Battle 1 : IIM Lucknow vs FMS Delhi – Top business schools in India and their alumni perpetuate a culture of elitism (FOR)


 The Great Indian BSchool Debate – Battle 1

IIM Lucknow and FMS Delhi go head-to-head in the first match-up of Battle One of the Great Indian BSchool Debate. We leave it to them to take over from here. Please note that the arguments put forward below cannot be ascribed as the participants’ individual opinions. All arguments put forward are only for the purpose of this debate competition.

Update: The Counter punch has been uploaded and the audience comments have been enabled. Any form of abusive rant or irrelevant comments will be deleted immediately. 10% of the team’s performance depends on how easily the audience could tear into their arguments.

“Top business schools in India and their alumni perpetuate a culture of elitism”

FOR the motion: IIM Lucknow                        (Read FMS’ argument AGAINST the motion)

‘IIMs are elitist’.

No, we are not saying this. This is what I G Patel, former director, IIM Ahmedabad said. He also admitted that a lot more had to be done by the IIMs to touch women and other socially disadvantaged sections. Amitava Bose, former director, IIM Calcutta minced no words when he called the PGP ‘unabashedly exclusive’.Not to be outdone, K R S Murthy, former director, IIM Bangalore also admitted to the elitism of IIMs. Even the current director of IIM Kozhikode felt that it was engaging in ‘disdainful elitism’ and that it was time to change.Can it get more damning than this? Yes, it can. Read on to find out how much more.

If you thought the IIMs were just one big happy family, with equal respect for one another, think again. The older IIMs did not allow the new IIMs (at Shillong, Ranchi, Raipur, Rohtak, Kashipur, Udaipur and Trichy) to be part of the CAT 2012 preparation process, the same test that decides which students enter its portals. The older IIMs were accused of being ‘discriminatory’ and… you guessed it, ‘elitist’. And this was not even the first skirmish between the two groups. In November 2011, even though the older IIMs at Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Indore had promised to share information with them to facilitate the admission process, they reneged.

Clearly, the older IIMs feel they are more ‘elite’ than the newer ones.

The sad part is, even among the older IIMs, there is a pecking order. The popular perception that IIMA, IIMB & IIMC are in a league of their own is not just something that students in these institutes hold dear, even the IIMA director,  Samir Barura, swears by it. So much so that the 3 oldest IIMs alone have decided to join hands to set up a campus abroad. He feels that the IIMs have hardly collaborated in the 50 years yet hardly sees the prudence in asking IIML (around for 28 years) and the IIMs at Indore and Kozhikode for their cooperation!

Have you heard of the inter’-IIM annual Sports meet called Sangharsh? Do not be too harsh on yourself if you have not, for it was only between IIMA & IIMB! IIMC was included next (obviously) and IIML was recently accommodated. Before you think that it was merely for organizational purposes that few IIMs participate, bear in mind that all these IIMs have ‘other’ sports events where ‘other’ business schools are invited. Ouch! And what about the invite for the new IIMs, you ask? Don’t hold your breath.

Now, understandably, FMS is feeling left out for finding no mention thus far. It need not. Last year, when DU decided to scrap FMS’s own entrance test and embrace CAT, FMS faculty felt that it would lead to ‘brand dilution’ and the students felt that the ‘image would be dented’!

Undoubtedly, elitism is a culture at the top Indian business schools. This is only to be expected when an overwhelming majority of the student body is male, from an engineering background and from affluent families that can afford fees upwards of 1 million rupees. In fact, even though need based scholarships exist at most business schools, not more that 10 – 15% of the students avail of them.

Let us look at ‘placements’ now. Students of these schools know that certain firms do not visit certain schools for placements, ever. Take a look at comprehensive data gathered from over 40,000 LinkedIn profiles by InsideIIM in this regard (as most schools do not release such in depth placement statistics, we need to look at surrogate sources of information). Pay attention to how certain firms pick candidates in single digits from certain IIMs while they pick well over 20 – 30/40 from others.

McKinsey & Co. 96 62 85 29 8 6
BCG 49 64 42 18 5 0
Bain & Co. 42 24 31 2 0 1
Booz & Co. 17 8 6 2 0 0
A T Kearney 28 30 29 8 1 0
HUL 41 44 45 56 9 4
Johnson & Johnson 15 7 49 11 4 3
Morgan Stanley 41 18 22 1 1 0
UBS 23 21 41 9 0 6

The fact that certain IIMs have been around longer alone cannot explain this monumental gap. It takes a huge leap of faith to believe that not even a few students from the ‘not so old IIMs’ are better than the students from the ‘old’ IIMs, across 10 – 15 years! Let’s call a spade a spade. The only logical explanation is that it is the alumni from the old IIMs that are influencing which schools are visited and how many students are selected, during recruitment.

It is amusing to note how the bickering IIMs, who can never agree on most issues, magically transformed into a giant, joint family to fight the ‘evil’ of reservation in 2006. The Pan-IIM Alumni Association acted with great alacrity, garnering press coverage, organizing candle light marches and other protests across the IIM campuses and filing petitions in the courts. The high point of this brouhaha was the letter to the PM of India, wherein they agreed that education access to the deprived must be improved, just not at the IIMs. The true fear of ‘brand dilution’ was revealed when they mentioned ‘meritocracy and excellence should be the guiding principles in implementing reforms’ and that implementing the reservation policy would ‘greatly weaken the strength of our institutions’! Why is it that only issues which threaten ‘brand IIM’ can get the IIMs to act as one? To reference an earlier point, is not setting up a grand foreign campus a solid reason to involve all the IIMs, instead of just a select few? This pecking order (oldest IIMs, older IIMs and the new IIMs), this caste system, if you will, seems to be one of the reasons they are called ‘Indian Institutes of Management’. How ironic that they opposed caste based reservation! Pot calling kettle?

When the faculty and administration of a business school feel they and their students are elite, when the alumni reinforce this view by influencing recruitment processes at their firms and when students are selected in a fashion akin to how only select Spartan babies were designated to live at birth (as others were deemed unfit for the military), elitism does not merely exist. It thrives.

Venkatesh SR and R Maheshwaran




Counterpunch from FMS Delhi

While IIM Lucknow have made some valid points to defend their argument, we do feel that there are some serious logical fallacies in their argument. A culture of elitism must be looked at with reference to society and the social construct. Elitism is an attitude where an individual begins to feel that all others are inferior. It is more of an individualistic choice than an organizational culture. The issue at hand therefore isn’t whether IIM-A alumni are in higher paying jobs, the issue is whether they believe they are socially superior to everyone else, and whether their social interactions are laced with arrogance?

Are all IIM students arrogant? Doesn’t an IIM graduate talk respectfully and humbly to all others in society? The fundamental point of clash with IIM-Lucknow therefore is that in no way can it be proved that all IIM graduates think of themselves are superior to everyone else in society.

It is in fact quite strange that IIM Lucknow needs to argue about step-motherly treatment to the newer IIMs.  Honestly, had the older IIMs been worried about losing their elite status, they would have actively opposed the formation of the new IIMs. Instead not only did they support the founding of these institutes, they have mentored them from the very start, providing them visiting faculty, assisting them in placements and generally helping them in every way possible.[1] Surely not the behaviour of a group of institutions trying to protect their elite status.

Secondly, the decision to set up a new campus with only IIM ABC had nothing at all to do with elitism of any sort. It was simply due to the fact that the older IIMs already had the requisite financial autonomy from the Central Government to allocate funds as they saw fit. The newer IIMs so far do not have the requisite financial autonomy.[2] Without having any financial and operational autonomy,  there is no way an IIM can set up its own campus, and this is the sole reason for the three IIMs joining together to set up their own campus abroad.

The argument about the Inter-IIM sports fest seems quite arbitrary. IIMC regularly battles it out with XLRI in their legendary sports meet which has been going on for much longer than Sangharsh (which started out in 2007)[3]. Does that mean IIM Calcutta considers itself in an elite club which only consists of XLRI and itself? Surely not. In fact, given how relatively new Sangharsh is, it is not surprising that the event started out small and has grown progressively larger, including more IIMs as the years passed. Of course, contrary to what was stated by IIM Lucknow, IIML became a part of the festival before IIMC, which seems to disturb their stated order of elitism in the IIMs. [4]

Let’s move on to the point about the FMS entrance exam. Yes, it was definitely a cause of concern for most FMSites. But then, what college would like to see its independence in selecting candidates lost simply because of an administrative hurdle? We, at FMS, were proud of our success at creating & conducting an entrance exam that, unlike CAT, had been controversy free for so many years (Normalisation, anyone?) It helped select the candidates we thought were the best suited for an MBA program. To be proud of your achievements is not elitism. XLRI is not being elitist by conducting XAT. It simply wants a different set of candidates than the usual toppers of the CAT exam, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

There is no doubting that the majority of students in IIMs are male affluent engineers. But this is because of the simple fact that above-average students in India overwhelmingly take up engineering after their schooling. These students consistently do well wherever they end up, and this is exactly why our management schools are filled with them. Despite this, management colleges are slowly trying to enforce some sort of diversity in their system, by giving extra weightage to female students or students from non-engineering backgrounds. Whether this diversity comes at the cost of merit is probably a topic for another debate.

Now to the all important argument about placements. There is no doubt that a few colleges dominate the ranks of some of the top companies in India. We have already indicated this much in our initial arguments. To label this elitism though, is quite unfair. To reiterate our argument, alumni visit certain colleges because they know they are likely to find the best talent in these few colleges. And yes, it does make a difference if your college has an alumni base which is only 15 years old. They are less likely to hold senior positions, especially in the prestigious companies listed in IIM Lucknow’s opening argument. What college you belong to ultimately makes very little difference in the long run. It is mainly the quality of the students that stand out.

With respect to the Pan-IIM protest, a quick reading of the letter provides a very different perspective. Nowhere in the letter to the Prime Minister do the Pan-IIM association oppose reservation. They go so far as to say that they are “strongly supportive of affirmative action for the less advantaged sections.”[5] Instead they raise a valid point, that for reservations to be truly effective, they need to be first implemented at a primary and secondary school level.

There is a fundamental difference between meritocracy and elitism. Meritocracy assumes that status is earned based on talent and with elitism it is not. There is nothing wrong in wanting a meritocratic society, which is exactly what the top bschools in India aspire to achieve. The alumni of these great institutions have proved time and time again why these institutions are held in such high respect in society, and to label their achievements as a by-product of elitism is great disrespect to them.


Moez Chandani & Siddharth Bassi (FMS Delhi)


[1]“New IIMs do well with placements”. Business Standard, April 14 2011

[2]“ Consensus emerging among IIMs on jointly setting up campus abroad “

[3]  “Sporting matters: IIM Bangalore beats IIM Ahmedabad to lift the ‘Sangharsh trophy”




Participant Profiles – IIM Lucknow (Venkatesh SR and R Maheshwaran)

Venkatesh S R is a second year PGP student at IIM, Lucknow. He is a huge RCB and Dragon Ball Z fan. When he is not acing quizzes, he likes to watch Game of Thrones and The Big Bang Theory. He interned with Nokia in the summers, where he won the Best Intern Award.


R Maheswaran is a second year PGP student at IIM, Lucknow. He was an atheist until he read the works P G Wodehouse. A computer science graduate from NIT, Tiruchi, he has worked with Cisco in the past. He interned with Microsoft in the summers.



Read everything about IIM Lucknow here

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One has to admit that students from a lot of IIMs/other Bschools do not go through the same academic rigour as the ones at the Top IIMs. Also, elitism is perpetuated as a function of what sells in the market. You need a team working on your multi-million dollar deal which hails from institutes which are globally known. You can't fault companies that only visit few places as only those places are known. It's the law of the market.


Some highly irrelevant points put forth in the counterpunch by FMS team. They are talking about the controversy-free FMS entrance examinations. Have they ever analyzed the extent of repetition which happened in the RC and VA sections of FMS entrance, not talking about the pathetic quality of quantitative questions. It amounted to such an extent that complete RCs and multiple choice Grammar questions were repeated in the exam.Supposedly they were selecting the students best suited for MBA after shortlisting on the basis of this weird paper and giving the candidate a chance of mere 5-7 minutes in an interview. It was sheer elitism to create furore on inclusion in CAT.

There is no need to re-iterate the point related to placements where big firms do visit select few colleges. The counterpunch by IIML very well takes care of this argument via guesstimate.


I do not think that any of the IIMS foster among their students any culture of elitism whereby they would look down upon students from any other college or exhibit any kind of arrogance while talking to people from difference social segments . Studying in an IIM i can couch for that. Arrogance is a matter of personal attributional orientation and associating this behavior with the culture of any college will be outright inaccurate. In any case, i do not think the word arrogance in any way is a measure of whether the top-tier IIMs( and I use this phrase only because it has already been used in the discussion) are elitist or not. While I appreciate IIML's approach of taking the issue of elitism from an administration from an administrative perspective there are enough and more instances such as the mentoring of newer IIMs by the older IIMs, provision for visiting faculty that demonstrate the responsibility that the older IIMs have willingly taken upon themselves. It is debatable if this was indeed thrust upon them by the govt but given the degree of autonomy they enjoy they could well have refrained from the commitment.
To my mind, a perception of 'elitism' has been created by people outside the A,B,C system since for years many of the top banks and consulting firms had visited these campuses and recruited students in good number. While such a thing has only now started to happen at the relatively newer IIMs. It is not so much about the elitism they exude as much as it is about the 'elitism' that is forced upon them because of the perceived exclusivity of placements.
Thank you

Random Thought

According to the IIM L logic…The fact that InsideIIM has only a few specific b-schools featured may also be called 'Elitism'. 🙂


B-Schools like IIMs and FMS have build their reputation over the years. That's why they are elite. Just because some new B-Schools have IIM in their name, doesn't entitle them same reputation as the older IIMs.