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Friday, January 20, 2012

Why some IIM programs seem like reverse mergers-people getting in without the same scrutiny

GS Elevator Gossip
1: But she went to a good school. 2: She transferred in. That’s like a reverse merger; you get on the exchange but w/o the same scrutiny.
What inspired this title is the above tweet from the GSElevator tweeter account(it is very politically incorrect and offensive at times, but a lot of it rings true). I'd blogged earlier on the different programs offered here(http://iimaexperiences.blogspot.com/2011/12/so-who-qualify-as-iim-ahmedabad-alumni.html) but had not gone into the details of the same. Now, IIM Ahmedabad(and most other IIMs for that matter) is associated with its flagship program-the 2yr full time PGP program. Hence, students from other programs such as PGPx/PGP(Agri Business Management) etc may feel at times that they are getting a raw deal in perception. While the PGPx program having executives of 10yrs average experience is not comparable with the PGP program(indeed it has better FT rankings for its category than the 2yr program!), the PGP-ABM program at times is perceived as a reverse merger stock of students who have got in in the 'easier route', which does show up in the relative placement figures. The reasons for that, and my opinions are below
  1. Significantly lower CAT cutoofs:-One can argue that the CAT %ile does not matter, but as an admission benchmark(however flawed that maybe), the ABM students have a lower percentile cutoff of the order of 4-5%Ile. Hence, even though the CAT%ile is usually NOT mentioned on the CV, recruiters may perceive a quality difference vs PGP students. Many students do score above the certain minimum cutoff in order of 97%ile+, but the perception is framed by cutoffs..
  2. Common first year program:-All first year students-PGP/ABM/FPM share the same curriculum, and are often in same section. They are  source of much needed diversity in academic backgrounds, mostly comprising non-engineers. That does benefit class participation.
  3. But little overlap in 2nd year:-There is little overlap in the second year though, with each program having its own Acads Secretary and course selection. To be fair, the 2nd year IS usually more chilled out than first year, so academically I doubt there is any effect on quality of students due to this. While PGP students can take only upto 3 ABM courses in the 2nd year, the converse is not true where ABM students can theoretically take even 80%-90% of their courses from those offered to PGP students. It is a different thing that certain 'coveted' courses are not opened to ABM students due to the Professor's discretion. But even though this flexibility exists, very few people I know have exercised it. 
  4. Median/Mean/Max pay packages much lower:- The audited placement reports on the IIM-A website say it all. Despite spending 2yrs within the same walls, this happens. And companies which come for both PGP and ABM students(very few but there) offer lesser pay packages to the ABM students(and different roles for no demonstrable rationale).
Having interacted with PGP-ABM students during my first year(indeed we shared the same classrooms/courses for the first year), I would rate them equally competent on average. If there are 'misfits' who would not have got into IIMA but for the ABM program, the same is true for some students of the PGP program as well(not sure whether they got via reservations or not!). So the difference in quality is more perceived than real. In fact, the 4 member IIMA team which won the national level M&M War Room contest(strategy event for conglomerate), had 3 ABM students. In other colleges(like IIM Lucknow), the ABM program students can sit for the same placement process like the PGP students, thus the difference is not much. But again, for colleges like MDI-HR program and XLRI-HR program(where there is a different flagship program too), the placement process is different and lower for these specialized programs.

However, I would call this process outcome  TINA(There is no alternative factor).If the placements for PGP and ABM students are not differentiated, then the ABM program will be an arbitrage source for students who could not enter IIMA PGP program via the normal route. And scrapping the ABM program would not really be in anyone's interests. So like democracy, this is a bad alternative, except for all the remaining alternatives!While some roles like trading commodities in investment banks, working in PE roles in that space etc could be viewed as relevant for the program, the institute sees the purpose of the ABM program as creating managers for agribusiness, not such other roles however relevant they may be. Overall, given that they pay the same fees as the PGP students, it is a pity about the lower returns/cost ratio. If students had entered the program thinking that the career prospects would be same as that for PGP, then they can certainly be forgiven for feeling deceived. But then, caveot emptor applies in education more than vendor emptor viz the students should have done their due diligence on the program and its profile. If recruiters perceive the program like how investors now perceive Chinese ADRs on NYSE(reverse merger ones) of having less rigour etc, that is an issue which will take years to solve, and need an open debate/review.

Credits:-For views on this topic, I thank students from the ABM program(who prefer to stay unnamed), for sparing their time and perspectives on the issue

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