Indian universities have traditionally been set up with the primary objective of teaching says Director of IIM Bangalore

A “Good” policy often implements itself. Issues arise when policies are not framed well. IIMB Director; Prof G. Raghuram in his exclusive interaction with Nitish Raj of The Policy Times talks about the various policy concerns along with the present state of Indian universities.

Prof. G. Raghuram
Prof. G. Raghuram

Prof. G. Raghuram is currently the Director of Indian Institute of Management; Bangalore. He holds a Doctorate from Northwestern University, USA; a Postgraduate Diploma in Management from IIM Ahmedabad and a B.Tech from IIT Madras.

He specializes in infrastructure and transport systems, and logistics and supply chain management. He conducts research on the railway, port, shipping, aviation and road sectors. He has published over 35 refereed papers in journals and written over 155 case studies. He has published six co-authored books. He was awarded the ‘MC Puri Memorial Award’ for contribution to Operational Research in India, 2016; ‘Academician of the Year’ by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in 2012, and ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ for contribution to logistics and infrastructure by EXIM News in 2014.

He is a Fellow of the Operational Research Society of India, and Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport.

He has teaching experience at universities in India, USA, Canada, Yugoslavia, Singapore, Tanzania and UAE. Prof. Raghuram was a faculty at IIM Ahmedabad (IIMA) since 1985. He was Dean (Faculty), IIMA from September 2013 to December 2015. He was the Vice-Chancellor of the Indian Maritime University from July 2012 to March 2013. He was the Indian Railways Chair Professor from January 2008 to August 2010. Prior to taking over as Director of IIM Bangalore, he was Professor and Chairperson of the Public Systems Group at IIMA.

He is a member of the Global Future Council on Mobility of the World Economic Forum, Executive Council of the National Aviation University, and of the Board of Directors of six companies in the fields of infrastructure, logistics and education. Overall, he has been on the Board of 12 companies. He has offered consultancy services to over 100 organizations including multilateral agencies. He has served on various government policy making and advisory committees for the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution, Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Ministry of Shipping, Cabinet Secretariat, Comptroller and Auditor General, the Planning Commission and various State Governments.

Q. How did the idea of setting up a Centre for Public Policy in IIMB come in mind which is otherwise positioned as a premier management institution?

Answer. Compared to IIMA and IIMC, when IIMB started, the Founder Director wanted to create managerial talent for the public sector. Since Independence and well into the ’70s and ’80s, the public sector was important. Even at that time, the private sector was hungry for talent and they valued what this talent could offer. So, in many ways, the objective was not being served as people moved to better paying and more satisfying jobs in the private sector. In PSUs, there is a hierarchy, then other principles of excellence come in. Later, one of our Directors said that the original focus on public sector was not working and we should change focus to be more of a general management institute.

That does not mean that our emphasis in impacting public sector, public management or public policy is any less. We have the Centre for Public Policy (CPP), which has transformed from the sector-specific departments we had, to faculty who look at public policy in a basic, conceptual sense and apply that to different domains. We have started a one-year programme in public policy for those who have already made a choice of moving into this area. Government domains do not require an MBA at the entry-level.

However, a lot of our sponsored research is from government bodies. Our star faculty are advising NITI Aayog, the Health Ministry, DeITY, the Department of Agriculture, and so on. The nature and extent of engagement has changed compared to what was envisaged.

A vibrant academic ambience for scholarly engagement has helped the Centre evolve into a leading policy think tank engaged in cutting-edge research, teaching, training and capacity building.

Q. Can you share some major works accomplished by the Centre in the recent past?

Answer. Recent activities & achievements include:

  • The XII International Conference on Public Policy and Management was hosted by the Centre for Public Policy at IIMB, from August 7 to 9, 2017, on the theme ‘Inclusion and Exclusion: Policy and Practice’. The three-day annual international event brought together scholars, practitioners, experts, researchers, people from voluntary organizations and policy makers of different disciplines to discuss diverse policy-related issues. The conference had 200 paper submissions, which after a review process was brought down t0 65 for presentations. These explored different ways by which policy processes impact social outcomes using both theoretical and empirical lenses spanning research and practitioner pieces that cover academia, industry, and the government. The conference had a broad mix of academic sessions, topical policy debates, workshops, panel discussions and practitioner-oriented discussions around key topics in public policy and management globally and ongoing contemporary policy research in India. These included tracks on Political Economy, Right to Education, Health, and specially organized sessions around Argumentative Policy Analysis, Conflict, Security and Policy, Role of Agricultural Information Delivery is Sustainably Increasing Farm Incomes in India, Role of Technology in Enabling Educational Inclusion, Pre-urban Areas: Dynamics of Change, Ecosystems and Governance, and more.
  • A training programme, ‘The India Experience’, for the students of Faculty of Oriental Studies of the Vietnam National University was led by the Centre of Public Policy from January 12 to 22, 2017.
  • A ‘Conclave on Affordable Healthcare’ was held on February 18, 2017 by the Centre of Public Policy and the Centre for Corporate Governance & Citizenship at IIMB. The main speakers included Dr. H. Sudarshan Ballal, CEO, Manipal Health Enterprises, Dr. K Sujatha Rao, Former Union Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Govt. of India (who also launched her book ‘Do we Care?’), Dr, Vijendra Prakash, GM, The Himalaya Drug Company, Dr. Govinda Rao, Emeritus Professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy Advisor to Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Dr. Somil Nagpal, Senior Health Specialist, World Bank, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Naga Prakasam, Mentor at NSRCEL, IIMB, Investor, Acumen Fund and Member, Indian Angel Network; Paul Belknap, Head, Healthcare Initiative, Villgro; Karuna Jain, Associate Director, Strategic Initiatives, Sameer Sawarkar, CEO, Neurosynaptic Communications Pvt. Ltd, Anil Misquith, Executive Director, Strategic Initiatives, Samhita Social Ventures & Senior Advisor – Villgro, Benedict Paramanand, Editor, SustainabilityNext.

The topics discussed included: roadblocks to affordable healthcare and its execution in India, India’s future policy direction on affordable healthcare, affordability through smart health financing and health systems, and impact funding in affordable healthcare.

  • In December 2016, along with IIMB’s Supply Chain Management Centre, the Centre for Public Policy organized a workshop on ‘Building Sustainable Agri-Food Supply Chains in India’. The participants included IIMB faculty Professor R Srinivasan and Prof. Gopal Naik, Krishna  Byre Gowda, Minister for Agriculture, Govt. of Karnataka, Prof. Ramesh Chand, NITI Aayog, and Prof. G Raghuram from IIM Ahmedabad.

Major International Research Collaborations include:

  • Health Impacts of Social Policy
  • McGill University, University of Bristol, University of Peru, UCLA, HSRC (South Africa)
  • Cycling to School
  • University of Oslo
  • Bangalore Urban Metabolism Project
  • Stockholm Environment Institute
  • Progress to Prosperity
  • Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University

The Centre for Public Policy faculty have been active on the research front, publishing their work in reputed international journals, contributing chapters in books, and presenting papers at prestigious academic conferences. (List can be provided on request)

Key Activities of the CPP Faculty include:

  • Cost Benefit Analysis of Industrial Townships: Prof G. Ramesh undertook this study for the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion of the Government of India. He was considering a proposal from Japan and other countries to establish mega industrial townships. However, the proposals involved demand for significant concessions and tax waivers. He did the cost benefit of the proposal which included making recommendations for fiscal and infrastructure policy framework for such townships.
  • Sports Policy for Karnataka: Prof G. Ramesh developed a policy paper on Sports Policy in Karnataka, set-up under Rahul Dravid and Prakash Padukone, by the Knowledge Commission of Karnataka.
  • Financial Strategies for Smart Cities: Prof G Ramesh is in the process of developing a policy framework to enable Smart Cities to be financially sustainable, for the Ministry of Urban Development, GoI.
  • Bangalore Urban Metabolism Project: Dr Deepak Malghan is developing a deliberative modelling framework to treat cities as living entities that use energy and resources to generate useful products and waste.
  • 50-Year Impacts of SOS Children’s Villages: Dr Shabana Mitra and Dr Arnab Mukherji are involved in a project to quantify the long-term impacts of foster care in the unique setting provided by SOS Children’s Villages.
  • Impact of Social Health Insurance Schemes: Health insurances smooths consumption. Dr Arnab Mukherji is working to quantify the welfare gains for BPL households in accessing tax financed health insurance in Karnataka.
  • Feasibility of Merging Cooperatives: Prof M S Sriram chaired the expert committee on merging district cooperative banks into the Kerala Co-operative Bank at the invitation of the Chief Minister, Government of Kerala.                                                                                                                                                                                                               Q. Do you think policy making process in India is transparent? What would be your suggestion to improve?

Answer. The answer to this is yes and no. Let’s take the example of the constitutional amendment that enabled the GST. It went through repeated debates and discussions over a decade which, in many ways, brought in transparency to the process. However, there are many issues of a lower level detail which affect various stakeholders, which may not have gone through the required level of discussion. This could be viewed as lacking in transparency. Part of the issue is in how the policies are framed. Proper framing can bring in the right kind of debate and hence lead to more transparency. This is where academicians and think tanks have a role  to play.

While we talk of Public Policy, we need to focus on common issues across sectors. We also have to acknowledge that it is a multi-stakeholder output. IIMB as an academic institute is focused on the cause of contributing to Public Policy through publications, long-duration programmes, international immersion programmes, etc. However, with a bigger pool of content and ability to debate issues, we can maximize our impact. So we need to be present in many more committees and engage even more in related projects and consulting assignments.

Q. India doesn’t have dearth of talent but very few Indian Think Tanks rank in the league of word’s best Think Tanks. Where are we lacking to create more such high quality Think Tanks?

Answer. The first issue would be one of providing funds to such think tanks. Either government and/or philanthropists have to create such think tanks with good endowments, while not trying to manage the institutions. This would give intellectual freedom, which would be a critical element in the growth and excellence of such think tanks. It would also attract more research scholars to academic institutions in the domain of public policy, since such think tanks can provide career opportunities.

Q. Is ensuring implementation of policy is part of policy-making? While we do form good policies, we majorly fail in implementation. Does your Centre give any special focus on Implementation?

Answer. A very simple way to look at this is that a “good” policy often implements itself. Issues arise when policies are not framed well.

Of course, there are also situations when there are good policies, but either due to efforts required for implementation or political exigencies, they do not go into the implementation stage. That should not deter the need for policy making. The GST would again be a good example where one could have wondered whether at all it would get implemented, over the many years when the policy framing was being debated.

A centre in an academic institution like ours can, at best, consider implementation as an important criteria while doing policy studies. We are not set up to either implement or facilitate implementation of policies.

Q. Why are Indian universities failing to rank amongst world’s top universities? Is it a lack of resources or have we been not able to provide quality faculties to our students?

Answer. Indian universities have traditionally been set up with the primary objective of teaching. Research and knowledge creation have not been given the attention they deserve. This shows up in our ability to provide quality faculty to our students. While this is a cultural issue, it results in lack of resources. Contributing to academic research is not a high priority both for government and industry.

All this results in Indian universities failing to rank amongst the world’s top universities. A few institutions like IISc, IITs and IIMs who are making the cultural shift towards emphasizing research do have the potential to move into the top ranks.

Q. Today Institutions should prepare students to be entrepreneurs more than teaching them to get good jobs. Is there shift in approach and thought process recently?

Answer. I think so. More and more institutions are having incubation centres and course work targeted at entrepreneurship.

As an example, at IIMB we are very committed to entrepreneurship. We have our entrepreneurship and innovation hub – NS Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (NSRCEL). Besides, we have a required mandatory course on Entrepreneurship in our Post Graduate Programme in the first year. We have announced a PhD programme in Entrepreneurship – a first in the country.

We believe that entrepreneurship is important in terms of economic growth in the country. It is not only about reinforcing existing organizations. You have to create new organizations, enter new domains, and have new ways of doing things.

IIMBx (IIMB’s MOOC programme) launched two Micro Masters Programmes on edX, one of which is on Entrepreneurship.

IIMB’s NSRCEL and Goldman Sachs have joined hands to launch the ‘Women Start-up Programme’, the first blended-learning customized programme involving a MOOC and classroom training, as well as business incubation, to support the next generation of women entrepreneurs. The programme, which was offered at no cost, encourages and supports women to start their own businesses through a customized, three-phase model which incorporates online and classroom training as well as business incubation. The coursework is designed to teach both entrepreneurial and managerial skills, provide mentoring and networking opportunities, and access to capital to help empower women navigate their early ventures as well as equip them with tools to strategize and grow their businesses. A total of 15 women with great business ideas are now being incubated at NSRCEL for 12 months.

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation has supported NSRCEL to set up a start-up incubator, with the objective of nurturing early stage non-profit organizations. This non-profit incubator will select and nurture at least five early-stage organizations over the next two years, helping them become world-class non-profits that deliver disproportionate impact and become magnets for talent and funding. This initiative aspires to create a proven template for non-profit incubation in India, developing a playbook for nurturing and scaling early-stage organizations. Such an approach can be replicated at other academic institutions and incubation hubs across the country.

IIMB also allows its graduates to opt out of campus placements to pursue entrepreneurial ventures, whereby they can participate in campus placements again within 2 years.

Having said this, as I already mentioned, you should understand that the entrepreneurial itch takes a while to mature. When students go to a normal organization they see systems and processes, how things work, then they realize, yes, they can do it, they can set up all this, they understand what is required to get all that done, so that gives them     confidence, and they think, ‘hey, I have this idea, I want to try it out’. So within 10 years of having worked at organizations, you may see 25% of our students moving into entrepreneurship. Or, a group may get together and say, ‘let’s start something together’.

Q. Even after 71 years of independence is it really necessary to provide reservations which directly hamper the quality of such premium institutions?

Answer. The real question is whether the desired equality of opportunity to those under-represented segments in society has been provided. While we have improved on this dimension over 71 years, I am not sure that as a society we have reached where we need to be.

The second part of your question is a premise that I am not in agreement with. While at an entry level to a programme it is possible that the “most qualified” as per specified criteria may not be admitted, the raw talent and efforts that result in significant improvement of such candidates may actually add to the quality of such institutions.

Q. The IIMs have a trend of intake of engineering background students on a majority basis. Is it a necessary precondition or entrance process suits them most?

Answer. Such a trend is not a consequence of a necessary precondition. It is more because better students have tended to go to engineering and hence perform better in the entrance process.

However, it is a point of reflection for us as to how to bring in diversity of academic background. There is a continual discussion on this and attempts to bring in diversity including on other dimensions.

Q. What would be your advice to the young aspiring students who want to make a career in management?

Answer. As managers of the future, you must have skills and expertise with specific reference to the Indian context. As compared to many other countries in the world, India is far more culturally, socially, environmentally and economically diverse, crying for solutions as we seek to improve the quality of life of the 125-crore plus population. Towards this, the most important expertise that a manager must have is an understanding of the reality of the large grassroots-level population in India.

Accountability and responsibility are no longer limited to customers, shareholders and employees, but also the society and the environment.