of India, 1857-2010’ and ‘The East India Company: The World’s Most Powerful Corporation.’

Paul Samuelson came to realize only in 2009 that history, economics, business, and finance are interconnected and inseparable, and need to be treated as such. By relegating history to the far-flung corners of a few elite business schools, we deny the intrinsic character of the subjects we study and teach, and risk condemning our students to a cycle of mistakes that can, in fact, be avoided.

*****

Articulated by borrowing liberally from https://som.yale.edu/blog/the-importance-of-teaching-history-in-business-schools and https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199263684.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199263684-e-001

*****

First published 26 July 2021

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Management Education Requires Radical Reconstruction

Having successfully impressed upon the entire business community the need for ‘vision statements’ and ‘defining their purpose and mission’, it is the business schools themselves who have failed to internalise these ideas and their own management leaves much to be desired.

If one were to use a simple input-process-output model to examine what they do, business schools are unsure about what the input (incoming students) they seek is, what the process they subject this input to is, and what is the output they churn out.

Business schools are unable to articulate, say and implement if they educate, train or facilitate learning among – future managers who would also have leadership and entrepreneurial capabilities; or future leaders who would also have managerial and entrepreneurial capabilities; or future entrepreneurs who would also have leadership and management capabilities; or something else. 

Business schools fail to comprehend that their process for teaching and learning is completely different from the processes adopted in other streams of knowledge. Most other streams of education use methods of description and recreation of phenomenon through attempting to describe the how/why of occurrences and then letting the learner recreate the occurrence in the laboratory – thereby generating one’s own data to see if one can arrive at the same descriptions of occurrences leading to acceptable and replicable generalisations about the how/why of such phenomenon. In contrast, business-schools enable learning through ‘mimicry’ of some singular phenomenon. Learners receive descriptions of some episodes with some speculation about how/why of that occurrence. A learner is unable to generate own data to arrive at similar how/why of such phenomenon. No acceptable or replicable generalisations about the how/why of similarly repeating episodes is possible.

Unsure of what output they intend to produce using methods of mimicking, business schools are even unsure of the kind of student they wish to recruit. Business schools are unable to define the prior-learning (both through formal education and through experience) with which their students would come on board for a graduate degree in Business.

Simple Description of Graduate Management Education In India

Many economic and competitive forces have directly impacted management education institutions during the last two decades or so over which, business schools had little control. Most institutions were far too risk-averse to adequately respond. There should be no doubt that the economic and competitive market in which we all operate has been permanently altered by Covid-19. 

The demands of today’s marketplace call for a new set of skills and abilities. In this sense then, business schools must align themselves with an evolving context for leadership, which should be embedded in the curricular and co-curricular experiences of business students. These new models of leadership would be defined by instability, non-repeating and unlikelihood of events.

While ‘change is a constant’ and ‘all management is change-management’ are the clichés, the realisation that in spite of nearly everything changing continuously or discontinuously, human beings are not changing, and hence human needs are not changing, has to sink-in. The needs for survival, safety, affiliation, self-realisation (esteem, cognitive, aesthetic), self-actualization (achievement, accomplishment) and self-transcendence (visionary intuition, altruism, unity consciousness) are the same as they were in the last century. How people connect as informal organisations or formal organisations changes, but why they connect is not changed.  Greed and selfishness for power and wealth has not changed, nor has altruism vanished. Right was never the might in human history and there is no change in this facet of civilisation. Might is right as it always was. What constitutes might may change. Means are constantly changing not the ends.

Business schools need to create reciprocal, mutually beneficial collaborations with all kinds of business and non-business organisations in order to prepare today’s students for an economic marketplace that, in many instances, doesn’t yet exist. This reflects an uneasy, but an essential sea-change.  Curricula and related activities have historically been the sole domain of the faculty and an extension of the academic enterprise but business schools have to recognise that the curricula and related activities required for succeeding tomorrow is neither their monopoly nor does it probably exist with them.

Business schools have to equally appreciate that access and delivery methods – blended, synchronous, asynchronous, full-time, part-time, virtual or physical are all methods of delivery of knowledge and education. Learning is independent of these methods. Learning has always been blended and facilitated or mediated by multiple actors including peers. Business schools can only design and control the delivery systems but learning is a personal and internal process for an individual learner. Yet, business schools have to bear the responsibility of learning over which they have little control besides being enablers and facilitators. The need for business schools to adapt their approaches, as well as their requisite business and revenue models, to evolving learners’ convenience is imperative.

Near commoditization of the management education industry makes it difficult for all but the most sophisticated consumer to discern the difference between many of the programs offered and the new platforms for delivery. Undifferentiated products and undifferentiated marketing is recipe for failure. The opportunity lies in designing differentiated products for different learners segmented on the basis of differences in their prior learning. Allowing customer-self-selection would provide the benefit of customer preference rather than institutional prescription.

Business schools have to define the input-process-output of their enterprise and these three are the themes for defining the management education sector.

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First Published 29 June 2021

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See Behind the Curtain of QS World University Rankings 2022

I will begin on a lighter note because what follows is serious and may be tough, harsh and unsavoury for quite a few learned people.

There is a joke about a man asking his son about his result in the school, which is narrated nearly in all parts of the country. Rendered in local dilect with local nuances and cultural flavour, the outcome is always hilarious.  This joke goes something like this –

Man (to his son Ramu) – tell me, whether you passed this time or have failed the exams once again

Ramu (replying to his father) – I have stood fourth in the class

Man – very good Ramu, but did you pass

Ramu – Gopal (Head master’s son) has stood sixth in the class, I have done better than Gopal

Man – Poor Gopal, he remained behind you, but did he pass or not

Ramu – only Dheeru and Golu passed, they stood first and second. Don’t get angry with me, I am better than 36 in my class. Only 3 are better than me.

Man (in angry and abusive tone) – Idiot, you failed again

Clearly, the result was only 5% (2 out of 40) pass rate.

Let us now look at the QS World University Rankings 2022. India has celebrated that three of our institutions – IIT Bombay (shared rank 177), IIT Delhi (rank 185) and IISc Bangalore (shared rank 186) continue to remain in the top 200 ranked Universities of the World even in 2022. The Prime Minister (https://twitter.com/narendramodi/status/1402628065474203650) and the Education Minister (https://twitter.com/DrRPNishank/status/1402559433259962371) also congratulated these institutions, and rightly so, rankings do give us a sense of achievement. We need to be careful however, if our euphoria (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-emerging-a-vishvaguru-says-ramesh-pokhriyal-after-3-indian-institutes-figure-in-top-200-qs-world-university-rankings/articleshow/83373333.cms ) is like that of a Ramu or a Golu?

QS World University Rankings 2022 feature 1,300 universities from around the world. There are 35 Indian Universities in this list of 1300. (https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2022 )

Universities were evaluated according to a weighted average of the six metrics – Academic Reputation (40%), Employer Reputation (10%), Faculty/Student Ratio (20%), Citations per faculty (20%), International Faculty Ratio (5%), and International Student Ratio (5%).

The matrices are reported as measurements on an analogue interval scale (0-100) which are then aggregated into an overall score (weighted average). The overall score is therefore on an analogue interval scale (0-100).

The overall score was then ordered from high to low and discreet ranks awarded as 1, 2, 3, and 4 and so on. Universities tied at same overall score share the same rank and the next rank is then skipped to account for double cases at same rank. In such ranking, among the top 200 ranks, three institutions from India figured.

Let us try to see beneath the veil of these ranks.

  • MIT, which ranks first has an overall score of 100 (rounded up) composed of Academic Reputation (40% of 100), Employer Reputation (10% of 100), Faculty/Student Ratio (20% of 100), Citations per faculty (20% of 100), International Faculty Ratio (5% of 100), and International Student Ratio (5% of 91.4).
  • The overall scores are thus some kind of ratings for the Universities. Interestingly, as we go down the ranking list, the overall score drops very fast – Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh United States scores less than 75% but ranks at 53; Hanyang University, Seoul South Korea scores less than 50% but ranks at 156; Maastricht University, Maastricht Netherlands scores less than 50% but ranks at 156; and University of Missouri, Columbia United States scores less than 25% but ranks at 476.
  • Overall Scores for Universities ranked at 501 or lower are nor reported (they scored 24 or less out of 100)

Let us revert to performance by the institutions from India. There are 35 institutions from India in the list of 1300 ranked institutions, of which 3 are in top-200, 5 more are in the 201-500 group, another 14 are in the next 500 ranks while the remaining 13 are in the last 300 ranks. The top-3 institutions from India are rated and ranked as under:

  • IIT Bombay (Academic Reputation -51.3, Employer Reputation -79.6, Faculty/Student Ratio- 32.5, Citations per faculty -55.5, International Faculty Ratio – 1.5, International Student Ratio – 1.6; Overall score – 46.4; rank-177),
  • IIT Delhi (Academic Reputation -45.8, Employer Reputation -70.8, Faculty/Student Ratio- 30.9, Citations per faculty -70.0, International Faculty Ratio – 1.2, International Student Ratio – 1.7; Overall score – 45.9; rank 185)

and

  • IISc Bangalore (Academic Reputation -34.2, Employer Reputation -19.2, Faculty/Student Ratio- 48.8, Citations per faculty -100.0, International Faculty Ratio – 1.2, International Student Ratio – 1.8; Overall score – 45.7; rank 186)

The next 5 ranked institutions are:

  • IIT Madras (Overall score – 38.1, rank 255),
  • IIT Kanpur (Overall score – 36.4, rank 277),
  • IIT Kharagpur (Overall score – 36.3, rank 280),
  • IIT Guwahati (Overall score – 28.3, rank 395) and
  • IIT Roorkee (Overall score – 28.0, rank 400).

Here is what the rating data displays:

  • Only the public institutions of technology and science are able to find a place in the top-500 club. These are deemed to be universities but not a university in the real sense of the term. A university is multi-disciplinary, spanning across humanities, science, commerce and social sciences rather than being confined to a very narrow focus on technology.
  • There is no real Indian University in the top-500 ranks. South Africa has 4 real universities in the top-500 club.
  • As against 8 institutions from India in the top-500 club, Europe has 212 institutions, United States has 87 institutions while Rest of Asia has 117 institutions (includes 26 from mainland China, 16 from Japan).
  • These 8 institutions do not account for even 1% of the total university enrolment in India.
  • The best of best in India scores only 46% marks as compared to the best in the world score of 100%.
  • There are large variances in the scores for Academic Reputation, Employer Reputation, Faculty/Student Ratio and Citations per faculty within the top 3 whose ranks are spread over only 9 ranks.
  • Employer reputation seems to exceed Academic Reputation for the high ranked institutions in India. IISc turns out to be an exception in reputation as well as in its Citation score.

Makeup is used as a beauty aid to help build up the self-esteem and confidence of an individual. Like NIRF Rankings (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/350354434_NIRF%27s_India_Rankings_Are_Ludicrous) QS World University Rankings 2022 are a makeup for educational institutions. This makeup conceals the ugly pockmarks on the face of Universities in India. It is unfortunate that the Education Minister has utilized this makeup to beat the harsh lights and the glare of camera flashes which would expose the rot in education system.

By calling these rankings as a testimony for India’s “leap in the field of Education & Research and is emerging as a VISHVAGURU” Education Minister is only proving his lack of understanding and literateness. Surely, he remembers well – “Parde Mein Rehne Do Parda Na Uthao, Parda Jo Uth Gaya To Bhedh Khul Jayega, Allah Meri Tauba – Allah Meri Tauba” (परदे में रहने दो पर्दा न उठाओ, पर्दा जो उठ गया तो भेद खुल जायेगा, अल्लाह मेरी तौबा – अल्लाह मेरी तौबा) keep the curtain on, don’t lift the curtain, If the curtain is lifted, then the secret will be revealed, Allah is my repentance – Allah is my repentance.

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First published 12 June 2021

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Non-Academic Staff in Higher Educational Institutions

Non-Academic staff members are professional employees who contribute very significantly to the success of Higher Educational Institutions. They bring to the Higher Educational Institutions an important repertoire of professional skills, possess a wealth of institutional knowledge, provide essential resources, and work alongside of faculty and Administration in realizing the Institution’s mission. Many have served through several administrations and numerous leadership changes at the departmental level. This long-term experience gives them invaluable expertise and lends consistency to the daily operations of the institution.

The contribution of non-academic staff highly influences the student experience at Higher Educational Institutions. While faculty supports students academically and in research, the staff makes equally important contributions toward the success of students through many critical support and operational services.

There is evidence to show that the number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at established Higher Educational Institutions in India has more than doubled in the last 25 years, vastly outpacing the growth in the number of students or faculty. The disproportionate increase in the number of staffers who neither teach nor conduct research has continued unabated in years that are more recent.

Those commenting on higher education often ask whether the proportion of administrative and support staff is higher than it should be, with the unspoken assumption that a percentage less than hundred is ideal. This is a good starting point; since without administrative and other support functions Higher Educational Institutions are always at some risk that they cannot adequately provide student services and high value research.

There is just an overwhelming amount of money per student that is being spent on administration. This raises a question of priorities.

Institutions have added these administrators and professional employees even as they have substantially shifted classroom-teaching duties from full-time faculty to less expensive part-time adjunct faculty and teaching assistants. Institutions have increased their hiring of part-time faculty to try to cut costs.

Institutions can undertake a critical examination of their costs to tell exactly how much the rise in administrators and professional employees has contributed to the increase in the cost of tuition and fees, which has also almost quadrupled in the last 20-years. This is a higher price rise than for any other sector of the economy in that period, including healthcare. The unrelenting addition of administrators and professional staff has driven this steep increase.

The continued hiring of non-academic employees belies the very idea that institutions are doing everything they can to improve efficiency and hold down costs.

While the rest of the economy has been shrinking overhead, higher education has been investing heavily in more overhead. Staffing per student is a valid way to judge efficiency improvements or declines. The ratio of non-academic employees to faculty has also doubled. There are now two non-academic employees at public and two and a half at private institutions and colleges for every one full-time, tenure-track member of the faculty. In no other industry would overhead costs be allowed to grow at this rate; executives would lose their jobs. The doubling of administrative and professional staff does not seem to have improved the performance of Higher Educational Institutions.

In any long-term plan for Higher Educational Institutions, among other goals, the institution should learn to value non-academic staff as crucial for the central missions of the institution. This requires that the non-academic staff be supported as a crucial human resource for the institution. Careful attention needs to be paid to the creation and maintenance of a healthy workplace. Career development should be fostered through advancement opportunities. Internal mobility should be actively encouraged.

Valuing non-academic staff also requires the rational, transparent distribution of staff across units, and a careful consideration of their duties. Regular review of staff roles and responsibilities should be implemented.

As the institution advances, it must take care to maintain necessary staff levels and skill requirements. An institution should however never lose sight of the primacy of its purpose, functions of teaching and research, and not let the flab of Non-Academic Staff grow. The institution cannot be unmindful of the non-academic responsibilities, which it entrusts upon the academic-staff.

The financial stress on the institutions of higher education caused by COVID-19 pandemic has led to focus on productivity and cost-cutting, which in certain cases has led to denial of tenures to faculty and non-renewal of teaching contracts. At a so-called premier b-school in Gurgaon, the annual workloads for the teaching faculty have been increased by over thirty percent without any increase in their compensation. Of course, academics are the front line staff who provide the teaching and research functions that represent the institution’s core business. Unfortunately, there seems to have been no talk of pruning the non-academic staff by any percentage.

It is astounding to hear a very senior professor from the institution saying that non-academic administrators were a cancer in their academic system. It is more alarming to notice that many others are greeting such a statement with mutters of approval. It seems probable that eventually, there would be an open or covert warfare between academics and non-academics at this institution where legacy systems have sustained the covert bossing by the non-academics over the academics.

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First published 07 April 2021

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