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In the midst of a monsoon, the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay is filled with lush green spaces where the air is clean and cool. Little wonder that leopards are known to lurk on the campus, which is tucked away between rolling hills and placid lakes, just two hours from the city centre.
Besides inadvertent wildlife spotting, IIT Bombay is remarkable for running one of the relatively few masters in management (MiM) programmes in India, a country where business education – be it an MBA or a degree under any other name – is a prerequisite for a respectable corporate job.
“You may get different terminologies from MBA to something else but managing a market, managing business, managing corporations … will always be there,” says Shivganesh Bhargava, head of the institute’s Shailesh J. Mehta School of Management. “Management students will always be in demand.”
Since Narendra Modi took the reins as prime minister this May, sentiment has turned positive in India on hopes that the pro-business leader will usher in a new period of growth which is expected to drive hiring.
In more mature markets, a recovering economy could skew a student’s choice between an MBA and a MiM, which is generally a lower-cost course offered to those with less work experience. In India, however, there is little differentiation between the programmes: the entire business education sector will receive a boost as and when growth picks up – though specialised masters programmes could become particularly attractive.
“There are different opportunities being opened up in the economy and different sectors being opened,” says Dhiraj Mathur, executive director at PwC. “The business schools have to be at the frontier of these changes.”
In an attempt to help the higher education sector keep up with economic development, the government plans to open five new Indian Institutes of Management around the country, adding to the 13 that exist today.
Though they are compared with MBAs from top business schools around the world, the IIMs’ two-year courses are known as post-graduate diplomas or programmes in management. The fact they do not qualify as a formal degree under Indian law – and that this appears of little concern to employers – shows how business students in India are judged by the school they attended rather than the specific title of their course. This trend has become more marked in recent years as smaller lesser-known colleges with less stringent admissions criteria, poorer quality education and less high-profile faculty have mushroomed.
Several business schools in India running a MiM programme actually strive to distinguish their offering from an MBA, providing specialised courses that will become more valuable if the Indian economy develops under Modi.
While IIT Bombay’s management programme benefits from being part of one of the country’s top engineering schools, so the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore attracts students to a MiM course with an option to focus on business analytics and technology management – both fields in which it excels.
These specialised programmes are becoming popular as sectors such as IT services grow rapidly in the country, especially given the government’s plans to create a “digital India” with a focus on IT as an engine for growth.
IISc, for example, accepts only engineering graduates in its master of management programme and the course is focused on the quantitative skills that many employers now look for.
“I feel the market as a whole, the job market, is saturated with professionals who have an MBA degree,” says Abhay Raj, a student at IISc, who previously spent almost four years working in data analytics in the automotive industry. “The specialisation which a normal MBA offers is good, but I wanted something more focused, more specialised, which would give me a skill set which would make me stand out from the crowd.”
Masters programmes that offer international experience also have an edge as India develops a large aspirational middle-class, eager to work for multinational corporations that offer the opportunity to move overseas.
By joining Cems, the global alliance in management education, IIM Calcutta is working with 28 other colleges around the world to offer a masters in international management. Some 25 IIM students receive the degree every year, after spending one term at a Cems member school overseas and taking part in international internships.
“There are some very specific areas that are getting hot,” says Bibek Banerjee, director of the Institute of Management Technology Ghaziabad. “[Students] are realising that the [plain] vanilla MBA doesn’t meet the need for them.”
One of the reasons why these Indian business degrees can have more in common with MiM courses elsewhere is that work experience is not a prerequisite for any prospective students.
This is because an undergraduate degree rarely suffices for jobseekers in corporate India. Regardless of any upturn in the economy, young people are less likely to skip business school and go straight to work. “The IIMs never traditionally gave much value to work experience,” says Amit Garga, a partner at the Parthenon Group, an education consultancy.
At IIM Calcutta, 45 per cent of students join the flagship business programme straight after completing undergraduate courses and at IISc the figure is nearer one-third.
Given that Indian business schools are not looking for candidates who have spent time in work, many institutions are geared towards younger full-time students who are willing to live on campus – whether or not it involves taking up residence with leopards.