Like a lot of Chinese students, Ma Liang sat for the graduate management admission test (GMAT) to get into a US business school. He even scored a respectable 660 out of 800 and a California school came calling. But somehow, India keptbeckoning.
The 24-year-old landed in Delhi in June when the city’s temperature soared to 47 degrees. Liang’s home, Shanghai, was then a balmy 20 degrees.
But for Liang, India is hotter in more ways than one.
He is now among a tiny but growing number of foreign students signing up at Indian business schools. Some want global experience, while others want to understand better, India’s economy. And a few, like so many who are turning to India these days in many fields, simply want a low-cost option. Liang, for one, says he wanted to learn Indian business culture and value systems.
Liang did take one big risk in coming as he would only know after interviewing at the Faculty of Management Studies in Delhi whether he had got in.
“There are some things you have to leave to God,” says Liang, now pursuing his Master’s in business administration at the school.
Foreign students have long been a part of India’s universities, prompting some such as Delhi University to reserve 5% of seats for them. But most of these students opt for subjects such as sociology, political science and fine arts. In business studies, students such as Liang remain an exception, despite the low fees charged by business schools in India compared to, say, those in the United States. Nowadays though, Indian business schools themselves are going on global recruiting sprees.
But marketing courses abroad are an expensive—and very competitive—affair. The private Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad markets its courses every year in Nepal and Sri Lanka, and has begun drawing a handful of students from abroad. “The moment you step further, you are talking in dollars,” said Bhuvana Ramalingam, spokeswoman for ISB.
ISB’s website says it charges students an average $40,000 (about Rs16 lakh) for tuition, housing and food. That is still cheaper than top-rated schools as Harvard Business School, where the charges can be as high as $75,000.
T. Mathanaseelan, a Malaysian student who is pursuing a one-year MBA at ISB, chose the institute over colleges in the UK because it would be easier on his wallet. “Compared to a course at the London School of Economics, the cost of my current studies at ISB is one-third. Economically, it is a good option,” he said. He wants to stay back in India and use his MBA to leverage a job here in the ports sector where he worked in Malaysia.
The top-tier Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) do not get any full-time foreign students although they are flooded with student exchange offers. Experts say this might be due to the lack of marketing of IIMs, which are government controlled, or simply because the GMAT score required for entry is in the 99th percentile.
“For entry into IIM-A, a student should have a very high percentile in GMAT. At that level, a Harvard becomes preferable”, said Ashok Shah, spokesman for IIM-Ahmedabad.
One group of IIM students coming from overseas though are non-resident Indians, such as Nidhi Dandona. The 2008 batch student at IIM-A took the GMAT when she was working in Singapore after undergraduate studies at the National University of Singapore. She scored a 780 and secured admission to UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, but chose to come back home and join IIM-A.
“So much is happening in India. An MBA degree from India makes sense,” said Dandona, whose husband also returned with her. She says that awareness of about IIMs is low in Singapore, where very few IIM alumni choose to work.
Business schools say foreign students give diversity to their student bodies. But they say student exchange programmes with top-tier institutes such as Stanford University (for IIM-Bangalore) and Columbia Business School (for IIM-A) also meet this requirement. Any extra seats for foreign students will come at a cost at these institutes.
“If we take foreign students, we have to sacrifice seats for Indian students”, said Prakash Apte, director of IIM-B.
Already, Liang has noted the business culture of India to be unique from any other. But he notes one similarity: the devotion of mothers.
Worried to let her only child go, Liang’s mother offered to move to India to cook for him, he recounts. “I told her the sauces she cooks with are not available here,” he jokes. “No sauces, no kitchen.”