‘Moving to CAT has improved quality of students’: FMS Delhi dean

Prof Raj S Dhankar, Dean, Faculty of Management Studies, New Delhi (Photo Credit: Astha A)

PaGaLGuY.com spoke to the dean of the Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), Delhi University (DU), Prof Raj S Dhankar, to know his thoughts on critical issues such as the need for infrastructural additions, admissions through CAT scores and the reason behind the delay in declaring final admission list for the academic year 2012-14.

How would you describe FMS, Delhi evolution to its present state?

FMS started as a small, typical university department and has done reasonably well. That is evident from our growth story, be it the growth of faculty, the number of students or the number of publications and research papers. We started with the evening diploma, then we started the full-time MBA in the late 60s and then we converted that evening diploma into a part-time 3-year MBA. The major thrust and change in FMS came in the late 60s and early 70s when we came up with this full-time MBA. We were almost the first ones to start a 3-year evening programme.

However, now we are replacing our 3-year programme with a 2-year programme. The institute has been running this evening programme for the last forty years. We felt that three years was too long a time for people to stay at one place. Also, it was the requirement of the market forces that we change the course curriculum to a two-year programme . The whole admission process is such that we give weightage to various backgrounds, graduation scores, 12th standard scores, experience etc. There are around 172 students that have enrolled this year for the evening programme. This revamp took one whole year and we were able to launch the stream in July.

How has the industry and aspirants reacted to the merger of the full-time and MS programme?

I think it has been a smooth transition. We still use our south campus infrastructure. We hold the classes of one section there. We offer certain electives and functional area papers there. We continue to make use of the north campus infrastructure as well. We used to have three sections earlier. We still have three sections, the only difference is that they are all MBA programme. There is no big change in terms of numbers.

In terms of curriculum changes, as far as the first year was concerned, it was common for both courses. It was in the second year that the students in different programmes used to get choices for specialisation. To some extent, that choice is still available. If you look at our revised course curriculum, we have a stream of Services Management. Students will take courses from that. In fact, its not a major change at the end of the day. Students are gainers because they have the same opportunities to learn the dynamics of the services sector

Would you consider Return on Investment (ROI) a major consideration behind management students choosing a school?

I do not see that as a major factor, though it is a consideration. Money today is not an issue. It was an issue some seven to eight years ago. Today, banks are eager to give you loans. They know students will get jobs and the money will come back. Yes, our fee is less but an equally tempting factor is the brand equity of DU placement records. Business World ranked us no. 1 in placements. Our average salary was 16.5 lakhs which is higher than many Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). The translation into ROI is alright but how do you account for these facts and rankings?

People dont come to a school because the fee is less. They come to a school because they know there is a value-add. They would get good placement and great learning. Then you have the Delhi University environment which is a great learning opportunity to have inter-disciplinary interaction which is not there in the IIMs. In the IIMs, you are sitting in a corner in a far-off place and you dont have the opportunity to interact with students of literature, sociology, psychology etc but here it is the opposite.

There had been plans to expand the infrastructure of the institute?

Keeping in view of the constraints faced on the infrastructure fronts, as you know that we have 1200 students and this red building has remained the same for so many years, we are facing difficulties. For example, if our students want to have a bigger lecture space, we dont have bigger halls. If we have to appoint new faculty members, there is no place to house them. Currently, there are thirty five positions lying vacant. We have about thirty three permanent faculty members as of today. From the students point of view, a senate hall, discussion halls, bigger halls for seminars and conferences, group activity halls, a bigger cafeteria, library are required. We approached the university and it considered our request.

We got three acres of land sanctioned in the south campus two years ago. Money has been sanctioned and the architecture and design plans are all in place. Only a few approvals need to be taken from the Delhi government for the planning and then we can start. Optimistically speaking, we should start construction in around three to four months time. Maybe the batch of July 2014 can have their classes in the new campus. Thats a big thing because that will be a residential school. The boys and girls hostels will both be next door to the teaching block. I think each hostel will have a capacity of 250 each.

The new building. It will certainly be a contemporary, state-of-the-art business school building. It will have all the facilities, spacious halls, classrooms, library, cafeterias, a bigger computer centre and EDP centre. In fact, the hostels will have around twenty to thirty rooms for the executives to stay.

What are the other areas of expansion being considered by the institute?

I think one area in which would like to expand is executive education. If you look at schools in the US, they have a separate set of streams for executive education. We would be able to offer executive education at a much higher level in terms of MDPs. We dont have an on-campus MDP yet because there is no space.

While our ideal faculty strength is equivalent to that of the IIMs, we also have a high number of students. The only thing holding us back is the infrastructure. Hopefully, with this new building coming up another two years down the line, we should be able to take a good shot at any business school in the country and even abroad. Given that we are located close to the international airport and are in the vicinity of the industrial hubs of Gurgaon, which is the hub of more than 400 international companies, and Noida, sky is the limit.

How was FMS first experience with Common Admission Test (CAT)?

To be very honest, there were little concerns initially. But the facts are that by moving to CAT, the quality of students has got better. Those who were earlier writing the FMS test were also writing CAT. When we were debating about this decision, we did a survey. We asked the current batch, how many of you wrote the CAT and everybody raised their hands. That to me was a reference point. If you look at the first year of admission after CAT and the students in the second year and compare their CAT scores, the first-year cut-offs (percentile score of the last student) are much higher. This year the cut-off was 98.73 percentile. In the second year, the cut-off CAT score was not more than 97 percentile. What were really saying is that by going to CAT, we have been able to get brighter students.

Secondly, no company that comes for recruitment would have any illusion as to how to compare the students from the IIMs because they all come from the same pool. They can compare the last cut-off in IIM-Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Calcutta to ours. By joining CAT, weve been able to benchmark ourselves better and we have been able to make clear to the companies as to who the students are now as opposed to our own test earlier. Nobody else used our scores. So there was no reference point. The CAT score is a reference point now. So not only have we got brighter students, also our identity has been much more clearly established in the eyes of the public, the companies and also with our competitors. Earlier IIM Lucknow could have said they were better than us. Now, we can see who attracted the best students.

Are you going to consider CAT scores for the next admission process as well?

We are a part of CAT. We will continue to use CAT scores as a basis of admission to the institute. At the national level, there is a consolidation. Ministry of Human Resource and Development is asking all engineering colleges to hold a consolidated entrance exam. So it is in the offing that all management schools have a maximum of two to three entrance tests. It is better to join a year or two in advance, before a single entrance exam for all management institutes is announced. Look at the IITs; they had a battle between the IIT directors and the ministry and eventually, they have a common test. I will not be surprised if a year or two down the line, management schools have only a couple of entrance tests.

There was a delay in declaring the final list of admissions for the academic year 2012-14. Could you explain the reason behind the delay?

One of the major reasons that caused the delay was that the number of students we called for Group Discussion (GD)/ Personal Interview (PI) was almost double than the previous years. The whole process of compiling the results took more time and in the first year of transition, we wanted to be doubly sure. I took over as a dean only last year and I did not want to make any mistake. My colleagues told me to declare the results but I told them to check it again. These are very prestigious admissions and if there is a mistake, you are inviting problems. We had to double check almost three to four times and checking 2,500 forms for background and scores was a lengthy process.

Another reason may have been that we needed to take our final scores from IIM Calcutta (which conducted the test this year) and they take their own time as well. Earlier, when we had our own test, we used to pick up the CD from the DU Examination Branch and in two hours, we had the final list with us. But when another institute is conducting the exam, it takes a while. This being the first year, it was also a learning path for all of us. I would not say it was delayed too much. It is just that our interview went on for longer number of days because of increased number. You cant have too many panellists and 20 rooms to conduct the interviews. But it all went off smoothly.

Why were so many students called for the GD/PI process?

When you conduct your own test, you know your pattern. This was our first year where we were considering CAT scores and were conscious of getting a diversified group. The committee and the school in its wisdom said that one way to get a diversified group is to call a large pool of students. Thus, the GDPI would have a lot of variation and we wanted to increase the size of the cake so that we get a variety of students. This is the reason why we called students in the ratio of almost 1:12 ratio in comparison to the earlier 1:5 ratio, which is a huge increase.

For example, there could be very bright students from different backgrounds but if they are in the lower levels of 1:8 and were still at 1:5, we are automatically eliminating them. We are not even giving them a chance. So instead of just focusing on the percentile, we have also considered the background, which always comes out in GDPI. We had difficulties in managing the large numbers, working with the agencies that helped us compile results, making sure no student missed out on an interview and so on. It is a small school and our administrative office comprises a small number of people. We are not fortunate like IIMs to have a separate admissions office. Everything stops at the deans table. Despite constraints, we have handled the challenges very well be it the transition of merging courses, moving to CAT, placements, slowdown in the economy etc.

What do you think of diversity of educational backgrounds in MBA classrooms and of b-schools that are experimenting with their admission criteria to admit fewer engineers?

Management education is highly inter-disciplinary. We need to be inclusive in our delivery of education. I think FMS has done reasonably well. We follow reservation policy and give equal opportunity to every group in society. Girl students are coming in fairly good numbers here. Management education all over the world is in the churning stage and different schools are experiencing different ways and means to ensure that they get the right kind of students in the class. The teaching environment is more exciting and they should end up producing more leaders than managers. We are all experimenting with the pedagogy and admissions process. I and my faculty are open to that.

For many years, FMS has been using a pattern which is our own test plus conducting the GD/PIs. We are still following the same pattern although we have shifted from our own exam to using CAT scores. We are hearing that IIMs are using different weightage criteria. We may be thinking about it and if there is a consensus in the faculty to change some aspects, were open to that. If it is clearly established that were not getting the best students by following a process, were open to a review of that process.

Is the institute planning any change in the placement process?

I think if we are number one in placements and our students are happy, there is absolutely no need for any change. Unless our students come to us requesting for a change or if the two hundred odd companies that come to campus want us to change something, I see no reason to initiate a change, at least not anytime soon.

Any other changes that you are planning to initiate over the next year?

Let me say that our efforts are on, and in the given set of constraints and infrastructure, we are trying to give many value additions. Hopefully, our finance lab will be ready and that would be really useful for our finance students. After IIM Ahmedabad and IIM Calcutta, FMS will be the third institute to have a finance lab. Students will have access to online live data. The lab is in the final stages of completion.

In addition, we are planning separate workstations and more infrastructure facilities for our doctorate students, which should happen in a months time. Not many people talk about our doctoral programme but we have 130 students in the programme.

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