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Take a break, get an MBA degree

The growing tendency of working professionals to opt out of their jobs to get an MBA degree has management institutes responding with tailored programmes, reports Devraj Uchil.

business Updated: Mar 27, 2008 01:32 IST
Devraj Uchil

The Indian School of Business was set up with the express purpose of imparting accelerated management education to working professionals. Its one-year MBA programme relies on the fact that since the students have work experience, they don’t have to be taught from scratch. The Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad, has a similar executive MBA programme for working professionals. Other MBA institutes are also considering such programmes, in spite of the fact that a number of them have been offering the three-year MBA programme for years now.

The reasons are many. Working professionals, even after putting in up to seven years with industry, are willing to quit and do an MBA. The average work experience at both IIM-A and ISB is around five years. The MBA demand in a fast-growing economy has been huge. The working professionals either want to climb faster up the management ladder in the industries they have already been working in, or switch industries altogether. It’s almost like getting a chance at a second shot.

Besides, compensation jumps are a big draw. The average salary that an executive draws after going through the course is Rs 27 lakh, while a fresh management graduate draws around Rs 17 lakh. The desire for a change in career often happens when executives have put in some time into industry and is able to discern what he would really like to do, better. “The drive to change career has to come from within and should be strong enough for you to take the risk of jumping at it,” says Ajit Rangnekar, deputy dean of the Hyderabad-based ISB, which currently boasts of 425 students who have quit their jobs to pursue their management degree.

“I would say that professionals joining management courses as a natural course of evolution,” says Arvind Sahay, chairperson of PGPX, IIM Ahmedabad. “Earlier, a student used to get his education in a stretch and get a job later. Not many people went for specialisation and there were also not many specialised courses available. Also the job opening with such a high degree of skill was not much.”

After successfully completing the management course, executives land senior level management jobs positions because they have experience to add to their management skill. There are also those who go in for lateral career shifts. But here, he cautions, “there is a possibility that you may not be able to get in at as high a position, as you lack field experience.”

As such executive programmes have delivered to their students and to industry since their inception, confidence in them has gone up with working professionals. Students are therefore willing to pay higher fees for such programmes and are increasingly comfortable about taking a career break to complete the MBA programmes. While for freshers in the regular two-year MBA programme the course fee is Rs 5 lakh at IIM-Ahmedabad, the executive management programme fee is Rs 15 lakh. At ISB, the current fee is Rs 17.63 lakh, including tuition fee, accommodation, books, laptop and the like.

Elaborating on the evolution of campus selection at ISB, Rangnekar says, “The biggest challenge was making the industry understand that the person who wants to change his career, and has worked at it, is better than others around. This is because he is industry-ready, unlike fresh management graduates.” He adds that earlier, companies used to employ ISB students as per their requirement. “Over the years, they have had such good experience with our 'professional' students that they are now willing to employ first and weave a job around the person’s abilities. Teams from different industry verticals visit us regularly to give students perspective of what the industry expects from them. This benefits the industry, students and in turn, ISB.”

The institutes too, add value beyond the academic curriculum. ISB, for example, gives its student a checklist to help him/her evaluate his/her current standing and what the industry expects. “In the first week that a student joins ISB, we ask him to give us his aspiration. Then, we analyse him for a month and assess his ability and aptitude for the desired vocation,” says VK Menon, director, Career Advancement Services, ISB. The student is then counselled on his ability and aspiration, things that he has to learn and unlearn so that he can be a leader in his new vocation. The vertical specialists in ISB help students understand the ground reality while its tie-up with CEOs helps them understand the industry perspective.

Sahay asserts that working professionals are much better students because of their experience in the industry and also because there is too much at stake for them. Certainly, there is a flip side too, as Shailesh J Mehta School of Management, IIT – Bombay, has discovered in its regular two-year MBA programme which has seen an influx of a greater number of students with prior work experience over the recent years (see ‘Work first, get an MBA degree after’).

In fact, so popular has the ‘management’ tag become that institutes are creating new avenues to attract more specialised interest (see ‘Servicemen want management learning too’). In the growing working professionals MBA domain, supply and demand are both vibrant. A lot more working professionals are seeking MBA degrees, so a lot more initiatives are being taken by institutes and seeing the quality of the output, a lot more organisations are quite happy to offer much higher salaries for trained and management-honed managers in a market that is talent-starved.