Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Global Education: Student exchange takes wing

Raunak Mehta, 24, could be the envy of many well-settled professionals. This international business management student from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT) signed up for the institutes student exchange programme, and a new world opened up to him, literally. All he had to do was take an interview organised by the international exchange cell and landed up at the Helsinki School of Economics, Helsinki (Finland), one of the student exchange partners of IIFT. He spent three months (from January to March, 2010), studying and working in Helsinki and discovering Europe Italy, France, Estonia, Germany and Austria. And this, on his maiden visit abroad.

Raunak is not the only lucky one. His 34 other batchmates travelled to the U.S., Italy, Germany, South Korea, Japan and Canada during the same time, studying, experiencing varied cultures and figuring out what it takes to be a global manager. "It was hectic but I loved every bit of it. I did all that I didn't do here," says Raunak. Unlike in India, he submitted a qualitative research paper in marketing (shopping behaviour of Indians in retail formats in Helsinki) and a paper on business, government and society, apart from travelling across Europe to get a feel of work and life in that part of the world.

Raunak and his batchmates are part of a growing crowd of students who experience working and travelling across the world while still in school, thanks to the scaling up of student-exchange programmes at their respective institutes. "This is happening as Indian schools try to position themselves as global brands, foreign institutions eye the booming Indian education sector and companies seek culturally aware, flexible and better-groomed hires," says Prof. Munish Bhargava, Corporate and Placement Advisor at IIFT. Also, the number of student exchange tie-ups has increased many fold, he explains. In contrast, five years ago, with limited seats at IIFT, only two students could visit foreign universities.

Today, top B-schools of the country have an impressive list of global institutions as part of their international linkages which they have added in the last 5-10 years. This includes the School of Public Policy, George Mason University, Cambridge College, Massachusetts, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland in the U.S., ESCP Europe, EDHEC Business School, France, HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management, Leipzig, Germany, Vienna University of Economics & Business Administration and National University of Singapore (NUS), among others. That has allowed many more Indian students to travel abroad and study under different pedagogy and understand international work cultures.

For instance, IIM-Lucknow sent 53 students to 22 universities in four continents this year, up from nine students visiting three universities in 2001. IIM-Calcutta has seen the outgoing students list grow longer from single digits in the early 2000s to 90 students this year who went to 45 different universities. MDI's student count for the exchange programme has gone up 22% from 2007 to 45 students this year. Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai, too has seen a similar outflow, up from 10 students in 2005 to 35 in 2009.

A candidate with international exposure is preferred over others, specially in the services industry. Prabhakar Shyam Jha, an MBA in finance from MDI, Gurgaon, realised this during placement. A five-month internship in General Electrics EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) headquarters working capital management division gave him the chance to interact with staff in the region and understand their preferences, working styles and cultural inclination. "My 10-month stay in Paris came in handy when Evalueserve came to recruit at MDI this year as their client base is international," he says. Prabhakar now works as a senior business analyst in the company. Prabhakar spent five months studying at ESCP Europe as part of the student exchange between MDI and ESCP and the rest working at GE. Just the reason students don't mind taking education loans and spending Rs. 200,000-300,000 for the programme.

What has helped their intent further is the growing volume of scholarships awarded to students. Last year, IIM-L students received 13 scholarships, while MDI got six. IIM-C got seven scholarships and 60 students were given grants from Rs. 15,000-30,000 from the institute this year. All this is international aid from global universities that promote themselves as higher education destinations across the globe. "(In) the way we want to promote our school to attract international students, they are doing the same thing. More so, when they (foreign institutes) think it is possible to have their presence in India through various means, including local tie-ups," says Dr. Debashish Sanyal, Dean, NMIMS.

Interest from overseas partners has also led domestic schools to expand areas of exchange. Sujata Rathi, student exchange representative of IIM-C, says, "We have started pursuing international relations aggressively and are seeking student exchanges with more B-schools across the world. That would also mean getting double degree programmes under such exchange." And, its not only new courses but geographies as well as they try to bring diversity in their offerings. Like IIM-L, which is tying up with B-schools in North America and Asia and now plans to reach out to Australian institutes.

That's good news for students like IIFT's Raunak who want to make a mark in the corporate world. "This kind of initial exposure is necessary for getting hired in companies eyeing newer areas of growth and in emerging markets. At least, I will know how to manage in new surroundings. It has prepared me for the long-term," he says.

Source: The Economic Times, September 29, 2010
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