A universe of engineers: The lack of diversity is killing the IIM education

IIM-B decision to expand its academic diversity by reaching out to more non-engineering students will strengthen IIMs to break homogeneity of its campuses.

G Pramod Kumar November 22, 2014 08:18:13 IST
A universe of engineers: The lack of diversity is killing the IIM education

The decision of the Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore (IIM-B) to expand its academic diversity by reaching out to more non-engineering students will strengthen the ongoing efforts of the IIMs in India to break the homogeneity of its campuses. For the time being, it’s mostly boys and engineering graduates who fill up these premier management institutions.

The Indian Express on Friday reported that IIM-B has taken steps to broaden the mix of its student community by reaching out to non-engineering students. Non-engineering students are not applying because of a preconceived notion that the selection processes are biased towards engineering students, the paper quoted Prof Devanath Tirupati, Academic Dean, IIM-B. The institution will reach out to students of various colleges and make them aware of the different programmes. The institute recently made a pitch to the students at Delhi university and St. Stephens College.

A universe of engineers The lack of diversity is killing the IIM education

Representational image.

It’s such a strange phenomenon that 85 to 95 per cent of the students at the IIMs are engineers. The highest percentage of engineers is at IIM Ahmedabad - 95, followed by IIMB, where 91.9 per cent of the students are engineers, as reported by the Economic Times. In comparison, at Harvard and Wharton, it’s only 36 per cent.

The reasons are mainly the skewed educational aspirations and opportunities for students in India. The most meritorious students tend to study engineering, particularly at the IITs and other top technology institutions, which form a large pre-screened pool that is good with reasoning and quantitative skills. These students have a very clear edge over others in the Common Admission Test (CAT). When more and more engineering students fill the classrooms, others naturally get discouraged and often do not even try. The IIM-B’s efforts are to reach out to those who opt out.

The problem with the brutal majority of engineering students in the classrooms is that it distorts the character and style of learning because it denies the institutions the much needed academic diversity. In a Business Standard report Ashish Nanda (formerly of Harvard), director of the IIMA, said: “In a discussion-based learning environment, such as at IIM-A, there is a powerful reason for encouraging diversity of students. If we maintain an inclusive learning environment in the institute, students with diverse perspectives and backgrounds provide different viewpoints on situations, contributing to all the participants' learning.” This is what will be missing in a non-diverse student mix.

The second aspect that makes the IIM classrooms non-diverse is the huge gender-inequality. Even after concerted efforts to increase the intake of girls, the IIM-A has been able to increase their numbers only from 11-22 per cent to 28 per cent in the last three years. The institution had modified criteria in the Common Admission Test (CAT) and the Written Analysis and Personal Interview (WA-PI). In 2011, the new IIMs had decided to give grace-marks to girls besides tweaking the selection procedure to favour diversity, including gender balance. “We give additional points to the female candidates at the state of preliminary shortlisting. There were 25 per cent females in the 2014-16 batch and 24 cent in the 2013-15.”

The best exception is IIM-Kozhikkode, where a systematic strategy to admit more girls has been in place since 2010. In 2013, out of the 361 students, 196 were girls. The institution also has been successful in attracting non-engineering talent. “This year, we have not only led in ensuring gender diversity but also admitted national talent from the field of sports, music, martial arts, and social sector. Our goal is to churn out not just a competent manager but a well-rounded and compassionate human being,” said Debashis Chatterjee, IIM-K Director in this Hindu report.

With non-engineering students still less than 10 per cent and women not more than 20-25 percent, the IIM classrooms are worrying examples of non-diversity because the students from these institutions go on to take up top management and governance jobs. With an educational background that’s anchored in a non-diverse culture, their socio-cultural attitudes and interpersonal skills are likely to be skewed.

The sparse presence of girls are not restricted to the IIMs alone. Even in the top engineering institutions such as the IITs, the percentage of girls is not more than 10 per cent. Only 33 percent of the students who appear for the Joint Entrance Exam for IIT admissions are girls. Obviously, they are giving up even without a try. In comparison, they score well in the board examinations. It’s time that the JEE looked at this inequality and took affirmative steps to attract more girls and help them gain admission.

The sheer dominance of engineers also explains the fewer number of girls in IIMs. When the percentage of gils in IITs and top engineering colleges such as BITS Pilani is so low, it continues to reflect in the composition of the IIMs because majority of the students there are from these institutions.

If IIM-K can bring out visible changes by getting more girls to study in their campus in three years, it’s not impossible for others too. The girls had been kept out for far too long. It’s now time to modify the selection procedures.

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