ICFAI University, a private university, is today highly visible in the press through their aggressive advertising as well as media reports on their activities, and yet I find that I do not actually know much about them - hence the reason for calling it an open secret.
I hope to learn more about them, understand what they are attempting to do, what they have achieved so far and how they are going about it, starting with this post.
The Hindustan Times carried a story (in May 2003) on how the ICFAI got started, and how they have grown.
The success script for the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India (ICFAI), Hyderabad, was written in 1984 when two intrepid Professors of Finance joined hands to launch an institute devoted to the subject.
ICFAI came about when Dr. Besant C. Raj, a Harvard product and an alumnus of the first batch of IIM-Ahmedabad, was talked into quitting his cushy job with the Administrative Staff College (ASC) at the “ripe” age of 42 by a junior colleague, N. J. Yasaswy.
Without a blue print, financial or resource backing, they persuaded four friends (all financial wizards) to pool their resources (a princely sum of Rs. 6,000 each) to start a distance learning institute in hard core finance. It was called the Chartered Financial Analyst’s Programme. Thus was born ICFAI from a rented accommodation in Banjara Hills, Hyderabad in 1984, modelled on institutes in the US and UK.
The first milestone was reached seven years later (in 1991), when Dr. Manmohan Singh was steering the country towards liberalisation. As luck would have it, almost all the reforms introduced then had something to do with the financial sector, right up to the year 2000, when the insurance sector was opened up.
This unleashed a new bundle of training opportunities for ICFAI. The next few years saw the institute dramatically increase its budget size from Rs. I crore in 1991 to Rs. 10 crore by 2003. By 1994, ICFAI had a neat little kitty of Rs. 7 crore in the bank; along with an employee strength of 200; and a student base of 30,000, with 3,000 new ones being added every year.
Steadily, ICFAI’s budget size began to climb from Rs. 50 crore in 2002 to Rs. 100 in 2003, overtaking the outlay of all other accounts and finance-related institutes in the country. According to industry estimates, the annual budget of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India is Rs. 55 crore, the Indian Institute of Cost and Work Accountants is Rs 7 crore, the Indian Institute of Company Secretaries is Rs 10-12 crore and the combined budget of all five IIMs put together is around Rs. 72 crore, of which nearly 50 per cent is a dole from the UGC.
In such a scenario, not being granted full university status was a mere technicality for ICFAI, an anomaly, which was rectified when the Chattisgarh government passed the Private Universities Act. Chief Minister Ajit Jogi notified ICFAI as the first private university of the State in September 2002, even as a dozen-odd other State governments, including Orissa and Uttaranchal, invited ICFAI to draft their legislation along similar lines.
Ask Yasaswy and he lists three factors that brought ICFAI to this present position: the founding members’ focus on creating value through quality; building a scalable model of an education institute that had a social purpose and prioritising software over hardware development. By this, Yasaswy says, means building the intellectual capital resource or a strong core faculty.
For the record, ICFAI spends heavily on research and publication. They have recently launched a comprehensive faculty development programme. They have also tied-up with the European Case Clearing House (and Harvard), so that the cases generated by ICFAI’s local faculty get published and posted on their servers, to be viewed by students and faculty of 40 leading B-schools in the world. The ICFAI staff is free to consult to increase their private earnings and their work is regularly carried in the 17 financial and accounts journals and books that the institute publishes under its own banner.
“We realise that even academicians prefer a corporate culture, though this does not mean that they shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions, as is the culture prevalent in most Indian universities,” Yasaswy goes on to add. “It’s a journey, without destination,” he declares. “We have an evolving vision and we do not want to make stupid mistakes, which you are prone to make when you are successful.”
Quoting from Gary Hamel’s book Leading the Revolution, he adds, “We want to reach a position where the competition begins to feel they’re damned if they don’t follow our business model; and damned if they do.”
They are talking and aiming big - which is not a bad thing at all. In fact, it is good to find a private enterprise aiming big in the field of education and growing at a fair pace.