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What can be expected from IRMA

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What can be expected from IRMA
Prof Vivek Bhandari, Director of the Institute of Rural Management, Anand speaks about what the institute has been upto in the year gone by and what new things the incoming batch can expect in 2011.

What are some of the new things that the incoming batch can expect at IRMA?

In many ways, the success of our flagship PRM program is linked to the insights and resources made available through the research, consulting and training activities that our faculty do. During the last year and a half we have augmented our faculty resources significantly. For about a 100 students in the PRM batch, the faculty strength is 28. Given its diversity, the faculty is involved in a wide canvas of research activities.. This research covers a lot of the core curriculum of IRMA, that is rural finance, marketing, development, co-operatives and NGOs and the government.

Besides these, they also research on a lot of indirectly connected areas such as climate change, environment and international political economy.

At this point of time and since the start of the 2010-11 academic year IRMA has been engaged in a vigorous assessment of its core activities and this exercise is nearing completion. We"ve been having discussions internally as well as with the most exciting thinkers, practitioners, activists and political figures engaged in aspects of rural change during this exercise.

Even Rahul Gandhi spent some time at the institute last year. The purpose of these visits and in-house discussions has been to draw a long term future roadmap of the institute. IRMA turned 30 in 2009.

Now to plan for the next 30 years, an elaborate re-visioning and planning exercise has been underway. So most of academic year of 2010-11 was about finalizing this process. This included commitment to new centers and schools as well as to larger scale expansions along the country, the specifics of which are being worked out. The idea is to look at the future of rural india and to develop a roadmap of IRMA"s future based on it.

What were some of the important findings of this introspection exercise?

The most exciting part has been the realisation that the future will involve a new set of partnerships with players in all sectors of India"s political economy. In other words, we"ll be much more experimental in the way we look at organisational forms which can be vehicles of change for the country. For example, for a long time IRMA has been centered around the rural sector, focusing on co-operatives, NGOs and the government. But successes like that of ITC E-choupal show that working closely with the private sector can also lead to benefits to rural producers.

As a second example, IRMA has traditionally looked at the rural markets and rural-urban linkages. One of the most exciting areas of research that we look forward to developing on are 'market towns". Some of the most exciting changes are happening in small towns of India. While we look at cities like Mumbai or Delhi as big markets, the fact is that the smaller towns are changing rapidly and also serving as extremely important centers for the growth of manufacturing, industry and services. IRMA is taking the lead in researching these areas. Given how smaller towns are emulating the growth models of Mumbai or Delhi in many ways, are smaller towns likely to emerge that different a research area than metropolitan cities?

The schemes of rural development and urban development have tended to have a bias towards either extremely small or extremely large. I don"t expect India to be completely urban anytime soon. India continues to have a very large population, but the way the rural population relates to the urban population is being shaped by the changes in the smaller towns of the country.. While large cities will always be a magnet for migration, I don"t think that large cities are capable of absorbing the 60% rural population of the country.

So, a lot of this rural population is gravitating to the smaller towns. In the present context, this becomes a very important area. For any company the move to rural markets often means setting yourself up in a small town and working from there. And this is where some of the most exciting and innovative things are happening in the country. So while for IRMA rural remains the focus, how the dynamics are changing in these small towns becomes an extremely important area.

How do you see your commitment to new centers and schools shaping up? Are you in talks with any of the state governments for a campus?

The modalities of this are being worked out in our 30 years roadmap process even as we speak. We do need more IRMAs around the country and a lot of people here support that, myself included. How and when that will happen is something we are still working on. But we haven"t had any formal talks with any state yet.

How many applicants have you shortlisted from the IRMA written test for interviews this year?

We typically call between 500 and 600 people for the interviews.

What sort of weightages do you apply to various stages of the interview?

I am not sure I have the liberty to reveal that. But it is a holistic process wherein we use a formula to factor in the written score, group discussion or the personal interview.

Why is the written test cut-off for women candidates (86.004) lower by three percentile points than that for general category candidates (89.203)?

We are committed to increasing the proportion of women in our batches and get as many as possible. IRMA has always been ahead of the curve in this regard. We"ve always had 25-30% women, which is the ratio we would like to maintain and improve upon.

You already enjoy a higher ratio than the average for merit-admission b-schools. Why do you need to spike it up artificially?

I think that this ratio is still a work in progress and we'd like to do better than what we have.

How has the faculty strength grown at IRMA in the recent past?

When I joined IRMA as Director in 2007, the faculty strength was 16. It is now 28, after accounting for faculty attrition. Of these colleagues, ten have joined in the past two years as fulltime, permanent faculty. In addition to these, we work closely with a large number of visiting faculty members.

What are some of the most exciting changes in curriculum and new elective courses on offer at IRMA at this point of time?

The PRM allows students to take up electives in the last two out of the five terms. The courses offered at that time depends on what the faculty thinks is cutting edge. So a lot of those electives are works in progress, in the sense that they are an immediate response to a dominant theme at that time based on the faculty researching it. So areas like social entrepreneurship, innovation, international mobility have always been a subject of excitement. Electives in the IRMA context are all very experimental. IRMA doesn"t have specialisations in the end further than rural management. But in the last two terms students can choose from a wide range of courses.

Some of these courses include environmental ecology, microfinance and changes in rural finance. Recently, the microfinance sector has been going through a difficult phase. So one of the key commentators on this subject Prof MS Sriram who recently quit his job at IIM Ahmedabad as the ICICI chair professor of microfinance will be spending time on the IRMA campus. What I mean by experimental is that often, the way we engage with professors and thinkers such as these is by facilitating them to offer electives, workshops or other different formats.

How much do you charge in fees and are you planing to increase it this year?

No. We remain at Rs 4 lakhs and it includes all academic expenses, room and boarding.

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