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For Tamanna Usman, a native of Mumbai, Singapore is far from home. But that was part of the allure for the 29-year-old, who enrolled in SP Jain’s global MBA programme, launched in Singapore in 2006.

As part of the one-year MBA offered by the SP Jain Center of Management, students spend six months in Singapore and six months at the school’s Dubai campus. Ms Usman enrolled in the overseas MBA, instead of SP Jain’s flagship programme in Mumbai, because it spans one year instead of two and offered her international experience.

“I know the pulse of India,” says Ms Usman. “I needed to move out, get exposure.” The former corporate trainer for an air hostess institute in India says studying abroad allows her to make contact with companies that do not have a presence in India.

SP Jain’s new seven-acre Singapore campus on Hyderabad Road is home to about 250 students on the one-year programme. The vast majority are from India, but SP Jain hopes to attract more students from Singapore and overseas, especially from the Middle East. It has also launched a two-year executive education MBA programme with about 150 students and is ramping up a corporate education programme aimed at executives in Singapore and beyond.

The flagship SP Jain Institute of Management & Research in Mumbai, ranked among India’s top business schools, is nearly five hours away by plane. Yet Singapore is a vital piece of SP Jain’s strategy to become a global business school. It opened its Dubai campus in 2004 and hints it could open another campus somewhere in the western hemisphere as early as next year.

“The world is becoming very global,” says Nitish Jain, president of the SP Jain Centre of Management. “Corporations are becoming global thanks to IT and reduction in trade barriers. Educational institutes have to meet corporate needs.”

The centre is investing heavily in technology. “If you have a talented professor in Chicago, why don’t you invite him to teach a course via video conferencing?” asks Mr Jain.

Campuses in strategic locations outside India allow SP Jain to be in the thick of high-growth industries, such as retail, real estate and logistics, in emerging markets in Asia and the Middle East.

Trade hubs

At the opening the Singapore campus last year, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s minister for education, said the location would help the school take advantage of “the growing flow of students, professionals and entrepreneurs between the Middle East, South Asia and East Asia”. He added: “The Singapore campus will, I hope, help to spur this triangular flow of talent.”

SP Jain’s global MBA curriculum highlights high-growth sectors such as “global logistics and supply chain management” and “global human resources”.

Both Singapore and Dubai are key trade hubs and host a plethora of multinational companies. About 4,000 have offices in Singapore and of 708 companies listed on its stock exchange last autumn, 240 were from overseas, says Aylwin Tan, executive director of Singapore’s Economic Development Board.

The tiny city-state, with a population of 4.5m, has been wooing outside investors to try to brand itself as a global hub, as well as a beachhead for companies seeking to enter Asia.

Mr Jain cites Singapore’s “red carpet treatment” as a big reason for going there. Proximity to global companies, excellent infrastructure and Singapore’s appeal to faculty were other reasons. “With multiple campuses, you can attract more faculty,” says Mr Jain. “With campuses in Mumbai, Dubai and Singapore, faculty can be based where they want.”

For its part, Singapore has pointedly encouraged international universities to set up here, as education is an important part of its diversification strategy. Business schools such as Insead and the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business were among the first to set up campuses in Singapore several years ago.

There are some 16 overseas universities, including MIT, Johns Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Technical University of Munich, Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Stanford. As the most recent entrant, New York University last autumn opened an Asia campus of its Tisch School of Arts in Singapore.

This is just the start of Singapore’s campaign to attract more international students. The city state claimed 80,000 international students last autumn hopes to boost that number to 150,000 by 2015.

International campuses and programmes may be de rigueur for many leading global universities and business schools. But for Indian universities, overseas campuses serve another important purpose: the means to escape restrictive government policies.

Potential

Even privately funded SP Jain must have government approval in India for how many students it can admit, what fees to charge, and it may be subject to controversial quotas, or “reservations”, that set aside seats for students from India’s low-caste and tribal groups.

“Though many industries are now free from the government license ‘raj’, education is not one of them,” notes Mr Jain.

Rules set for educational institutes are even more stringent for public universities, such as the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad, considered India’s leading business school. IIM-A has considered opening an overseas campus, but is forbidden to do so under Indian law. It has, however, set up many international partnerships, such as a double-degree programme with Essec Business School in France and a student exchange with Columbia University in New York.

In Singapore, SP Jain can set its own fees (about $25,000 annually compared with $10,000 in Mumbai), hire and pay faculty freely and have complete control over its curriculum.

The Indian government needs to make higher education policies “more pragmatic,” says Mr Jain politely. “Government will need to make policies to encourage private institutes. Government resources are scarce. They need to encourage the private sector to get involved.”

Others are not as polite. Bakul Dholakia, who stepped down as director of IIM-A last year, said: “The full potential of IIM-A is prevented from being realised.

“That’s good news for western business schools. Otherwise we could give the best business schools in the world a run for their money.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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