Never underestimate the power of a good Plan B.
York University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto was set to launch its multimillion-dollar Indian campus in Hyderabad this fall, but the ambitious plan was put on hold when the Indian foreign universities bill – which would have allowed foreign universities to confer Indian degrees – was delayed yet again.
So Schulich launched its back-up plan and welcomed students this fall in India to a twinning program offered in conjunction with GMR Business School, the educational arm of GMR which is one of the leading infrastructure companies in India. The program coaches students in the first year in Hyderabad and the second year in Toronto.
"It's not ideal," Schulich Dean Dezso Horvath says. "But you expect to run into some challenges when you're trying something new in a different country, so that's why you have a Plan B."
Ankita Singh is one of the students in the first batch of students. And so far, Plan B is working out just great for her.
"It's really such a tremendous opportunity," she says by phone from Hyderabad, adding that she likes that the degree delivers both Canadian and Indian experience. "I think it will make it easier for me to get a job in Canada later on, but I can also be an asset for Indian companies that want to do work in Canada, and the other way around."
In addition to Schulich's renowned status – the school was recently ranked by The Economist as No. 1 in the world for its executive MBA program – Ms. Singh says it's cheaper for her to study in Canada when compared with the United States.
Viswanathan Raghunathan, the chief executive officer of the GMR Varalakshmi Foundation, says his organization had reached out to well-known schools in North America and Europe to get a sense of their interest, but the response was lacklustre.
"The impression we then received was that for most of these schools, their interest in Asia stopped with Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai or Beijing in the Far East, or Dubai on the West, but certainly not South Asia," he writes in an e-mail.
Hindsight is 20-20, and Mr. Raghunathan says he understands where those schools were coming from. "One could point at many of the hiccups India has faced since – policy or decision paralyses on the economic, political, and social front – reflected in a huge current account deficit, seriously weakening rupee, high inflation and high interest rate regime, plummeting stock market, climbing crime rates, et al– some of them may even claim a healthy prescient vision of India."
As the only Canadian school entering the Indian market, Schulich is taking a definite risk, especially when other schools seem uninterested, Dr. Horvath acknowledges. But in spite of the many challenges, Dr. Horvath remains convinced this is the right stepfor his school.
"The Canadian market is stagnating," he said. "There are not many companies that hire MBAs beyond accounting firms and banks. And although the natural resource sector is growing, they generally don't need MBAs."
Keen to expand outside Canada, Schulich had established academic exchange partnerships with India's leading management schools – including the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore and the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. In 2005, Schulich established an on-the-ground presence in India when it opened a satellite centre in Mumbai to recruit students, provide career placement services to alumni, support local Schulich alumni chapters, handle local media relations and offer executive education programs (for example, Schulich ran some executive programs for Tata Group, Citigroup and American Express). Most recently, Schulich says it became one of the first leading international schools to deliver a degree in India when it launched a similar twinning program to the one it has with GMR with the S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research in 2010.
"India is an excellent market and roughly 50 per cent of the country's population is under 25 years old," Dr. Horvath says. "India is one of the world's fastest growing economies – it is expected to be the world's third-largest economy in the coming decades."
The relationship was slow to develop. Dr. Horvath and Mr. Raghunathan were introduced to each other by their mutual acquaintance, Joseph Caron, the Canadian High Commissioner in India.
"India being a historically U.S.-centric country, especially with respect to higher education, we were a little less aware of the Canadian business schools," Mr. Raghunathan says. "But it didn't take us a long to figure out that Schulich is among the world's most respected business schools in most of the well-regarded ratings for a long time."
Despite their best efforts, GMR and Schulich were unable to open the global business school as they had hoped this year. Now, with the foreign universities bill finally passed on Sept. 10, Dr. Horvath hopes the original plan will take off with the new campus and its program launching next September.