Is it fair to evaluate Indian B Schools on American Publication Scales? Here WSJ and I Differ

A recent article published in the Wall Street Journal reported that Indian Business Schools fared very poorly in a certain University of Texas report based on the research of a school’s faculty published in the Top 25 management journals . Fair enough, but based on this the journalist went on to suggest that for Indian B schools, joining the “global league” is still a “distant dream”.  

Although the figures reported are not surprising, but the alarm raised by a source as authoritative as WSJ  in interpreting the report surely is. Disagreeing I decided to write to the author, the email is excerpted here:

First, I do not doubt the veracity of the findings that Indian B schools do not figure in the rankings when top tier management journals are considered.

But the point I wish to drive home is  does that or should that really matter to an Indian B school. There are multiple reasons why I say this. The first two relate to the biased nature of the publishing process, which makes it harder for Indians and the next two about why then it is not worth expending energies on these.

1. Publishing in these journals is about being a part of the club. Since these top journals are almost always US based, so is the bias in the research they include and publish. Anything said in the Indian Context or rather non American Context is only included if it is generalizable enough for an american audience. 

2. A typical paper before appearing at a journal is presented at least at 1 small workshop and 1 large conference ( say Academy of Management Review, American Marketing Association). The people who attend these presentations are people who are likely to review the paper. A lot of comments one receives at such meetings are signals towards what you should do to make the paper accepted. 

These points obviously make it somewhat clear, why Indian researchers would find it much harder to get into these journals, unless they expend a considerable amount of resources into it. Devoting disproportionate effort at this would take them away from some of the other core activities. But that would lead you to ask, what is their core? To answer this, consider the following points:

1. A fairly productive economist who has been associated with some management schools in India publishes a lot in the Economic and Political Weekly, when asked why does s(he) not target some top (American) journals, answered that (he/she publishes) where the work has a greater impact. It is true. There is no gain to anyone expect the personal prestige of people when one gets published in so called top tier journals.  In terms of the ‘core’ for Indian B schools tell me how does that add to the school’s proposition in teaching, consulting or case writing.

2. Our B schools surely need more research oriented faculty, but this idol worship of American Journals is not the research core we wish to strengthen. We need more grounded theory that develops from within the country, informs both teaching and practice.  When they win some fellowships and grants from western money they can spend those on getting their articles into American journals……

Would be very keen to hear others’ thoughts on the issue.


4 thoughts on “Is it fair to evaluate Indian B Schools on American Publication Scales? Here WSJ and I Differ

  1. Vishal,
    Good points. However I have responses to them:
    1. Interestingly the journalist reacted to my comments with the Chinese Example like you have done. Note I said ….”Indian researchers would find it much harder to get into these journals, unless they expend a considerable amount of resources into it”….and here was my response to her:

    “The Chinese get more money to travel to the workshops and conferences – be visiting scholars to US universities, pick collaborators in the US. Indians have only begun to do all that”. Also the 5 times is a high multiple owing to a very small base – (say 5 articles for Ind vs 25 for Chinese). The Chinese performance is therefore not as impressive as that multiple suggests.

    2. Regards to publishing in Academic Journals, of course we need that. And we need EPWs too.

    My key disagreement with what WSJ seems to suggest, is that chasing American Journals is far from the right way for our schools to establish themselves in the “global league”. Consider the scenario where say some 2-3 US educated profs in each school do keep targeting the American Journals. The remaining continue to be in local/regional journals. On the contrary if these 2-3 were to become editors and reviewers in the regional journals, wouldn’t we see a gradual improvement in quality. And more importantly theory development that is grounded in the realities of our society.

  2. Your argument about the obsession with journals seem fair. However, having no experience, I find myself rather inadequate to comment on it.

    However, the quote by Mr Palety (chief executive-Centre for Forecasting & Research) in the original WSJ article resonates with me. It is not just the B-schools but most of the institutions for higher learning in India still lack serious academic orientation and the emphasis on industry experience (internships and more internships!) indeed makes them ‘glorified placement agencies’.

    Moreover, career in academics/research is hardly even considered or spoken of let alone encouraged.

    I think this leads to a difference of understanding and expectations from a graduate (Masters) degree between the academic world of the west and India, doesn’t it?

    1. Namrata,
      Of course you are not incorrect. We need a research culture to foster in our institutes.
      Read what I replied to Vishal’s comment. Hope it will clarify more.

  3. Well said Harsh. I think papers with Indian data are much harder to publish in american finance/economics journals. WSJ’s conclusion is grossly unfair.

    I would like to point out a few mutually-unrelated issues:

    1. Difficulty in publishing in american journals only suggests we may not be as bad as WSJ make us appear. But how do we know we are ‘actually’ not that bad? Is there a benchmark on which we have done satisfactorily well?

    2. What about the impressive performance by China? Are they so good or are we so bad?

    3. There is a value in publishing in rigorous academic journals which grill authors on the assumptions that they may be making in arriving at their conclusions/suggestions and to what extent are their conclusions/suggestions generalizable. Publishing in Economic and Political Weekly misses that aspect. In my opinion, the best way to present research is to publish it in two distinct forms:
    a) In academic journals which are reviewed by other scholars in the field
    b) Public space like weekly magazines which are read by a broader audience

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