Nilesh Nayar recently joined a leading software company in Mumbai as an associate consultant. Fresh out of an engineering college with a degree in computer engineering, Nilesh feels a degree in management will help him scale the corporate ladder faster. So why didn't he go in for a postgraduate course in management right after his graduation?
His answer: "Getting a good job right after college is getting pretty tough these days; also, wouldn't work experience help if you want to pursue a management degree later?"
This line of reasoning can be heard from an increasing number of young professionals across the country. India has always had students enrol for management courses right after graduation. This is quite contrary to the trend observed in the West. With work experience being a prime criterion for admission, the average age for students in the first year of management schools, including the likes of Harvard Business School and INSEAD, is around 27 years. We, however, learn to live life on the fast track right from our kindergarten days. It is therefore natural that most freshers at B-schools around the country are fresh graduates.
But there is also a bunch of people who would like to keep their jobs and get additional qualifications, all in a bid to keep up in the corporate rat-race. The part-time courses (after-hours lessons) offered by almost all management institutes across the country cater to this demand.
Lectures and presentations after work hours do get tiring, but then, there is the next big promotion dangling in front of your eyes! These courses have a few shortcomings, though. The timings may not be suitable to all, and working executives at times have to travel-in the process missing a few lectures. These courses are also restricted to working executives from a particular location. So what could be done to bring in a larger pool of students and make the courses available to many more students, transcending geographical boundaries? This is the 21st century, and there is a very simple credo here: when faced with a problem, think Technology.
Technology might not solve all your problems, but it has a soft spot for education and post-graduate students in particular! "Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar (XIMB) has always looked forward to expanding the domain of management education and reaching out to the world in order to deliver quality education to students without the limitations of place or travel," says Dr W S William, Dean-Academics, XIMB. In keeping with this line of thought, XIMB wanted to offer a postgraduate programme using a virtual classroom platform.
In their bid to leverage the potential of satellite education and its utility as a virtual classroom platform, XIMB ran into a few technical roadblocks. What they needed was a technology partner who could provide the necessary-and really humungous-infrastructure. At around the same time, Reliance Webworld was looking to make more use of their existing Webworld centres, all of which were equipped with a videoconferencing facility and high-speed data transfer capability. "We had an existing relationship of sorts with XIMB," says Sarup Chowdhary, CEO, Reliance Webworld. "When they proposed this venture, we were only too glad to be able to render our services."
All Cut And Laid Out Born out of an alliance of opportunity and necessity was the PGCBM, or Post Graduate Certificate Programme in Business Management, based on the virtual classroom format.
Aimed primarily at working executives, the weekly classes would be held only after office hours. Each of the Reliance Webstores has a Video Conferencing (VC) room, which accommodates up to 12 students. Thus, the students of the PGCBM programme would be seated in a Reliance Webworld, interconnected seamlessly with other centres through a VC bridge, which is stationed at the DAKC (Dhirubhai Ambani Knowledge City) in Mumbai.
With over 200 Webworlds spread around the country, accessibility to the course would definitely not be a problem. Also, the high data transfer speeds-a dedicated 768 kbps line to enable video communication in real-time-have ensured that a virtual classroom would actually feel like a classroom.
This programme leverages the latest technology, is location neutral, adds immense value to the working executives and has a high quality curriculum design."
Prof W S William, Dean (Academics), XIMB
Technology has also made sure that absenteeism from class would not be punished! If a student is unable to attend a lecture, the session would be played back to the students at the designated Webstores, which is possible because lectures and the classroom proceedings would be recorded. Now, if only my college had thought of my well-being and recorded all those 'fun-filled' lectures I missed...
So what are the dynamics of the course, you ask? Use of technology is fine, but what is more important is the credibility of the course, and this would be best ascertained by taking a look at the curriculum. Dr William says that the course would be as robust as any management course around. "The quality of the curriculum is very high, specifically designed by our faculty. The curriculum provides enough flexibility to the faculty to maintain equilibrium between theoretical understanding and practical applications," he adds.
With a batch of a maximum of 150 students, the institute is making sure they do not overpopulate a class. They, however, have plans to increase the number of batches with every academic year. The one-year course has 240 hours of online classes and 60 hours of on-campus contact sessions at XIM's Bhubaneshwar campus. At Rs 1,50,000 for individual students, the course may be a little expensive, but then, this is application of video conferencing and broadband technology with all its bells and whistles.
The Class Act
How does this course really function then? How different is it from trooping into a classroom? After the rigorous selection process, as is the norm for any management course, successful candidates will opt for their choice of Webworld centres. This, of course, is subject to the availability of a minimum number of applications for that centre. In short, a quorum is required!
The classroom functions as a regular one; however, instead of a lecture podium, the professor peers down at you from a video camera. The high speeds and plasma televisions would mean that you will get impeccable picture and audio, and that too, in real-time.
This will also enable a student to interact with the lecturer or fellow students. The lecturer would get multiple images on his plasma screen thanks to PiP (Picture-in-Picture) technology, which would make it easy for him to address individual questions and also ask for opinions from a particular student.
Broadband internet access also means that students would be able to look up or research a topic in real-time when a lecture or Q&A session is in progress. This will also enable presentations online.
Commencing July this year, the one-year course aims to redefine the way management education for working professionals is conducted across the country.
In addition to the PGCBM, XIM has a Post Graduate Certificate Course in Rural Management (PGCRM) in the pipeline. Along with that, there are a large number of Management Development Programmes (MDP), which the institute plans to offer to various corporate, government and non-government institutions.
If extended beyond postgraduate education, affordable broadband technology might just prove to be the panacea for our ailing rural education programmes and undertakings. It could also reach out to all those children who cannot take the time out to attend day schools. Backward Integration just got a new meaning.