"Seeing is believing" is a mantra that a researcher always strives to follow. Judgements based only on theoretical data always pull the wool over your eyes and prevent you from getting deeper insights.
The relevance of conducting a physical audit/verification becomes is obvious while building a robust and fool-proof ranking system for B-schools.
Physical audit is an integral part of BT-MDRA Best B-schools ranking methodology and has also been applauded by the majority of B-schools in India. Over the years it has been found that there has been tremendous growth in the number of B-Schools in India and each B-School claims to be among the top B-schools. A few of them, without understanding the ranking process and methodology, give exaggerated data, thinking they will not be caught out or checked thoroughly. While conducting the physical audit, it was noticed that B-schools that fall in this category lack vision and - when questioned - always come up with the excuse of not having understood the subject matter - the questions asked in the participation form (objective questionnaire).
Moreover, an understanding of fundamental and very basic aspects of the data sought is often missing in the majority of the colleges. A simple illustration: in the objective questionnaire we categorically asked B-schools to provide the built up area of their institute in square feet. However, almost 40 per cent of them gave this data in square meters. This is only the tip of the iceberg as going deeper into the analysis of the data has given us many surprises. This again proves the importance of physical audit.
PROBLEMS FACED DURING PHYSICAL AUDIT
>> In Government B-schools
Like many bureaucrats, several government B-schools administrators also believe that the education provided by them is the best and they do not need to change along with the changing dynamics of business management studies. It sounds very ironical when they claim that the data provided by them is absolutely correct and thus should not be verified physically. Although a few government colleges appreciated the concept of physical verification and cooperated very enthusiastically, many showed reluctance or were careless in substantiating the data they had themselves submitted. Furthermore, proper documentation and keeping of records is also absent in government B-schools. Interestingly, one of the IIMs found this physical audit process very surprising and stated that this was the first time any research agency was validating its data. However the institute cooperated in the verification of the objective data.
>> In universities
Despite putting in a clause in the participation form that our survey was confined to management studies, a majority of universities with management departments sent us data about the entire university - information such as number of classrooms, books, journals, size of campus and built-up area etc. We discovered during the physical audit that much of the data was about the whole university. This approach towards filling-up the objective questionnaire indicates a deliberated attempt by university departments to give inflated data.
>> Misrepresentation of factual data
While conducting physical verification, we often found astonishing discrepancies between the infrastructure colleges had claimed to possess and what they actually had. For example, data relating to 'living experience' such as the existence of a swimming pool, cricket ground, basketball court, auditorium, conference hall, incubation center etc, on the campus were often misrepresented. Such discrepancies underline the importance of physical audit and point to the necessity of conducting verification.
In addition, some colleges claimed international accreditation but when validated during the audit it was found that they were only members of some international accreditation body but were not accredited. We even went to the extent of reaching out to the global headquarters of the accreditation agency to find out the difference between member B-schools and accredited B-schools. We found that member colleges of international accreditation bodies are also claiming its accreditation which is misleading and unethical too. These accreditation details can also be accessed and verified by visiting the accredited bodies' website. Similarly, it was very surprising to see that without even any MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with any foreign university, some colleges claimed they had such tie-ups.
>> Absence of proper documentation and record of factual data
A few incidents took us by surprise during the physical audit. We found there were no supporting documents available to back some of the information provided in reply to the questionnaire. When probed, the authorities said: "We do not keep those documents". Although the majority of colleges did have their important data and records on place, there were some which did not. This created obstacles while validating and verifying the data. A few colleges also refused to show us their original documents. It was found that the colleges which were not so were the ones which had overstated or manipulated their data to score higher marks.
Time and again we had to remind the institutes that the data had to be submitted for the flagship programme and not for all the management programmes offered on the campus. Many of the institutes submitted data for all the programmes put together. It was a daunting and challenging task to filter the data for the flagship programme. Also in many cases, for institutes having several campuses, it was difficult to segregate information such as visiting/guest faculty as the same faculty might take classes at more than one campus.
Removing and correcting of irregularities that were noticed during the physical audit was done on the spot. The flaws which were found during the physical inspection of the colleges were removed and corrected in the final objective data. Thus the B-School physical audit process is an imperative instrument to understand colleges in every manner. It helps to get real insights about the colleges and also the quality of data received is assured.
While every effort has been done to validate and verify the authenticity of the objective data submitted by the institute through several ways, including desk research, telephonic validation, physical visit and audit, we feel that the entire data set is an ocean which can only be crossed. Its length and breadth cannot really be measured.
(The author is Deputy Director, MDRA)