Foreigners on the campus

By Tejeesh N.S. Behl        Print Edition: Sept 23, 2007

It began with a net search and ended with studies in India. Mathanaseelan Thavasimuthu from Malaysia, learnt about the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, while exploring options on the website of the London Business School (ISB is listed as a partner school on the lbs site).

Impressed by what he found-in terms of the faculty, diversity of students and course content-he opted for ISB.

The lower cost-at $40,000 (Rs 16.4 lakh) compared to the average cost of $100,000 (Rs 41 lakh) at any of the top-rung us B-schools-clinched the issue.

"This meant getting a comparable education at one-third the cost I would have to incur at lbs," says Thavasimuthu, who has two years of work experience at the Malaysian Container Port, at Port Klang near Kuala Lumpur. He is now keen to enter the field of logistics and is looking forward to an international placement when he passes out next year.

Thavasimuthu, who is particularly happy about his classroom experiences, which, he says "make you think", is part of a growing minority of expat students joining Indian B-schools for full-time courses. It's not yet a flood, but the trickle is growing-though there are no consolidated figures for foreign nationals studying at all Indian B-schools.

A majority of these students are from Asia and Africa, and institutes do tend to inflate the numbers by including overseas students of Indian origin in this list.

Even so, the chances of spotting non-Indians at Indian B-schools are increasing with every passing academic year-a recognition, perhaps, of the calibre of alumni who have proved themselves at gold standard companies the world over. The other obvious attraction is the cost advantage over comparable B-schools in the West.

But money isn't the only talking point here. For some, like South Koreans Yoon Sukho and Saehee Ghim, it made strategic sense to enroll themselves in India's top-notch management institutes. "A lot of Korean companies are setting up shop in India and many of them don't yet have an understanding of the local environment," observes Ghim, a first-year student at Pune's Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM).

Ghim, who plans to major in marketing, says she wanted to challenge herself by working in an evolving market such as India, as opposed to a developed one like the US.

Agrees Sukho, a Deputy Manager (Procurement), with seven years work experience at South Korean steel major POSCO, who is enrolled for a full-time course in Operations and Information Management at Mumbai's S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR): "We are starting a business in India, so it makes sense to study India's business processes." Sukho's studies are sponsored by his employer.

The story of the rise and rise of India Inc- especially of high profile overseas acquisitions-has spawned its own fan club. Winston Nisham from Trinidad and Tobago comes with 10 years of experience in the it industry in the us and his batchmate, Rohan David Lepps of Guyana, who has eight years of work experience in the UK-both are studying at ISB-say that while lower fees were a definite advantage, the unfolding growth story of India was the bigger attraction.

"Cost can never be a key driver, for one can easily recover the expenses after completing an MBA," emphasises Lepps, who is keen on a placement in India.

In fact, it was the placement record of IIM-C that attracted Travis Edward Donselman, who's come a long way from his home in California. "The placements record at IIM-C was something that excited me. About 20 per cent of Lehman Brothers' fresh intake (globally) comes from this institute and the average overseas salary offered is close to $115,000 (Rs 47,15,000 lakh), which is comparable to that of US B-schools.

I also wanted to grow in a foreign culture and, thereby, develop an openness in me," points out IIM-C's only foreign student who's planning to major in finance. There is, of course, another advantage of an Indian MBA. Most schools here don't insist on prior work experience-a must at the Whartons, Kellogg'ses and Harvards of the world.

The institutes, for their part, say that diversity in the classroom leads to better learning among students. "The process of peer learning with Indian students is a tremendous asset for foreign students; and Indian students gain from exposure to the culture of these overseas students," says Arun Mudbidri, Director, SIBM.

Adds China's Ma Liang, who is currently studying MBA at Delhi's Faculty of Management Studies: "The experience has proved to be an eye-opener, especially in context of the parallel economic developments taking place in India and China."

Ironically, the iconic symbols of India's excellence in B-school education, the Indian Institutes of Management, seem to have the lowest traction among foreign students, but this is because the number of domiciled Indians applying for admission is overwhelming. "At the moment, we cannot think of getting in foreign students full time for the PGP programme. Selectivity is the highest in cat. We are the toughest B-school in the world to get into.

To admit foreign students, we select students with GMAT scores of over 750. With that kind of a score, a candidate can walk into Harvard, Wharton or any other top management school. So, the issue is not of attracting foreign talent but one of attracting quality foreign talent. For that to happen, we need to be a top and visible brand overseas," says Bakul Dholakia, Director, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

At ISB, international students make up about 5 per cent of the total batch this year, while SIBM reserves 15 per cent seats each academic year for overseas nationals.

ncidentally, foreign students are allowed to participate in campus placements, depending on the requirements of the companies visiting the institute. Some, like SIBM, allow overseas nationals to sit for campus placements after a screening test (placements for foreign students are held in January- only after placements for Indian students are completed in December).

HR heads of Indian companies are quite open to hiring these students, particularly for their international operations. "There has to be a custom-fit-between the requirements of the candidate and the company.

It can't be done just for the heck of it. As a global company, we are open to the idea of hiring foreign nationals-both for our international and Indian operations," says Santrupt Misra, Director, (HR), A.V. Birla Group. Adds ISB's Deputy Dean Ajit Rangnekar: "Learning happens with peer experiences and international students bring a different peer experience."

That makes it a win-win situation for B-schools, their Indian students and foreign nationals headed for Indian campuses. And by the looks of it, this trend will only intensify in the years to come.

Additional reporting by E. Kumar Sharma, Pallavi Srivastava and Ritwik Mukherjee

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