At Patna’s congested Dak Bunglow intersection, where maddening traffic throbs like the impatient pulse of its people, a life-size billboard dazzles passers-by, announcing an ambitious venture: a “world-class business school for transforming Bihar”.
The plan for the proposed transformation is simple: The B-school will help students set up new ventures, consult and collaborate with public and private entities, follow a curriculum focused on regional development, and engage in state-centric research.
Ever since the Rs15 crore venture rolled in mid-2009, advertisements of the Indian School of Management (ISM) have, in a reassuring way, referred to its young founders Gaurav Singh and Aman Singh, to their academic credentials, and to their roots.
Both the Singhs are from Bihar, and in their early 30s. Both graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi; one then joined the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Kolkata, the other the Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad. Both have worked for companies such as Schlumberger Ltd and JPMorgan Chase and Co.
But curious and sometimes anxious calls wouldn’t stop. “Mostly to ask about the fee structure and placements,” Gaurav Singh says with a grin. “This is one place where parents are interested in education—and genuinely so. But what you have at this point is a series of study centres, which just hand out degree certificates, which makes them sceptical.” Soon enough, a hundred applications reached ISM; more are pouring in. With a batch of 40 students, ISM will start classes next month.
In a state obsessed with the dream of sending its children to IITs, B-schools such as ISM are now becoming a fad—a symbol of Bihar’s changing aspirations as the government spends more, new ventures and international firms expand their presence in the state, all demanding a high-quality workforce.
“Bihar has changed, and opportunities are emerging,” observes Pramath Raj Sinha, founding dean of ISB, and a native of Bihar who is now mentoring ISM. “It’s a shame that people had to leave the state earlier. But if Pune can become an education hub, there is no reason why Patna cannot.”
In recent years, Bihar’s gross domestic product has grown by an annual average of 11%, according to the state’s 2008-09 economic survey—a rate second only to Gujarat, albeit one often questioned by experts. Service sector companies such as banks, telecom, retail and insurance firms have flocked here.
The flourishing businesses of telecom companies such as Reliance Communications Ltd, Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone Essar Ltd, for instance, have opened up jobs for people within the state. According to a 2008 study conducted by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, Bihar registered India’s largest increase in annual telecom subscribers, posting a growth of 88.2% in 2007-08, compared with 51.1% in 2006-07.
Four years ago, the mention of an MBA would have swayed few people. When he was growing up, Zeeshan Ahmad had heard only of three career options: IITs, medical colleges, or the Indian Administrative Service.
After obtaining his bachelor degree from Patna University, Ahmad would have headed for an MA, but for a B-school fair he came across on his way back from college one day. “That’s when I realized the importance of employability,” he says. “I asked myself: What would an MA get me, and what can an MBA (get me)?”
Ahmad enrolled at Amity Global Business School (AGBS) in Patna, launched in July 2009, to pursue his MBA, with 24 others selected from 300 applicants. He is now working with Sudha Dairy for a summer internship.
The MBA dream has triggered a deluge of both applicants and institutions. Patna, once a city of the working class and small-time traders, is now home to a smart new set of management schools, promising placements with companies such as Microsoft Corp., Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd and American Express Co. “B-schools across the country have a number of students from Bihar, but within the state, there was a certain class of people who wouldn’t know about an MBA or wouldn’t consider it,” Sinha says. “With the new B-schools, this is changing.”
C.B.P. Srivastava, director of AGBS in Patna, who was previously head of Icfai Business School in Hyderabad and who hails from Bihar, recalls that a decade ago, there was just one B-school in Patna offering an MBA. Today, there are roughly 100 B-schools in the city alone, most offering distance education courses, positioning an MBA degree as a ticket to a well-paying job. Several of them such as the Arcade Business College in Rajendra Nagar, with cramped classrooms and a handful of faculty, act as study centres for universities such as the Madurai Kamraj University or Sikkim Manipal University.
“Management education has entered Bihar as a storm and overtaken all professional courses,” Srivastava says. “It’s the first choice of every student these days. There are 58 MBA institutes affiliated to Punjab Technical University in Patna alone.” But there is a flip side: Lured by glossy brochures, few care about tenuous affiliations, Srivastava adds.
The entry of private players also reflects the declining standard of education in state-owned universities, where coursework is often marred by repeated strikes, even as the demand for education soars. Most recently, on 1 July, Patna University staffers went on an indefinite strike over pay scales, an annual ritual of sorts at the university.
The idea of setting up a B-school in Patna came to Gaurav Singh in 2008, when he was browsing through the website of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). Singh found several applications for approval for B-schools from various states. “There were none from Bihar,” Singh recalls, “which was surprising, as many students from the state opt for studies in business schools all over the country.”
ISM Patna, which is awaiting AICTE approval, will offer, apart from a two-year, full-time postgraduate diploma in management (for an annual fee of Rs3.5 lakh), executive programmes for working professionals and a business incubation unit for local entrepreneurs. Around the same time Singh was toying with his idea and lobbying for investment, the Bihar government had already leaped to establish the Chandragupt Institute of Management Patna (CIMP). It was originally named “Indian Institute of Management, Patna”, in July 2008. But while CIMP, already AICTE-approved, couldn’t retain its original name, it follows the syllabus and practices of IIM-Ahmedabad, from where several of its faculty are drawn for guest lectures.
V. Mukunda Das, CIMP’s director, served as a faculty member at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (Irma) and IIM-Kozhikode in the 1980s and 1990s, before he was invited to CIMP by the Bihar government. “I was told this is going to be the next IIM,” he asserts, “And mind you, we are just 23 months old! For our age, we are doing reasonably well.”
At the core of management education at CIMP is “rural marketing”, a module Das developed at Irma in 1980. With chief minister Nitish Kumar as its chairman, one of CIMP’s priorities is to train young people to work within the state. It has set up a microfinance research centre in partnership with National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development and collaborates with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for research on sustainable development management.
In CIMP’s corridors, an enormous bunch of students seems to bear along an air of enthusiasm for business in their home state. Neha, a second-year student who only uses her first name, worked earlier with a non-profit organization in Bhagalpur and now plans to work with a microfinance institution. Neelanjan Sinha, an electrical engineer from SASTRA University in Thanjavur and an ex-employee of Tata Consultancy Services Ltd in Chennai, came back to be with his parents and hopes to work in Patna after his MBA. Smriti, an English graduate who also uses her first name only, chose CIMP over a rural management course at the Xavier Institute of Social Service in Ranchi; she teaches children from Patna’s slums as part of CIMP’s social responsibility initiative.
The biggest hurdle for B-schools in Bihar remains the mindset of its students and their parents. When Das joined CIMP, he was startled by the number of parents who offered money to secure admission for their children. “I hear about quota for politicians, MPs and MLAs all the time, which shocks me,” he says.
Amity’s Srivastava adds that parents often mistake B-schools to be placement agencies. While CIMP and Amity have not graduated their first batch yet, they have attracted companies such as Sudha Dairy, PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt. Ltd, HDFC Bank Ltd, Indian Overseas Bank and IDBI Bank Ltd for summer internships.“Most think after they have enrolled the children and paid fees, their job is done,” Srivastava says. “We are at pains to explain that becoming employable takes more than that.”
And some habits die hard. Already, students have staged sit-in protests at CIMP and at the Catalyst Institute of Management and Advance Global Excellence (Cimage), a year-old business school, for placements this year. “I am not amused,” frowns Neeraj Agrawal, Cimage’s director. “This is what you expect in a state which takes politics too seriously, don’t you?”