In 1961, the Indian government, believing that management education was vital to the development of the country, set up Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) at Ahmedabad and Calcutta. In 1973, IIM Bangalore was established.

The three IIMs, along with a few lesser-ranked private institutions, dominated the business school landscape in India until the 1980s and competition to obtain admission into the IIMs was intense. Observing the success of IIMs and the huge demand for MBAs, private entrepreneurs have stepped in, especially in the past two decades to set up business schools. There are claims of 2,500 business schools in India, with more emerging daily.

Yet, while Indian business schools may be teaching great students, we do not see much evidence that the schools are creating innovative ideas through research.

To assess the state of management research in India, we counted the number of research articles written by India-based academics in the list of journals used by the Financial Times in its ranking of MBA programmes. From 1990-2009 the total number of Indian author counts was 132 (108 unique articles or about five articles per year for the entire country).

This is not impressive, even by the standards of one leading business school. For example, schools such as Hong Kong University of Science and Technology with 100-plus faculty members, produces about 30-plus articles annually, while a larger business school such as Wharton with more than 200 faculty, produces about twice as many.

However, there are encouraging signs things may be changing. In the 1990s for example, the most productive institutions for business research were not business schools but the Indian Statistical Institutes in Calcutta and New Delhi. However, in the following decade, business schools had clearly taken the lead with Indian School of Business (ISB) at Hyderabad and the IIMs at Bangalore and Calcutta producing more research.

ISB, established in 2001, has managed to wrest a leadership position in research, despite publishing its first article in our sample in 2003. The aspiration to build a world-class research culture at ISB creates this intellectual advantage.

But more needs to be done. If India is to go from being an imitator to innovator, the leading Indian business schools must produce world-class research and not be satisfied merely with producing good students through a competitive selection process and competent classroom instruction. This is an imperative given the large numbers of youth who aspire to go into management, the exponential growth of business and the growing globalisation of Indian companies.

To be world class at research, Indian business schools must find ways to create their own research cultures, including compensating appropriately trained faculty, providing research support and adopting a manageable teaching load.

Academic research can lay the foundations for concepts that eventually influence practice. Today’s strategists, financiers and marketers cannot do without concepts such as the capital asset pricing model and brand equity, which originated in academic research. Academic research also helps in debunking so-called “best practice”.

However, most of the existing academic research has been conducted using empirical databases from the developed world. As India and China become increasingly economically significant, we need to know whether established conclusions from the west hold true in these countries and what new insights can be generated uniquely from these contexts.

India-based academic researchers are closest to these phenomena and are best placed to develop concepts and conclusions of interest and relevance to the entire world. After all, why should all the Indian management gurus be based outside India?

The authors are professors at London Business School and co-directors of the Aditya Birla India Centre at LBS. India Inside: The Emerging Innovation Challenge to the West” Harvard Business Press, November 2011

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