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We are not so worried about student's choices getting affected due to a slow year: Dr Stephen D'Silva

Interview with Director, Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies (JBIMS), Mumbai

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India is not perceived as a study destination by international students, tells Dr Stephen D’Silva, director, (JBIMS), Mumbai to as he discusses myriad subjects like slowdown in placements, research being the sore point of Indian management institutes and the challenges that foreign universities coming to India will pose. In conversation with Masoom Gupte; edited excerpts:

What is most important for JBIMS — students getting the best jobs, teaching, research or something else?
The most important parameter for us is to get the best possible students for our courses. This would mean being the institution of choice for the toppers of the (MhCET). Once we secure our student base, everything else follows. Other priorities though are getting quality faculty, the who’s who of industry. This way we can offer our students practical knowledge. They can learn what’s happening in the industry, rather than gaining bookish knowledge. Another important factor is ensuring that the students get and work on the best possible summer internships as this is mostly their first interface with the industry and another way of gaining the first-hand experience.

Have placements at JBIMS been impacted due to the economic ups and downs? Do you feel that a ‘slow’ year placements-wise for an institute impacts the students’ choice immediately?
Placements do get impacted, especially if companies have frozen the recruitment process entirely. An impact we’ve seen is the average annual packages coming down by around Rs 50,000. Besides that, we may just see the number of days taken to complete the placement process extend by a day or two. But we continue to maintain our 100 per cent placement record. We are not so worried about students’ choices getting affected due to a slow year as other institutes would be impacted as well, and mostly be worse off.

Has there been any change in the average work experience that students come with for their MBAs? Do you plan to make the requirements stringent on this front?
Not much. Around 30-40 per cent of our students come with an average work experience of one-and-a-half years to two years. But the bulk of our students are freshers. As for being stricter about requirements on this front, that is not really up to us to decide as the admission process is managed entirely by the director of technical education. Anyway a two-year work experience is sufficient. Anything beyond that and students may actually find it tougher to get back to the academic life.

B-schools today offer multiple courses aimed at specific sectors. While a certain set believes this creates specialists too early in the day, others feel this just another trick by institutes to up their student intake. Your views?
I agree that this is just another way for institutes to up their intake and by default profitability. Management courses must be restricted within broad disciplines like finance, marketing or human resources. Institutes with competencies in these areas can possibly create niches within these spaces. But broadbasing the subjects offered, like say, bringing in an specialising in hotel management, would mean veering too far away from regular management studies.

Apart from the full-time courses, you also have part-time ones. How is the demand for such courses?
At our institute we have around four-five applicants for each seat in out part-time course. Otherwise, the demand for these courses is static. One reason could be that many colleges now offer part-time management courses. Students would look for convenience in terms of travelling to the institute after work in the evenings. Also, since the final degree comes from Mumbai University, students tend to neglect their choice of institute. Though this can go against them in the long run as the eventual learning may not be great.

Your part-time MBA students recently staged an “Othello” production to learn more about organisational behaviour. Any other such out-of-the-box teaching techniques you are exploring?
This was an interesting activity as through the staging, students learnt the nitty gritty of organising an event. Another out-of-the-boxteaching idea would be using movies to learn management techniques and their applicability at work. Apart from this, students keep taking up off-summer research projects, working on live case studies and business proposals. Even our part-time students have a business simulation event called, ‘Bizorian’, wherein they put up entire business plans starting with ideation, possible funding routes and even sustainability.

As a work destination, India is favoured by expats for the plethora of opportunities available. But, few international students consider Indian management institutes with gusto. Where are we lacking?
Indian institutes have actually not gone to international shores to lure students. There hasn’t even been a need as the demand that is the number of students far outstrips the supply or the number of institutes. I have personally not heard of seats lying vacant in management institutes for the past five years now. That said, the government too is to be blamed partly for this as they haven’t really opened up the education sector. One needs to go through multiple procedural loops and get several regulatory approvals before offering seats to foreign students. That India is not perceived as a study destination also doesn’t help the cause.

Global management institutes emphasise significantly on research conducted by faculty and students. Do you see a similar trend in India? If yes, what kind of research does your institute work on?
India is definitely lacking on this front. It is a limitation that has often been pointed out by the likes of Kapil Sibal and Narayana Murthy. Funding, either from the government/institute’s own money is the main constraint. We are trying to change things. In fact, we recently conducted a two-day International Research Conference on management, banking and finance. We received more than 250 abstracts from students and mainly faculty from around the world.

Many global campuses are either looking at tie-ups with Indian B-schools or setting up shop here. Would this veer Indian students away from home-grown institutes?
Not necessarily, except if it’s an institute of major repute. But, I don’t think much has happened on that front. However, assuming many global schools do come to India, one would see a survival of the fittest scenario. Indian players will have to upgrade themselves, offer good quality of education, infrastructure facilities and bring on board the best of faculty to retain their student base.

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