SUKRITI JOSHI'S parents wanted her to pursue engineering so that she can get a "good" job. The 25-year-old, however, loved design and, after B.Tech, started working as a UI/UX designer at a start-up. "There, I understood that design isn't about just aesthetics. It's also about understanding the consumer and his pain points," she says. In order to understand consumer psyche better and how to run a business, she has joined the strategic marketing programme at MICA, Ahmedabad.

Shivam Jha, 23, is a bachelors in mechanical engineering from Bihar. He worked as a management consultant for two years before enrolling in IIM-Calcutta's MBA programme this year. "It (MBA) gives people the option to pursue whatever they want," he says.

B-schools are the flavour of the season again. Numbers spiked big time in 2021 after falling for five years before that. A total of 4,03,202 students signed up at about 3,100 institutions offering postgraduate diploma in management (PGDM) and masters in business administration (MBA) programmes in FY22. The previous year, in FY21, there were 3,112 B-schools with 4.35 lakh enrolments. In FY20, 3.72 lakh students had enrolled at 3,037 B-schools, while in FY19, 3.74 lakh had taken admissions in 3,117 institutions. Back in 2015, it was 4.56 lakh students in 3,608 institutions. Common admission test (CAT) applications had fallen from 2.44 lakh in 2019 to 2.27 lakh in 2020. The number grew to 2.32 lakh in 2021. Notably, dip in enrolments coincides with fall in number of institutions. Meanwhile, the rise corresponds with growth in the number of institutions. Many schools have also increased their intake, some with addition of new courses, this year. IIM-Udaipur, for example, has increased two-year MBA programme seats to 337, up from 289 in the 2021 batch and 254 in the 2020 batch. Enrolments at IIM-A, however, have remained nearly flat over the years. The institute enrolled 397 students in its new postgraduate programme in management (PGP) this year, compared to 393 last year and 392 in 2020. At IIM-Kozhikode, number of PGP students has gone from 425 in 2018 to 483 in 2021 and 475 in 2022. The number of participants in two-year executive MBA has increased over the last five years. In 2021, 529 students enrolled for executive PGP-interactive learning, up from 501 in 2020 and 369 in 2019. In 2017, it was only 159.

S.P Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR) has received permission from All India Council for Technical Education to increase student intake, says Varun Nagaraj, dean and professor, information management and analytics. The Mumbai-based institute has expanded its two-year full-time programme by 25% or 60 seats. "We felt confident there are enough students seeking quality education. We had the resources to offer that," Nagaraj tells Fortune India. He says additional enrolments have come from a new course, PGDM Business Management, a postgraduate diploma in management with focus on general management.

Institute of Management Technology (IMT), Ghaziabad, has also seen an uptick in number of enrolments, says Vishal Talwar, professor of marketing and director, IMT-Ghaziabad. He attributes this to pent-up demand from Covid-19, saying people gravitate towards professional courses that can give them a stable career after a period of economic distress. He believes opening up of campuses post-Covid is another possible reason for higher student interest in management programmes. "Online learning has its merits, but at the same time, if you're looking at aspects such as leadership building, peer learning, holistic development, physical environment works better," he says. SPJIMR has introduced an elective on mental well-being at the workplace in its two-year PGDM course.

Other Triggers

The uptick in interest in management courses, especially executive education, can also be explained by people's willingness to keep pace with rising demand for new-age technologies. "People are willing to upskill themselves to avoid stagnation. They understand that the world has changed and requires different ways of working, whether it is remote working or using AI (artificial intelligence) and other technologies," says G. Sridhar, dean, executive education, IIM-K. The institution has added two postgraduate programmes in last few years — PGP in Liberal Studies and Management (PGP-LSM) and Finance. PGP-LSM is a two-year full-time programme to equip students with skills to pursue careers in marketing, human resource management, hospitality, media and social enterprise. "The industry was looking for a different perspective and we were ready to offer it," says Sridhar. This year, the institute enrolled 39 students in PGP-LSM and 39 in PGP-Finance.

Tech Push

As the world faces mega challenges such as inequality, fear of more pandemics and environmental degradation, and businesses use transformational technologies like AI and machine learning, managers have to remain on their toes. Management education has been a game-changer during crises, says Debashis Chatterjee, director and distinguished professor on leadership and organisational behaviour, IIM-K. "The post-pandemic world calls for novel management-centric approaches," he adds.

The role of B-schools in preparing the new generation of executives and upskilling the experienced ones becomes very important in such a situation, say management experts. "Management education of tomorrow must have technology and digital built into it," says Piyush Sharma, former CEO, Zee Entertainment, and vice president, IIM-A.

As picking new trends becomes an important part of a manager's survival skills, certificate and other specialised courses are also getting attention from students and executives. IMT-Ghaziabad's Talwar says B-schools have been trying to integrate specialisations around big data analysis, automation, etc, for some time now. "Covid-19 has been a catalyst for this change. Management courses have a lot more technology orientation now," he says. This year, IMT-Ghaziabad introduced two courses in banking and financial services (BFS) programme machine learning for BFSI, offered with an industry partner, and service excellence in business projects, which reflects the needs of growing operations teams in BFSI sector and covers project management, process redesign and service excellence in operations. It has also set up a centre for data science for advanced training in Internet of Things, blockchain, business analytics and AI. Similarly, in last two years, SPJIMR has introduced electives like digital disruption, transformation, engagement and gamification: application of game elements in business context, in its two-year PGDM course.

IIM-K recently added new certificate courses in AI and data analytics. Meanwhile, IIM-A offers modules like data mining and business intelligence, data visualisation, digital inclusion and strategic management of information systems in its two-year full-time PGP in management. IIM-Udaipur launched a one-year MBA in digital enterprise management in 2019 for people with work experience of three years or more. The course focuses on management of digital systems and how they can be used to make data-driven decisions and lead diverse teams in digital environments. IMT-Ghaziabad's Talwar also points at the new-found focus on holistic development. "The core discipline is getting infused with a lot of tech understanding and technical analysis capability," he says.

Diversity and Inclusion

While increasing the number of students, B-schools are also trying to induct more non-engineers as well as women, both categories that are badly outnumbered. In its postgraduate programme for executives (PGPX) 2022-23, IIM-A has 87% engineers (including 12% from IIT/NITs). Women participation is only 22%.

There has been a rise in interest in MBA among non-B.Tech students in recent years, says Talwar. In 2022, IIM-A saw all-time high enrolment of non-engineering students in PGP at 33.5%, compared to 27.5% last year and 24% in 2020. But number of women fell from 28% last year to 23% this year. "A lot of schools are now focusing on gender diversity. That means you have to factor that into your selection parameters. We can factor that into scholarships, how merit scores are calculated, etc," he says.

Experts agree on the need to enrol students from diverse academic disciplines. "We need people with different backgrounds such as sociology and anthropology. But they don't necessarily look at management as an option. This is a conflict we have to resolve. Otherwise, we will have management (education) at one end and disruptions on the other and keep grappling with same problems time and again," says IIM-Udaipur professor Suma Damodaran.

The return of MBA, with addition of new skills, promises to be a exciting story.

Follow us on Facebook, X, YouTube, Instagram and WhatsApp to never miss an update from Fortune India. To buy a copy, visit Amazon.