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An interview with director of IMT-Gaziabad

Dr Bibek Banerjee, who took over as the Director of the Institute of Management Technology
(IMT), Ghaziabad three months ago, plans to steer the institute towards being a research
focused b-school. He explains IMT's experiences of introducing technology in the admissions process and the conflict between the PGDM and Dual-Campus Programme students.
Dr Bibek Banerjee was a Professor of Marketing and Economics at IIM Ahmedabad before he
took over the Directorship of IMT Ghaziabad. He is credited with being one of the architects of the collaboration between IIM Ahmedabad and Duke Corporate Education, the executive education arm of USA's Duke University.

Q.What do you plan to achieve as the Director of IMT Ghaziabad and how much of it have you already accomplished?

My biggest key result area is to bring about a culture change within IMT Ghaziabad. This will involve moving from a talent recruiting and polishing school into a center for recruiting, creating, polishing and influencing talent where we put as much importance on relevant and grounded research as we do on teaching. We will bring that intelectual capital into the classroom to create people who are not just corporate target-chasers but truly creative citizens.
In short, I am trying to get towards focusing on research as much as on teaching.

Q.What incentives does the faculty at IMT get to do research and how do you plan to change it?

Some incentives were already there and we are adding to it. But it is more about the culture change that I was talking about. Over a period of time, the faculty here has found that teaching was the lowest hanging fruit. I want to beef up the research funding and give the faculty the freedom to do whatever they want as long as they show research output. Even as we speak, about 10-15 percent of our faculty is traveling abroad attending conferences or collaborating on research, which they should in due time publish not only in journals of academic repute, but also in industry specific journals. I want to double
this emphasis.

Q.Do you plan to link faculty pay or promotions to research?

IMT will measure its research productivity carefully. It is not enough for people to simply attend a conference. That conference has to materialise into a paper. We will measure the influence of this paper and then reward on such tangible outputs. I am bringing in a faculty appraisal and development committee which will have members from external institutes as well. I am thankful to some of my former colleagues at IIM Ahmedabad to have already joined this committee. We are creating processes which reduce the ad-hoc nature of decicions. Things used to be pretty automatic here in terms of quality and promotions, but all that is gradually getting tougher. In the 3 months of my taking over we already have 3-4 international faculty who are on board as long-term visiting faculty. They bring on board their capabilities and skills and would hopefully also be agents to this culture change.

Q.How has this year's PGP admissions experience been? Are you observing a correlation between the changing format of the CAT and the quality of candidates it is yielding to you?

The answer to your second question is yes. I'm seeing the change in CAT output developing since half a decade now, being on the receiving end of it. I was involved in the admissions process at IIM Ahmedabad and was also teaching the students that were selected by the test. The feeling that the CAT is a less than perfect instrument to screen out good talent is not a new observation, but it has always been there. I personally think that CAT going online might have exacerbated this feeling. When you apply a quantitative measure to 2 lakh candidates which supposedly encapsulates your intelligence and then draw a cutoff line, that line is susceptible to what we call in statistics as type 1 and type 2 errors. Around the margin, some people who don't deserve it make it and some who deserve it miss it. As you know in statistics, the major bulk is going to be around the mean which will have a large number of people who just missed it or just made it, as opposed to the 100 percentilers who will make it anyway. As a result, there is a large number of people coming through the CAT whose intellectual ability can only be described as being in shades of grey. CAT as a quantitative metric does get some bad apples..

Our experiment with using virtual interviews (VIs) technology was to address this only. In the Vmock system, candidates had to answer one randomly generated mandatory question and two questions of his choice over recorded video, which would be peer-evaluated by our faculty, alumni and even existing students. By using this system, we improved access for our faculty and allowed candidates to put their best foot forward by allowing them to choose the questions they wanted to answer.

We know that it went into technical snags which incidentally we were completely ready for. We conceived of the idea just a month before the launch, so we knew that we were being very bold and rash and there were going to be mistakes. In the end, we had over 5,000 candidates covered, who had uploaded three video-recorded answers each. So we had over 15,000 answers captured which were evaluated by panels of three people comprising professors, alumni and existing students on a 12-point scale.

In the end, because of the snags we also had to personally interview them, making the VI a
pre-screening process. We are observing strong correlation between performance the VI and the personal interviews, strengthening our belief that we should spend the intervening year fixing the mistakes in the system so that at this time next year, we can run it in a smoother fashion.

Q.If the number of reviewers of a video are three, how is it an improvement over a conventional interview, which also uses three panelists?

It is an improvement because the candidates have an option to put their best foot forward by choosing two of the three questions they would like to answer. The major improvement is in terms of an access. And of course, this year we sent it to three panelists, next year we could sent it to six.

By the way, the VI was never supposed to be an improvement over the personal interview. Sitting face to face is the ultimate way to get to know a person. VI just gives very low cost access to people. As I said, the major improvement is that we can use it along with the CAT scores to cut down on the type 1 versus type 2 errors yielded by the CAT.

We have an education system where during the period that students are away for summer internships, our professors are having to travel the length and breadth of the country and live in hotels to interview candidates. To me, this is a waste of human capital. Professors are supposed to do research and generate knowledge. If technology can help them spend even 50% less time traveling, they can use it for research and attending conferences.

Q. How's the IMT Dubai-Ghaziabad dual-campus programme coming along?

First and foremost, the program is going fantastically good. Their summer internships went well and they all have secured jobs in prestigious companies. I visited Dubai sometime back where I met all the students and I could see that they all appreciated what IMT was doing for them.Which brings me to the incident that happened on campus last year, I've heard about the story as much as you have as I joined later. What happened in the campus was an unfortunate. It was just local fief politics taking advantage of young and impressionable minds for their own betterment.

Q.As you grow in size, your student community which has joined IMT because of its reputation as an exclusive school may feel betrayed. How to you plan to address these conflicts that are bound to happen?

Let me categorically say that the exclusivity of the school is in the quality of values it delivers to the rest of the world, which in my mandate are going to be solid, professional and positive values. Exclusivity is to be separated from elitism. It is not the birthright of a select set of people to be good. This is precisely the satrapy politics I was talking about. Competition doesn't mean that you win by keeping other people out. Competition is when you win despite other people. These young students have to eventually learn to compete.

I have had a very heart-to-heart dialogue with people who perpetrated the incident at an open house event with the PGDM students. I told them that they can't compete by shutting doors to competition.. We at IMT also have a national duty to perform and we can't perform it well by saying that instead of 40 I'm going to take only 20 (figurative example).

Q.Will the Dual-Campus Programme students participate in the same placement process as that of IMT Ghaziabad's fulltime PGDM?

We are working on that. I cannot share too much information about it right now. But I can say that the placements will be a resounding success for everybody. The mechanics of that do not need to be micromanaged.

The concern among the PGDM students seems to be that a parallel programme composed using a lower CAT cutoff is getting access to the same recruiter network at the same time…I think these are young minds who are susceptible to such beliefs and are being counseled in a negative manner by vested interests. People have this notion of cutoffs, but there are lots of b-schools around the globe who don't use CAT cutoffs. That doesn't mean they don't have quality. The cutoffs cannot be used by somebody who is making it convenient to serve their own purpose. I think it is an issue of students understanding that the fruits of their hard work will never be stalled whether there is an IIM, a Harvard or an IMT in the way. You can't be a Sachin Tendulkar by scoring 100 in your school match. You have to score it in every match every day. Only two years of it will be spent in a b-school. There may be a feeling you described, but it is upto us who are interested in the betterment of the nation to counsel these wonderfully talented future of the world that they should be focused on adding real value to the world and meeting high cutoff is only a flag-post on the way, which is not going to give them a yellow brick road to a miracle.

If you determine your future on the basis of meeting a cutoff, then there is an economic danger that you will only work towards that cutoff and the moment you meet it, you will not work for the rest of your life. This is called the moral hazard problem in economics. We have created a system that actually rewards slackness and inconsistent performance.

Q.What kind of weightages are you attaching to the application while giving out final PGDM admission calls?

We are following a system that is similar to that in the IIMs. I cannot share the exact weights with you, but broadly speaking we are creating an applicant rating for every candidate based on their CAT score, the interview and past performance. We are primarily looking at consistency of performance in your past and giving marks to work experience.
You could be a 99 percentiler in CAT but if you have consistently showed bad performance in your history, which encompasses at least your class 12 and undergraduate marks, you may get knocked out of the process.

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