If you have driven from Delhi to Meerut you cannot miss the Jain Shikanji stalls that line the streets as you cross Modinagar. What makes me chuckle every time is that some of them claim to be the ‘original’ Jain Shikanji waala that Meerut is famous for, an attempt to beat the competition with reinforced branding. There is a similar story in Agra, where vendors use the name of the much sought after Panchhi Petha to attract customers. There are many other such examples where small businesses make a claim at being the ‘original’ to stand out in a highly competitive market. This is a great example of how the importance of branding is realised even at the grassroots, away from the air-conditioned cubicles where marketing strategies are debated and formulated.

I see a funny similarity between these shikanji and pethawalas and the IITs and IIMs. Sounds bizarre? Let me elaborate. While these prestigious educational institutions train the best minds of our country, equipped with top notch infrastructure, faculty and curriculum, the novelty of having graduated from IIM or IIT has changed over the past decade with new IITs and IIMs sprouting up across the country. Much like the many shikanji and petha stalls in Meerut and Agra. The government has sort of used the golden goose – to appease the constituents – the aam aadmi (their customers) and the brand of IIT/IIM has been used much like proliferating shikanjiwallas (only difference is that here it has been done legally & (robbing) of the brand value created by these institutes). If we recall, earlier Regional Engineering Colleges (RECs) were renamed as NITs in a rebranding exercise & then came IIITs but none could match up to the enigma & brand pull of IITs.

Do not get me wrong, there are many positives to this, most obvious being that higher education is getting de-centralised, giving better opportunity to youth in tier 2/3 cities but I wonder does it take away from the value or branding of the ‘original’ institutions? Or do IITs and IIMs need to take a cue from Jain Shikanji and Panchhi Petha model and identify as ‘originals’ to stand out? J

Today there are 23 IITs and 20 IIMs in the country. While there is ranking amongst them, lakhs of students graduate from these premier institutions every year, looking for employment. One look at job portals and what stands out is that many organisations – be it start ups or conglomerates – are looking to hire candidates with degrees from IIM and IIT. Now consider a scenario – two candidates apply for the same role; one is from IIM Ahemadabad and the other from one of these “non-original” IIMs. Who do you think will bag the job?

While IIMs and IITs across India are imparting quality education and preventing exodus to metros, their rankings still define their status. So the big question is – Does the brand IIM or IIT still refer to the ‘originals’ or has the race been diverted? Only time will tell …