About eight years ago, as part of the annual survey of business schools that we do, I along with my survey team visited for the first time a well-known B-school in Pune. It came as a surprise to us that the school did not have a single permanent faculty member and was totally dependent on visiting faculty.
This would have meant a low rank for the school though it had strong brand presence. For starters, our survey methodology gives high weightage to permanent faculty and their research output. When we pointed this to the founder of the institute, he suggested that we change the parameters of evaluation, saying that the visiting faculty model works fine for his institute, and that he could not afford permanent faculty just to have a better rank. This was the mindset of many of our “edupreneurs” then.
Over the years, though, things have changed in some B-schools but in the majority of them, including some top branded ones, permanent faculty is still considered a liability rather than an asset. Hiring visiting faculty even with doubtful academic credentials makes better business sense for them as it helps in generating huge surplus. The present going rate for visiting faculty in most of the B-schools is Rs400-1,000 per hour. A full course that consists of 30 hours of teaching costs the institute about Rs20,000. On the other hand, a good, full-time faculty costs about Rs1 lakh per month.
Unfortunately, the prime concern of many B-schools is attracting students, who in turn are strongly influenced by the placement performance of the institute. The brand of some B-schools is in fact driven primarily by good placements. So their focus is entirely on arranging good placements which they manage by “networking” with industry.
This often means some corrupt practices. Some of the visiting faculty members are those who actually recruit from the campuses. Giving them teaching assignments with a relatively better pay package is not without conditions. There is a tacit agreement that in return they would recruit a few students from their campus.
The other source of visiting faculty is the existing permanent faculty of local university departments or some top B-schools who are hired to teach a course. In the national capital region, for instance, the faculty members of some top B-schools teach more in lower-rung private B-schools than in their own institute. This is clear misuse of the freedom and time they get. Instead of interacting with industry and doing research, which can also be a source of additional income for them, they prefer moonlighting.
There are some “entrepreneurs”, too, who have quit or lost corporate jobs and work full-time as visiting faculty and keep hopping to various B-schools on an hourly basis.
We have interacted with many students on this issue and most of them opine that visiting faculty lack commitment. The visiting faculty from industry, though they have good exposure of field practices, often lack academic rigour and theoretical inputs. It is also seen that these visiting faculty members often do not follow a structured approach in teaching that is essential, especially for foundation courses. In many cases, evaluation of students also does not take place properly as the teachers are preoccupied with a busy corporate life or teaching in other institutes. Generally, after teaching for few hours a day, they are not available to the students to clear doubts or to play a mentoring role, which is also very important from the students’ perspective.
Ideally ,the visiting faculty should be selectively drawn from industry and should be specialists in their field, and should be engaged for some electives. The foundation courses should be taught only by permanent faculty members, who themselves ought to be properly trained.
In my view, it’s the permanent faculty that should be the true measure of a B-school’s brand. How competent they are in terms of teaching, how empowered they are to try out new ideas, whether or not they get an enabling environment to do research and interact with industry is very important.
Perhaps keeping this aspect in mind, the tenure system—where good faculty has lifetime job security—was adopted by many universities and colleges abroad. A true academic institute gives direction to society by creating knowledge besides disseminating it. Such an institute is also faculty-driven.
But many of our edupreneurs do not give much weightage to this aspect of institute and are happy being a glorified placement agency. This is also a major deterrent for competent youngsters to take up the profession of teaching.
Our edupreneurs should understand that their social responsibility is not in just establishing swanky campuses or getting jobs for students but also in cultivating good faculty.
Premchand Palety is director of Centre for Forecasting and Research (C fore) in New Delhi, from where he keeps a close eye on India’s business schools. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.