Two years ago, after graduating with honours in botany from St. Xavier's College, Mumbai, Apurva Mathur was clear about pursuing a vocation in environmental protection. While scouting for options abroad, she spotted an advertisement of TERI University offering an MBA in business sustainability. She found a "perfect fit" for her ambitions. "I realised that I could combine my concern for the environment with a career in business management," she says. Apurva is not an isolated case.
Niche MBA programmes are very much in vogue now and extend beyond the basic grounding that students receive in core areas like business strategy, quantitative analysis, marketing and finance. With increasing demand for such courses, both from MBA aspirants and industry, B-schools across the country are offering niche courses including everything from green manufacturing, carbon finance and facility management to pharmaceutical, retail and sports management.
Consider the Management Development Institute or MDI Gurgaon. It offers a programme in energy management, including compulsory credit courses in subjects like power trading, distribution and management. "We started this programme at the behest of the government and signed a three-year MoU with the Ministry of Power and USAID in 2005," says Atmanand, Dean and Professor of Economics and Energy Management.
The USAID or US Agency for International Development funds a host of energy programmes. MDI began by offering 50 sponsored seats to power and infrastructure companies. Now, it has started to offer self-sponsored seats as well.
"The response has been overwhelming in the way the industry has rushed to support the initiative," says Atmanand. Companies such as Reliance Infrastructure, Reliance Power, Suzlon Energy, GMR and Infosys are not just recruiting students, but also come to campuses to conduct programmes. "In fact, we had a unique situation when an NTPC employee actually resigned from the company and opted for the self-sponsored course once he was selected," he says.
Enthused by the response from the industry, the institute is now offering a course on smart grids as well and is now looking at having a student exchange programme with HEC Montreal, one of the top global energy management institutes. Very often, special courses are grafted on to the regular management programme.
"Our MBA has an added dimension of sustainability built into each course. As a result, our students gets a regular MBA curriculum with the advantage of being exposed to issues related to business sustainability," says Group Captain (retd.) Rajiv Seth, Registrar, TERI University. Or take the premier institutes IIM Ahmedabad and IIM Lucknow, which offer students electives in environment management.
What's on Offer...
But HR heads are quick to point out that, for the top positions, they look at B-schools with a pedigree. So, a college like SIES College of Management that offers a well recognised programme on Pharmaceutical Management and Biotechnology, reported 100 per cent placements last year with average salaries of Rs 4.5 lakh and the highest going up to Rs 6 lakh.
Placements are also determined by the sector. Typically, pharmaceutical companies tend to pay less, while energy companies are known to make better offers. But that is no reflection on the reputation of the management school itself, say observers.
MDI Energy Management B-school graduates - who are typically people with the required five years of work experience - got average offers of Rs 12 lakh, with the highest going over Rs 35 lakh in 2009. But most second-rung institutes struggle to get recruiters on campus.
"There is a concern about how many of the new players are able to attract quality faculty and students, and design programmes that can offer real value," says Somnath De, Chief Engineer, Electrical, ONGC. Often the new institutes cropping up in Tier II and III towns are saddled with students who have MBAs without even the basic "employability" benchmarks required by the industry, say HR heads.
So, the rules of the game remain the same for niche MBA aspirants: only the best colleges ensure quality education and good placements.