Foreign students on the decline at MDI Gurgaon: Are Indian b-schools ready to attract international students?

Launched with much fanfare in 2006 as Indias first MBA comprising 50% international students, the Post Graduate Programme in International Management (PGP-IM) at the Management Development Institute (MDI), Gurgaon has been seeing a steady decline in the number of international students participating.

The two-year dual-degree programme which MDI runs in collaboration with the European School of Management (ESCP), Paris is designed to have 30 European students and 30 Indian students, all of whom spend a year each at MDI and ESCP.

The course has a total capacity of 60, with an ideal mix of 30 from our institute and 30 from ESCP. However, while the first batch had only 20 students from ESCP, the number has been diminishing constantly. The current batch has only 7 European students even while we have sent a full batch of 30 Indian students from MDI to ESCP, Dr NP Singh, Chairperson of Admissions and International Affairs, MDI told PaGaLGuY.

The course serves as a microcosm of challenges that Indian b-schools could face while hosting students of foreign origin on its campuses. Indian b-schools eyeing international students and aiming to turn the country into a global education hub has emerged as a talking point of late. The Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are planning a roadshow abroad to reach out to prospective students in other countries while schools such as IIM Ranchi are planning fully air-conditioned residences in anticipation of an international student body. Other schools are working on twinning MBA programmes in partnership with schools in Europe or USA.

While the idea of hosting international students looks good on paper, its implementation comes with its own set of challenges, as MDI has learnt. To begin with, the faculty at MDI have had to work around the cultural differences that ESCP students face in India.

Students from ESCP come with a mindset opposite to what we would expect from serious management students. They want to travel the country instead of making use of academic opportunities available at the institute, said Prof Ashok Panjwani, Dean (Academics) at MDI.

He added that distracted by their quest of exploring India, the students sometimes missed compulsory tests. Initially, we tried to let the students substitute the tests with reruns. But constant repetitions have made the faculty find alternative solutions. Now we just take the average of all the tests that the student has attended and use these averages for final scores, the Dean said.

The faculty too suffers a culture shock while adjusting to teaching the European participants. Students walk in with cup of coffee or tea to the classes, which is something completely alien to the faculty. They (students) tend to have a casual demeanour with the faculty as opposed to the more formal interactions that are the norm in India, added Prof Panjwani.

There are adjusting problems on the other side too. Francois Gicqueau, a PGP-IM student from Lyon, France studying at MDI said, The course structure here seems to have been designed for a class largely of engineers. Since most of us do not come from an engineering background, we find it extremely difficult to cope with the course.

He added that one of the purposes of his coming to India was to absorb the local culture and traditions by travelling. However, the course structure made it difficult for him to travel as much as he wished.

The PGP-IM course structure for the one year that we have to study in India is very condensed compared to the other one-year half of the course back in Paris. We have to learn a lot in a very short amount of time, which causes nightmares,” said Florian Dupasquier, another PGP-IM student from ESCP.

At first, we could hardly understand the peculiar English accents of the professors. Also, studying an MBA in France provides us with some free time on the weekends. Here, the institute would like us to take up additional courses, which makes life more hectic that we expected, said Agathe Parent from Paris.

We had been warned about the hot weather in the country. However, it is still a shock to experience it in person. Although we have not faced health issues, the weather does come as a major adjustment problem, Nathalie Cornilleau, another PGP-IM student said. She added that as long as they stayed inside the campus all was well. But as soon as they stepped outside, the dirt and dust on the roads and in the atmosphere was being a problem for many.

Living within the MDI campus has however made life slightly easier, they add. The living facilities provided to us here are extremely good. However it has been very difficult to adjust to the spicy food, said Florian Dupasquier.

In MDI’s experience, international students neither seem interested nor are encouraged to look for a career in India. We hardly get requests from ESCP students for a placement in India. If any, they are feeble ones which we try to discourage. The reason is that Indian companies are not really very interested in hiring international MBA graduates. They are well aware that the cultural differences will be a problem, said Prof Ashok Panjwani.

Only those involved in family businesses tend to be interested in India’s economy. “I want to enter the textile business. Most of my travelling here is about scanning the markets for the best suppliers in India who will be able to help me in the future. Other than creating supplier relationships, I have no plans of staying in the country, shared Marguerite Bolze, a PGP-IM student at MDI.

No wonder then, MDI is not looking to increase the number of seats in the PGP-IM course anytime soon. Although getting a piece of the international student market is lucrative for MDI, executing it has been much more difficult than they imagined, said the Dean.