No one has ever asked Anurag Mishra whether he left the Indian Institute of Management-Calcutta with a degree or a diploma. He doesn’t expect it to come up in the future either. “It has never been a problem for me,” said the class of 2008 graduate. “’Degree’ is just a better word.”

However, students of the prestigious institute may not have to deal with this distinction in coming years.

The Union cabinet on Tuesday cleared the Indian Institute of Management Bill, 2017, which has been in the works for nearly four years. If passed in Parliament, the biggest change the legislation will bring is that IIMs across the country will award degrees instead of diplomas to students.

This will also end a dilemma that many candidates face: whether to pick the IIM brand over a degree programme.

The Bill will be tabled in the Lok Sabha during the Budget session, which will begin on January 31.

Old and new

According to alumni and current students, those in the newer branches of the institute will benefit the most from this.

There are 20 IIMs in the country of which the oldest three – Calcutta and Ahmedabad, founded in 1961 and Bangalore, which opened in 1973 – are considered most prestigious. These institutions have formidable alumni and industry networks extending beyond India. “For us, the change is largely cosmetic,” said Balaji Uppala, a first-year student in the post-graduate programme at IIM-Ahmedabad. “The top IIMs are already well-known even abroad. But for the new ones – Visakhapatnam, Amritsar, Nagpur all established in 2015 – having a degree was essential.”

The legislation will especially benefit branches of the institute built over the last decade, said Soumya Loomba, who is in her second year at decade-old IIM-Indore. She explained: “Degree sounds more legit.”

Little changes

But for a large section of the institutes’ alumni network, the value of the IIM brand trumps that of having a degree. “You do an MBA to get a great job and an IIM tag will open doors,” said an alumna of IIM-Calcutta, from the Class of 2009, who works with a multinational company in Gurgaon. “Industry does not distinguish between a degree and a diploma for IIMs. Neither do we, when we recruit.”

Investment banker Abhishek Agarwal, who graduated from IIM-Ahmedabad in 2010, echoed this. “If the brand is known enough, what you call the course should not matter,” he said. “And if there is a problem with the branding, it probably will not be erased by the change anyway.”

Foreign connections

However, those from the newer branches of the institute said a degree would help establish links with foreign institutions. “This issue has come up when we have invited foreign universities to send students here [Indore] for exchange programmes,” said Loomba. “Some of them ask why they should send students when they are in a degree programme and we offer only diplomas.”

A diploma, Uppala from IIM-Ahmedabad said, is considered equivalent to a Master’s in Management in international markets, a degree that helps start a career, whereas an MBA is meant to advance it.

This distinction can be a hindrance during international placements at the newer institutes. “The diploma does not hold as much value as a degree abroad,” said Kavita Krishnakumar, a first-year student at IIM-Ranchi.

Research and academics

A degree instead of a diploma would most benefit those in academics. For instance, diploma-holder Vartika Srivastava from IIM-Ahmedabad’s Class of 2008 had to take additional courses to get more credits for her PhD programme at the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay. “There was a standard admission policy for all diploma-holders even though an IIM programme is better than many a degree course,” said Srivastava.

According to the institute’s policies, to get into research, a diploma holder had to do “a number of other things” to meet requirements, Vartika said. “That policy still stands for other diploma courses but the IIM programmes were exempt from last year,” she added. “Allowing IIMs to award degrees will help researchers who were being penalised by such blanket rules.”