In this exclusive interview with Dr. Debasis Mallik, Professor and Head of GMP, SPJIMR, with the Founder and CEO of PaGalGuY, Allwin Agnel, the former shares his journey in the education domain and SPJIMR’s vision along with a few answers for questions about what the new normal means for the MBA space, and shares valuable tips for MBA aspirants.

Congratulations on SPJIMR (S P Jain Institute of Management and Research) bagging the 3rd place in India and 36th globally clubbed with IIM-B in Financial Times Rankings.

How has your journey been so far with SPJIMR? What do you consider your significant achievements during this time? 

At SPJIMR, our mission is to ‘Influence Practice’ and ‘Promote Value-based Growth’. All of us have come together over the years to help deliver this mission. Our various rankings are a result of this work.

Our entire faculty body made conscious efforts to bring SPJIMR to the global platform that enabled us in bagging the FT ranking. AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) also acknowledges SPJIMR as an institution with a difference. 

As you know, AACSB accreditation is the longest standing and most recognized professional accreditation body in the field of business education at the Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral level. The FT ranking builds on this and communicates to the world that SPJIMR is on a strong trajectory of growth linked to its mission.

In many ways we try and make a difference to the society we live in. For example, we are the pioneers in including social initiatives in our curriculum. Since the last 27 years or more, we have consistently impacted lives and sensitised our students with issues at the grassroots level. This helps them to remain grounded and humble.

Our non-classroom initiatives like the PG Lab (Personality Growth Laboratory) and the student-led committees (called ADMAP) and rural area internships (called DOCC) help participants learns in new ways. This helps them grow as managers and eventually become future leaders. 

The SPJIMR alumni are our flag bearers 

Our alumni make us proud. This is often a clear differentiator when compared with other institutions. At GMP, we empower alumni as “buddies” to newly enrolled students for guiding them through various non-academic procedures and career prospects. 

The campus location in Mumbai is also an added advantage as it is the financial capital of India. The introduction of the concept of Executive-in-Residence helps participants and faculty emerge as thought leaders of tomorrow.

Some of the top leaders in their respective industries have joined us as Executives-in-Residence. We have also demonstrated active improvement in research and faculty development. Some of our recent papers are top peer-reviewed journals. Many such features have helped us in finding a pace in the FT Rankings. 

SPJIMR’s GMP completed ten years this July 2020. You have been collaborating with B-Schools abroad. How has that panned out for your institute? What can students expect on that front?

In 2009, a delegation from the European Commission visited SPJIMR.  We decided on a collaborative programme that will not only cater to the European market in management domain, but will also help us improve our alumni pool in Europe.

The initial funding from the Commission helped SPJIMR to conceive the idea and start a new program with one of the partner schools in Germany. It was a win-win for both institutions as we had sufficient grants for the first three years.

Eventually, we added more partners in Europe where the graduates would receive the right academic and corporate exposure. Unlike India, European schools focus more on employability than placements. 

Language was also a major hurdle. As a part of the curriculum, right from the first year, we had inducted our students into German/Dutch/French language training courses, based on the countries they go, post GMP.

However, participants did not take language so seriously. As a result, from the first batch most of them returned to India, unable to crack any internship or job in Europe. This forced us to work more closely with our partner schools and enhance the language skills of our participants.

We were quick learners. Today more than 80 percent of our graduates from GMP who graduated from our European partners are established and settled in Europe and other parts of the world. Without constant support from our partner schools, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve this. 

Language is often a major hurdle for job conversion. This is especially true in the areas of marketing and operations. In countries like France, often language fluency is a prerequisite to apply. 

Our learnings: 

The job market in Europe is very different than India. The labour laws are stringent in the European market. Students who graduate from Europe are generally expected to take up internships, which eventually get converted to jobs, if both parties are agreeable. Job offers immediately after completion of graduation is rare. 

Many a times, students may not get placed in the company where they do internships. Sometimes, companies are clear that the openings are for internships and not for permanent positions. In other cases, it could be mismatch of expectations or the student wanted to change the job profile, after gaining experience from the internship. 

Over a period of time, our students have learned the art of taking on internships in Europe, and eventually converting these into jobs, too. Ten years from the first batch, we managed to reverse the trend. While only 10 per cent were placed in the first batch, over 90 percent of the batch gets placed in Europe now.

Others might return to India due to family compunctions or move to other countries like, the US, UK, middle-East, etc. Students of GMP go with a flexible mindset of working in Europe for at least three to five years.  

Students look for ROI

For Indian candidates who seek to go for management education, ROI is a critical consideration. GMP students are mostly from middle-class background. They take bank loans to join the program. In almost all cases, these students tend to repay their loans within 25 months of completion of their studies. 

The alumni profile explains the value of the programme. Our graduates have scaled unprecedented heights.

Some of the international recruiters of GMP participants include World Bank – Washington DC, Apple – California, Google – California, Amazon EU, Airbus – Toulouse, Royal DSM – Amsterdam; Barclays – London, Mercedes Benz – Stuttgart, Nissan Benelux, ING – Amsterdam, Decathlon – Lille, to mention a few. We are perhaps one of the first programmes to have our alumni in World Bank, HQ.

This has been possible because SPJIMR has laid the foundation for global professions and partnered with schools for specialisations. Often faculty network and alumni jointly provide the platform to secure dream jobs. 

What are the USPs of your programmes, especially the GMP?

There are various USPs of the GMP programme. While candidates can join all our partner schools directly, joining through GMP has clear advantages.

They pay nearly half of the total tuition fees. They gain dual alumni status – this helps them, when they plan to return to India. Our partner schools work closely with GMP students for their internships and jobs, which might not be the case if a candidate joins directly.

Students can leverage the alumni network of both the schools, after the graduate. Also, GMP alumni community being close-knit, they help every student with internships and jobs offers. Apart from these, there are a lot of intangible benefits which open up on a case-to-case basis

Faculty from the partner schools teach at SPJIMR’s GMP – this helps to establish the bonding even before our students land up in Europe and the US. Our faculty members also travel to our partner schools to teach. This exchange of faculty brings a sense of belongingness to students. We also collaborate on joint research. 

What are you doing to increase both the quality of students as well as the diversity at SPJIMR?

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We take immense pride in our alumni. They are our flag-bearers. As our alumni profile keeps improving year after year, it reflects on the quality of our enrolments. It is our alumni who inspire potential candidates to join GMP.

Oftentimes, candidates can relate to seniors from their own colleges of graduation and trust their success stories more than what we have to say about GMP. It is the word of mouth that helps us most. This way, the quality of jobs and internships that our students attract has been improving. 

An example, for two consecutive years, GMP alumnae (Samriddhi Sharma and Sanjukta Barooah) have bagged the prestigious Promising Young Alumnus Award of SPJIMR. This speaks volumes about the programme and the ROI it offers. With the portfolio of options provided by our partner schools, one certainly needs to spend time to understand which track would suit best for future prospects. A careful understanding of the tracks, would help take a wise decision for a lifetime. 

Having said that, we at GMP interview each and every candidate carefully to avoid a mismatch of expectations. Our selection process is rather robust. It could take some time to fill GMP and the partner school forms. Both SPJIMR and the Partner Schools interview candidates. It is important to not only check the candidate’s profile but also mapping of expectations, matching of mutual expectations and flexibility in mindset.

All MS in Management programmes with specializations do not require prior work experience. However, admission to the MBA programme requires careful understanding of prior work experience and its suitability in the European and the US contexts. We conduct interviews by grouping them in multi-layered processes.

This grouping helps us in getting high quality students to join our programme. All programmes that GMP partners with in the US are STEM-designated. This allows 3 years of OPT, sufficient enough for job visa. While the MS programmes (similar to PGDM in India) do not require any work experience, the MBA programs require 3 years of work experience in Europe and 2 years in the US. 

As far as diversity is concerned, the current batch consists of actors, fashion designers, and doctors. Besides commerce and economics graduates, students of law, physics, chemistry, mathematics engineering and IT are part of the batch.  Geographically, we attract students from across the country. Gender diversity – girl-boy ratio is 40-60 percent, on an average. 

How do you cultivate a curriculum suitable for higher employability for the graduates? 

Several factors contribute to higher employability prospects for our graduates:

– Continuous upgradation of programme architecture in line with industry requirements. 

– SPJIMR faculty that teaches PGDM or PGPM, also teach at GMP

– Inviting industry experts to the classroom.

– Non-classroom initiatives that provide hands-on learning.

– State-of-the-art simulations that replicates life industry scenarios.

– Global faculty pool from India and the West. 

– Frequent alumni interactions and counselling sessions. 

– Global networking opportunities

A recent example of how we change our curriculum continuously: Last couple of years, we observed that GMP students were facing challenges in their presentation skills, though their content was better than other Western students in partner schools. After discussion in the Academic Council, we introduced a short course on Effective Presentation Skills. This course is in addition to the existing course on Business Communication Skills.  

How is the experience of online learning due to COVID-19? What changes would you apply to pedagogy/curriculum/skills to nurture global leaders?

COVID has brought new challenges. SPJIMR’s GMP was among the first programme to adopt online teaching through Zoom. We started online classes in the second week of March, 2020. As the GMP programme is quite rigorous, the average screen time has substantially increased. It has been tough for students. Classes, submissions, group assignments, tests – everything is online. Even the textbooks are online.  

Students are spending an average of 15+ hours on screen, which is not healthy. We are working to reduce the average screen time. 

Currently, the global job market is dismal. This is a worldwide phenomenon. We discouraged students from returning to India, just because of COVID situation.  Our entire alumni body including the alumni of partner schools are working hard to support the existing batch. Fortunately, the situation seems to be stable and under control. We are conducting webinars and online meetings to integrate the career cells of partner schools with alumni and current students.  

What would you want this generation to learn from this pandemic?

The pandemic has taught us what we never thought that we could do. People now conduct million-dollar deals online, which perhaps was beyond imagination. 

The chairman of the Tata Group has stated that they are closing multi-million dollar deals on Zoom; there is no reason to travel for business. 

It is imperative to stay positive and look at the brighter side of things. It would be best if an adaptable mindset is cultivated. People with patience, resilience and excellence will go miles in their professions.  

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