THE PAST THREE years have not been easy for India's B-schools. The Great Resignation, which followed Covid, ended in 2022, leading to an air of caution and uncertainty. And if that was not enough, start-up employees faced mass layoffs, while founders were hit by the funding winter, as the focus shifted to running profitable enterprises rather than loss-making companies with sky-high valuations.

But setting aside the setback, India's higher education ecosystem has started evolving. The big visible change has come from the University Grants Commission (UGC), which has introduced regulations for setting up and operating satellite campuses of foreign higher educational institutions in the country. It is still early days, but global universities are looking to tap the potential of India's youth.

The market is huge. In 2022 alone, over 7.5 lakh Indian students enrolled for courses abroad (including those going for graduate courses), a 68% increase over the 4.45 lakh who went overseas to study in 2021, according to data submitted in Parliament by the education ministry. A big chunk of those students would be happy with a global degree while studying in India since it also means a substantial reduction in the foreign exchange spent on studying abroad. Australia's Deakin University is likely to be one of the firsts to open a campus in the country in the heart of the smart business district of GIFT City in Gujarat in 2024.

However, even if international universities set up base in India, it would be some time before they establish themselves, and create an ecosystem similar to that in the original campus. That's where the demand for online MBA courses comes in. Online MBA offers flexibility, accessibility, cost-efficiency, and diverse options.

Meanwhile, the IIMs are a clear choice for most. Six of the top 10 schools in the second edition of Fortune India’s B-school rankings are from the IIM stable. Leading the chart is the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calcutta, followed by IIM Ahmedabad. Notably, the Fortune India Best B-Schools ranking has grown to 225 schools this year against 175 in 2022.

Major policy changes are also on the anvil. In 2020, the Centre introduced the draft National Education Policy (NEP) to synchronise the needs of the economy and age-old systems of education. NEP suggests a multi-disciplinary approach, and encourages international collaboration and global campuses for domestic institutions. All these will widen the scope of B-school education going forward.

The IIMs, however, need to up their global rankings for greater acceptance among international students. According to the Financial Times 2023 ranking of the world’s top 100 B-schools, ISB Hyderabad comes in at rank 39 followed by IIM Ahmedabad (51), IIM Bangalore (52) and IIM Calcutta (76). There are two Chinese universities ahead of ISB — Ceibs and Shanghai Institute of Finance and Economics — in the FT rankings at 20 and 23 rank, respectively. One way of doing it is to get a triple crown — accreditation from the world’s top three agencies — Association of MBAs (AMBA), Association of Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and EFMD Quality Improvement System (EQUIS). Globally, only 1% of business schools have the triple crown. There are three in India — IIM Calcutta, IIM Lucknow and IIM Indore.

Expanding that list is the next logical step. But for now, B-schools have to deal with the headwinds from challenges facing start-ups and the low funding drive from PE players, which are affecting demand for fresh graduates. Most B-school graduates are now opting for a corporate role for a couple of years before taking the plunge into entrepreneurship. For now, it is wait and watch for the good times.

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