First look at IIM Kashipur

(Photo credit: Abhishek Kamble)

Arriving in Kashipur late evening last week, I asked the three-wheeler drivers outside the railway station if they would take me to the one and only good hotel in town. None of them acknowledged having even heard of the name.

I then casually mentioned that it was barely a kilometer before IIM, not expecting that input to be of much aid either, as it had barely been three months since the institute had opened in this quaint town in the foothills of Nainital in the northern state of Uttarakhand.

To my surprise, the rickshaw drivers faces came alive with recognition. After a 15 minutes drive on bumpy rain-weathered roads, I was dropped off where I wanted.

When I visited the institute the next day, the explanation behind the rickshaw-wallahs familiarity laid itself bare. The two halves of IIM Kashipurs temporary campus — the hostel half and the academic block half — lie 600 meters apart on the busy Bazpur Road. The school administration has prohibited students from bringing their own vehicles to campus, which makes them heavily reliant on the three-wheelers passing by for the commute from hostel to class and back. Having transported the students to-and-fro one time or the other since June 2011, the IIM name has become familiar on the roads of Kashipur through the rickshaw drivers.

This way or that, its exactly what the status of the Indian Institute of Management is in Kashipur these days — that of a celebrity, the towns latest eminent citizen.

Among the six new IIMs launched since 2010, IIM Kashipur is the result of Indias less progressive states demanding educational infrastructure required to be at an equal footing with the more developed states, viewing it as an opportunity to infuse the local economy with the benefits of professorial research and consultancy, and the central government acquiescing.

The choice of the location for such an institute, is often more political than it is practical. The state of Uttarakhand primarily comprises two rival regions — Garhwal and Kumaon — each with their own heritage, culture, language and economy. Governance not only has to be balanced between the two regions, it also has to be seen as equal. Since an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) had already been given to Roorkee in the Garhwal region, the IIM therefore had to be allocated to Kumaon, and not to the highly urban Garhwal towns of Dehradun or Haridwar as traditional wisdom would have demanded.

Which could actually be a good thing, because Kumaon is the industrially more progressive region of the two and could make relatively better use of an IIM. Once Kumaon was fixed, the next obstacle was to find a vast tract of land to build the campus on, and it was then that 200 acres were allocated in Kashipur. Until a Director is hired, IIM Kashipur would be mentored by IIM Lucknow.

If you visited Kashipur as of today, the poor state of infrastructure, lack of medical facilities and power shortage wouldnt convince you of its viability as town of economic importance. Although the town does have a handful of large industries — namely Videocon, HCL and Indian Glycols Limited — it is the towns planned future that seems to be the underlying premise of having an IIM in it. More than a dozen large industrial houses are said to be setting up new units in Kashipur with the help of government benefits and incentives in the coming years.

Until then, much of the effort at getting the town ready to host an institute of national importance lies on the IIMs shoulders. As of now, Kashipur looks like a village on steroids but not quite managing to be a town.

When we started off, we had absolutely nothing except a couple of old buildings that were to act as the temporary campus. We renovated them and built a separate annexe building for the classrooms in a record time of one month before the first batch joined in June, says Col Dhiraj Upadhyaya, Administrative Advisor to IIM Kashipur.

The smell of molasses is the first thing you encounter after entering the IIM Kashipur temporary campus. There are sugar factories nearby and the campus buildings previously housed a sugarcane research facility. The renovation has obliterated all traces of its previous incumbent and both the hostel and academic buildings are now as functional as those in the other newly opened IIMs.

For Col Upadhyaya, dealing with the local administration forms a large portion of the job. Being a native of the area and himself a student of IIM Lucknows General Management Program helps him liaison between the institute and local bodies.

Proper housing and medical facilities are the prime concerns of faculty. Besides that, there are other concerns such as connectivity, electricity, roads, water and safety. We have been working with the local administration to see how all that can be built up quickly, he explains.

Faculty housing is being looked for in nearby apartment complexes belonging to industrial complexes. The IIM is lobbying with the district administration to improve the condition of the roads connecting Kashipur to Delhi and Lucknow, which are in a dismal state. Of immediate concern is the railway connectivity from Lucknow, which would be the lifeline of IIM Lucknow faculty members visiting Kashipur to take lectures. The train connecting Lucknow and Kashipur is made entirely of second-class coaches.

I bumped into Prof Himanshu Rai (the CAT 2010 Convenor) at IIM Kashipur, who was spending two days at the campus to teach the organizational behavior course. Faculty recruitment is underway for the institute but until then, professors travel from IIM Lucknow or its Noida campus to Kashipur.

Because of the connectivity issue between Lucknow and Kashipur, we tend to finish a course off using long classes in one or two sittings instead of stretching it over a semester. The faculty would find the journey a lot easier if the Lucknow-Kashipur train had even one air-conditioned coach, he said. Getting the railways to add an AC coach to the train is one of the things Col Upadhyaya is working to fix. The faculty traveling from IIM Lucknows NOIDA campus to Kashipur has it much better. Trains on that route have AC coaches and the distance is shorter.

Constraints lead to innovation. Ensuring safety of the students and efficiency of academic functioning requires a sound method of communication. In order to solve that, the administration worked out a special closed user group deal with one of the local private mobile service operators.

The mobile numbers of all the students are in the same series with the last two digits being their institute roll numbers. The Directors number is the first in the series.

This makes communicating with a particular student very intuitive. We have not only convinced the mobile operator to give us competitive calling rates, but we have also blocked hundred of numbers further in the series in anticipation of the needs of future batches, explained Col Upadhyaya.

The debutant batch

38 of all, the first batch of IIM Kashipur comprises about 87% engineers. A little less than half (47.3%) the class has work experience of more than one year. In the General category, the average CAT 2010 percentile is 99.2, the highest being 99.68 and lowest 98.96. The most experienced guy in the batch spent four years with Dell.

Although the intake of the batch was 60, the cutoffs were really high and the institute had decided to start off with whatever strength it had in the beginning of June, 2011, explains Akshay Tandon, who hails from Patna and worked with Infosys for one and a half years before joining IIM Kashipur’s first PGP batch.

Kaif Siddiqui, who has two years of experience in the banking and infrastructure sectors, left a seat at the Management Development Institute (MDI), Gurgaon for IIM Kashipur. For me, it was all about having the IIM brand attached to my name, he said.

The IIM brand also lured others in the batch to abandon seats at b-schools such as NITIE Mumbai, VGSoM IIT Kharagpur and IMT Ghaziabad. Four students gave up seats at IIM Udaipur.

Not everybody visited the campus to see what was on offer before accepting the admit. One of the admits traveled here to take pictures of the facilities and post them to rest of the prospectives on email, explained Pulkit Taluja, an NSIT Delhi engineer with an year of experience with TCS and Sapient. The mentorship of IIM Lucknow was an extra assurance, he added.

Soon after joining, the class started self-organizing itself into clubs and committees for placements, media relations, mess, the student committee and interest-based groups around finance, consulting, marketing, etc.

Being from the first batch, the most exciting bit is that we get to set traditions, customs and processes that the future batches will follow, says Tandon.

Kashipur hasnt been swept yet by the wave of malls and swanky shopping complexes and eat-outs, so students have little to do outside the campus during their free time (which isnt a lot, given the 9.30 am to 5.30 pm class timings followed by a backlog of projects and assignments). The hostel has a few indoor games, while the students are allowed access to a basketball court and playing ground at a government college nearby.

Almost everyone is looking forward for the Jim Corbett National Park to open in October. The famous tiger reserve is all of 29 kms from Kashipur, pretty much next door. The popular hill station of Nainital is about 85 kms away.

However, what is hard to miss about the first batch of IIM Kashipur is that it is a fully stag batch. The absence of girls in the batch is something the students shrug away by placing the onus on the 2012-14 batch. We are waiting for the next batch to arrive which will hopefully have women, says Siddiqui.

It’s not as if the women didn’t have their chance. The IIM Kashipur merit list did offer a final admission to about four to five girls. Some of them visited the campus with their parents to see what was on offer but decided to give it a pass. Col Upadhyaya is optimistic that the campus will be much better prepared to accommodate women in its second year. For now, a section of the hostel is earmarked for girls but is vacant.

What lies ahead

According to Col Upadhyaya, the development of the IIM and Kashipur town will go hand in hand. This city has to develop, as the Uttarakhand government plans to turn it into an educational hub, he says.

Old folks need the assurance of emergency facilities nearby. The absence of advanced medical facilities has until now prevented senior faculty from joining the institute. The institute had appointed a Director — Prof Raghavan Srinivasan from IIM Bangalore — but he withdrew his appointment reportedly citing the absence of medical care.

Meanwhile, faculty and Director hiring processes are in progress.

Until the town builds up sufficient infrastructure to support faculty, some feel that the institute will have to make do with young faculty who have recently completed their doctorates, are in the initial stages of their careers and will see being associated with the IIM brand as a plus point.

Being small in size, the first batch of IIM Kashipur might not face a lot of problems securing jobs.

Kaif Siddiqui, who is part of the placement committee says, Most of us are reaching out to their previous employers and using other connections to generate interest in the batch and the response is positive.”

“I dont think getting us internships will be a very big problem, he claims. The future batches, if filled to the capacity of 60, would have reason to worry though, if the institute isn’t made accessible.

The nearest airport at Pantnagar (68 kms away) has a couple of Kingfisher Airlines flights and Col Upadhyaya expects that the airport will become busier with time, improving connectivity of the town for corporates. In the worst case, students are pegging their hopes on the local industries for getting their summer training.

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