Monday, April 16, 2012

How three entrepreneurs quit high-flying jobs to bring foreign degrees to India

It can be tough for Mohammed to go to the mountain, more so if you account for rising costs of everything. So, can the mountain be brought to Mohammed at a much cheaper rate? This seems to be the philosophy driving Mohit Jain, Maitreyi Singhvi and Romit Choudhury, who are set on bringing high quality education from the UK to Indian shores. The trio have opened Northwest College for Advanced Learning, a not-for-profit institute that will teach courses of the University of London International Programmes, in Delhi this year.

The idea first took shape when Jain and Singhvi met in 2011 while both were working in Dubai. Jain, who has an M.Tech degree from IIT-Delhi, and studied for his MBA degree at Harvard Business School, was with McKinsey while Singhvi was working as a legal advisor with Daman Health Insurance Company. Both were unhappy about the lack of employability among Indian students. "Most of the Indian candidates lacked the ability to apply their knowledge in their job and this was due to their classroom-based education in India. In foreign universities, a lot of stress is paid on making the students industry ready," says Singhvi.

Both Jain and Singhvi kept tinkering with the idea for almost a year. They quit their jobs and returned to India in January 2012. They met Choudhury, who was working in the HR department of Procter & Gamble, through a common friend and when he seemed enthusiastic about the project, they teamed up. The plan was simple: If Indian students can't travel abroad for foreign education, one should bring the courses here at an affordable price. The first order of business was to find a reliable and renowned educational institution to partner with. After talks with various universities, they finally settled on the programmes offered by the University of London International Programmes, which accepted their proposal.

The courses are designed by the London School of Economics (LSE) and Northwest College will initially offer five under-graduate degree courses taught in LSE (banking, economics, accounting, finance and management) and four post-graduate diploma programmes. From the curriculum to the exams, everything will be conducted by the University of London and LSE.

Currently, the founders plan to fund the venture with support from family and friends. The initial investment is expected to run into several crores with about Rs. 10 million being used for infrastructure setup alone. A hefty sum has also been used to hire the appropriate faculty. While Northwest College will choose the professors and lecturers, the University of London will put the final seal of approval. "All the study material, online library facilities and alumni network access will be the same as studying in London," says Choudhury, an alumnus of the Tata Institue of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai.

The education cost at Northwest College, the trio claims, is one-sixth of studying in London. A graduation course there, without any scholarship, will cost a student upwards of Rs. 6 million while the same will cost about Rs. 1.05 million here. Classes are scheduled to begin on 20 August and students can apply online on the college's website, "We plan to break-even operationally in 2-3 years and are looking at recouping our investment by the fourth year of operations," says Jain.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), April 16, 2012

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