‘It is impossible to learn global business management unless you study in a global city,’ says Nitish Jain

SP Jain’s Australian campus

The SP Jain School of Global Management has been on a spree of launching new international programmes in the last few years. Namely the Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), Global Master of Business Administration (GMBA), Master of Global Business (MGB) and Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA).

PaGaLGuY.com met up with Mr Nitish Jain, President and Director to know whether these programmes stand a chance in today’s competitive scenario and if they have somewhat achieved the purpose they were created for.

Nitish Jain, President, SP Jain School of Global Management, Singapore.

Why have you started so many different global programmes?

We live in a global world, one that is borderless. Cliched as it may sound, most leading companies are successful because of their global way of doing business. It’s impossible to be globally minded and globally intelligent without actually going and seeing the world. There’s only a limited amount that can be taught inside the classroom. We have campuses in Dubai, Singapore and Sydney so that students can actually experience 3 very different cultures that dominate the business world. Dubai is unique in its business environment. It’s a very Middle Eastern culture and also because of the large expatriate population from India, Pakistan etc. Singapore, because it has a strong Chinese culture. So the students understand the Chinese way of doing business and Sydney is actually a proxy to the western world and a mature first world economy. Going to all 3 truly prepares them for the global world.

But Indian schools also promise a global experience?

We have closely studied the programmes that have a higher brand prestige than us. But they merely focus on the in class learning. In a sense, it’s like black and white movie. You go to the classroom, you do your exams and you come out. I like to think that we are a Technicolor movie. There is so much happening outside the classrooms. Business is conducted on dinner tables and board rooms and business students need relevant training to be prepared. They need global social skills and a breadth of experiences to make conversation around. Our out of class trips in each of the 3 cites is a part and parcel of the programme where they learn these things. This is what gives our students a real edge.

Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Bangalore are all good cities. But are they world class? Isn’t the backdrop where you study important? Can you learn western art or visit something like Ferrari world or understand how they built the tallest building in the world? Though this sort of learning may not directly be related to business its important as it makes one more well-rounded and hence I think should be an integral part of a business programme. Getting a broad exposure and learning new things helps one develop a global mindset.

But SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai still calls the shots?

SPJIMR has been around for 30 years. The global campus has not even there for 10 years. We have campuses in 3 different countries. But I think very few people understand what it takes to set up a campus in Australia, Dubai, Singapore, what it takes to get an Australian degree giving right, how you put all of this together, how you get students and faculty from all over the world to join our programme with our Indian sounding name. So you have to understand that these are real challenges. But these are a solid foundation for building a differentiated brand. One that has relevance in today’s global world.

Some of the b-schools we compete with (Indian schools) are more than 50 years old. Have they innovated at all or do they live on past glory? That is something we question. It can stand up to a point but then people will start to question the product. For example, we all thought Nokia phones were unassailable. We thought they were far ahead of the competition and nobody could touch them. But if you stop innovating, you come down very fast. See what’s happened to them. Even the almighty Apple has fallen of late.

Any data on what pushes a student to select a school, leave aside factors such as scores?

Students usually select a school just by brand perception. They don’t really do their homework on the what the school really offers. Or they will go by placement figures blindly without understanding beyond that. What we’re saying is there’s also something called a product. At the end of the day, you’re doing an MBA for the learning. That should be the most important reason why you should consider an MBA programme to begin with. Brands go up and down but your learning is with you forever.

Why is your BBA programme 4 years when they are traditionally 3 years?

This because we feel that at the undergraduate level, you need to have a foundation of general education. We do courses like World Culture, Sustainability, and Sociology for example. All our students start in Singapore, then they move to Dubai for the second year and to Sydney for year 3 and 4. They graduate from a Sydney campus with a two-year work visa. So they can stay on there for 2 years if they wish to or they can come back. We don’t know of any undergraduate BBA programme that is spread over 3 campuses. And we have students and faculty who come from more than 27 countries. Our students get “born” global and dont need to adapt to a global world later on in life. This creates very different sorts graduates. You just have to meet them to know what I mean.

In your junior version of the MBA, (MGB), why are you expecting students to come back for a full time MBA degree after 3 years?

A student who has less than 3 years of work experience but still needs a bachelor’s degree can go for the Master of Global Business. This is a 12-month, tri-city programme with a 4-month internship at the end. Once a student gets 3 years of work experience, which means he has met with our MBA requirements, he can come back to SP Jain and do a six-week top up programme and we substitute the MGB with an MBA degree. An MBA is a better recognized degree and hence its appeal.

Also keep in mind that all our degrees come from SP Jain, Australia. In Australia SP Jain is the only non-local university to be given the right to award degrees. It’s a great honour isn’t it? Regarding placements, students do want a good job after the programme. Although we believe our programme is targeted towards the learning. jobs are an outcome of this. We have placement offices in Dubai, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Singapore, Shanghai and Sydney which help get the jobs in India and internationally. In Dubai we have over 1,000 alumni and in Singapore over 500.

About the MGB programme, do you think a one-year programme works for people with less than 3 years of work experience?

For this programme, we have a Chief Programme Mentor. She attends classes just like a student and gives personal attention to all students, especially the ones who are at risk. They get personal counselling and placed in study groups other more motivated students.. It is a bit of a challenge in the first 3-4 months when they’re still undergraduate in their thinking. But with constant meetings and counselling, we ensure that these students are corporate ready by the time they graduate.

Aren’t you expecting a BBA student to go do an MBA?

A lot of our students want to do their MGB right after their programme. We constantly tell them – don’t do it. The BBA programme is a very high quality programme and it’s preferable to get a job before further studies and gain some practical experience. After 3-4 years they are welcome to return and do the MBA programme because you’ll get much more. Then we will prepare you for a general managerial position. For the MGB we do get BBA students from other colleges but we don’t think they have the same experience like in our programme. They don’t have the multi-city experience and our programmes our taught in a different way. So they still benefit a lot.

The BBA programme is for people who really have the money to spend.

Did you know that $20 billion are spent by Indians on higher education every year? There are a lot of Indians with a lot of money. In fact, what we are doing is that we’re taking away the market share from those going to the US. Therefore, instead of going there, this is an option that they have. For the last 50 years the US was where got jobs were but now that has shifted to Asia.

Why Australia? It’s way off the map.

It is and it isn’t. It isn’t because Australia is nothing but Europe. It’s very similar to Britain. It’s not in any way different when you look at their political setup. It’s not different in the way it looks physically or the demographic setup inside the country. It’s very western when it comes to cultural learning.

Why it works for us is that it’s more predictable than the US from a student visa perspective. In the US, you might get into a leading university and not get a student visa. You don’t even know why you haven’t got the visa. In Australia, the system is more transparent. Sydney is one of the best cities in the world to have an education in. It has more than 150,000 international students. Just the cultural learning in Sydney is well worth going there for.

Dubai, Singapore and Sydney are the finest world class cities in the Asia-Pac region. And APAC is indeed one of the best places to be at least for the next 20 years from a growth perspective.

How about a degree from Singapore or Dubai, they are more established as education hubs?

Singapore doesn’t have a system to accredit non local universities. Only local universities have degree awarding rights. In the UAE, they have the system but it has to be an only UAE programme. They don’t have the ability to awards degrees for a multi-campus global programme. Australia is far more advanced and mature about such things.

Why not an Indian degree itself?

In India, the PGDM and various diplomas instead of degrees are given by institutes. This is understood only by Indians. Try explaining to a foreign company that it’s actually an MBA but they call it diploma because of the government. It’s very complex. Also, by and large India is still viewed by the rest of the world as a developing country whereas Australia is a regular first world country with very high standards. An Australian degree has worldwide reputation.

Why would a student from the US join your programme?

You’ve asked a very interesting question. It’s really because it’s the flipside of the same coin – why would an Indian want to go to America to study. Why would an American not want to come to Asia to study? It’s to see a whole new world, to understand Chinese, Middle Eastern and Indian culture. It’s to broaden one’s exposure and network with people and companies here. It’s to gather experience that they lack today. More American companies are looking to hire people with a global experience because they want to expand to Asia. They need people who understand Asia. We have really not understood the power of west to east because we have not marketed ourselves or created avenues like they have done.

Even if you wanted to give an Indian degree, would you be allowed?

Yes. But we would have to go to them, comply with their conditions. Honestly I think the Australian system is more modern. It allows you more flexibility and the ability to conduct the programme in a more modern way. That said I am sure that Indian system will get modernized too in the years to come.

How are you tackling placements with the dip in the job market?

We’re not really finding any dip in jobs per se, maybe because of our global presence. We find that Dubai is booming right now. Sitting in India, we may think that their economy has gone bust but in relaity it’s booming and our students are getting jobs at very high salaries. Even in India, it’s reasonably ok. We’re not seeing a big dip. You can’t compare it to what it was a few years ago; that was unreal. That is an aberration and this is the reality. I don’t think this is going to change too much. It might have a little improvement when the Indian economy grows in the next few years. But it’s not going to become 8% growth. We will see some modest growth.

What’s the situation in Singapore?

Singapore is a steady economy but our students are finding it a little more difficult to get jobs because the government has changed its policy. For the short run, they have tightened up on ‘foreign workers’ as they call it. They do give work permits, it’s become more difficult. We feel it’s an interim measure because it had gone out of hand. Our students get jobs there but its more difficult and so we are focussing on China. We believe China, Malaysia, Indonesia are still good markets where the economic growth creates jobs.

The one interesting fact is that people understand that Indian managers are very good. There are a lot of Indian expats in Singapore. You know, it’s the only country outside of India that celebrates Diwali. It’s a public holiday! I’m just going to the IIM meet in Singapore and there are more than 1000 IIMites there. So they recognise Indian talent.

What is the percentage of the Indian students?

The MBA has a lot of Indian students and we’re trying to change that because we want it to be a global programme. Even the Indian students prefer diversity in the classroom. So we’re changing that in the way we market ourselves. But the BBA class has more that 60 percent international students. Even the 40% Indian students are from all over the world. They’re from Singapore, Dubai, UK etc. BBA is the most global, MGB the second and MBA the least for now. That will change and all our programmes will have international students.

What are you doing to change that?

We have a team in Singapore headed by a Singaporean who has a team of one person based in Beijing, one in Shanghai, one person who handles Indonesia, Vietnam, and Philippines. There’s another Singaporean lady who is marketing in Malaysia, Thailand. We have a guy for Dubai. His job is international marketing only. He is focussing on CIS countries, Africa, Middle East.

We have just hired an Australian guy who was the head of IB schools of Australia. He will help us get IB students to us. We are spending a lot of money, time and effort in trying to get students. At the end of the day, if you don’t have students, then it doesn’t work. It’s the raw material and we are looking at incoming students in a very important way. I hope, three years from now, we can tell you that we are far more international than we are today.

Why do Indian schools do a bad job of attracting international students?

It’s really not for me to speculate but I guess that their marketing efforts are geared to meet the requirements of the large Indian market.

Do they ever ask why you don’t have a programme in India?

They do. But then, we get them to India for short programmes. As an Indian myself I am allowed to say that India looks very attractive till you visit India. How do you travel in an Indian city? How do you move around as a student? Are you going to go to 5-star hotels to find the food that you normally want? It’s just not made for international people as of now. Maybe it will change. As of now, they are very excited to come to India but after the first 10 days, they can’t take it anymore. They want to leave. We have a tie-up for the undergraduate students with HR College for those students who wish to study in India.

What is SP Jain’ equation with AICTE?

I think you might know the answer to your own question. AICTE has a certain way of doing work and we don’t comply with those conditions. Schools with a much lower reputation have more seats and privileges.