18 December 2022 16:35:29 IST

Akshaya Chandrasekaran is Sub-Editor, businessline. She covers education and start-ups for fortnightly supplement bloncampus, and writes features on brands and advertising. You can write to her at akshaya.c@thehindu.co.in and find her on Twitter at @akshayaiyerr

The great MBA alternative

Masters’ Union is tapping its locational advantage to build deep industry connections

Yeshvanth Suresh was able to accomplish the impressive feat of becoming a regional head of business development at a billion-dollar logistics company without an MBA. Despite his rare achievement, he could not command a higher salary without an advanced degree in business. An MBA became the obvious next step. But he didn’t want to go to a traditional B-school. He wanted to break into the exciting world of start-ups and challenge himself.

Suresh, then, discovered Gurgaon-based Masters’ Union (MU) and signed up for its 16-month business and technology programme not taught by PhD faculty but by the ‘masters’ themselves — start-up founders, CXOs, and industry leaders. “Masters’ Union was a big-bet decision, but I had a feeling it might turn out well. And I wanted to be an early adopter of something like this,” he says. In August 2021, he was hired as Associate Chief of Staff at the EV company Ather Energy with a 3 x salary hike.

There is a growing appetite among young professionals like this 28-year-old for something between a full-fledged two-year MBA and a course on Udemy to upgrade their careers. The two-year-old B-school is becoming an increasingly popular alternative with the hands-on learning it offers and its entrepreneurial focus. According to the placements report audited by Brickwork Analytics, the average domestic CTC for the second cohort this year is ₹33.10 lakh and the batch witnessed a 4.10 x salary jump from pre-MBA levels. Consumer tech and finance and fintech were the largest recruiters, followed by consulting firms, large tech companies, emerging start-ups, and others.

Breaking the monopoly

Many B-schools have become prisoners of their own legacy. There are no competitors actively disrupting the space, says MU founder Pratham Mittal. Unlike B-schools that sit on hundreds of acres of land, MU has no campus of its own. Located in Cybercity, Gurugram, the focus is on being close to the industry rather than having a badminton court, says Mittal. “A medical college is always close to a hospital to make it easy for practicing doctors to come in and teach. We wanted to do something similar. We have almost all Fortune 500 companies within a two-mile radius and are nine minutes away from the airport. That’s what matters if we want practitioners to come in and teach,” he further explains.

Pratham Mittal, Founder, Masters’ Union

The B-school is not bound by AICTE syllabus or UGC guidelines, therefore, not restricted to PhD faculty. Do these stamps of approval not matter? Mittal says the aim is to become India’s entry to the top ten B-schools of the world right next to Wharton and Harvard. So, instead, it is vying for global accreditations — AASCB and EQUIS — to prove its credibility.

Puja Arti, a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur, bet on MU even before it became big. She moved to Gurgaon from Bangalore as a part of the first cohort in 2020. Now a brand manager at the bioscience company Absolute, she says the deep industry connections is what attracted her to MU. “Bangalore is considered to be the start-up hub but things are now changing. Gurgaon is where many start-ups are headquartered now. Which is why I moved here,” she says. Further expansion is planned. The B-school plans to kick off its four-year undergraduate business programmes this year, set up an in-house research ecosystem, and increase the batch size, says Mittal.

Stoa promise

Another popular offering that is challenging the traditional MBA is Stoa, an online B-school focussed on creating a talent pipeline for the start-up economy. Also launched in 2020, the 24-week programme is aimed at working pros with 2+ years of experience. So far, Stoa has engaged 900 fellows. On weekdays, the learners spend 30 minutes consuming learning material sent to them, and on weekends they spend 8-10 hours applying those learnings and cracking a real-time case study with the help of mentors such as start-up founders, executives, and investors who have “been there done that.”

Only 20 per cent of what people learn in an MBA is used 80 per cent of the time, says Raj Kunkolienkar, one of the four co-founders of Stoa. “We have condensed our curriculum to focus on concepts that matter and will help in their day-to-day.” But it is not a shortcut to an MBA and is just as valid, he clarifies. “If you ask me why not two years, I will ask you why only two years? BBA is three years. So, is MBA doing an injustice by crunching it to two years? It is not about the time taken for completion. Learning never ends with the completion of a programme. It is only fodder for growth.”

While Stoa overlaps in important ways with an MBA, where it differs is that instead of selling a degree, it is selling the experience of learning business by having it from the horse’s mouth. Stoa is also introducing its one-month-long CFA-like charter programme that students can earn. At the end of programme, students make a presentation in front of an external jury consisting of industry leaders to earn this credential. “The charter programme gives a chance to anyone with skilled business talent to prove themselves,” says Kunkolienkar.

Param Shah, 22, a B.Com graduate from Narsee Monjee College, is now enrolled at Stoa. Having worked at a fintech SaaS company for close to two years, he looks at Stoa as an “effective investment with tangible ROIs.” He believes it will help him get higher-paying roles at 1/10th the price of a regular MBA. “Instead of investing ₹20 lakh in second rung B-school and graduating with a ₹9 lakh CTC, I would much rather come to Stoa and get my money’s worth,” says Shah.

No more degree shops

The success of B-schools is largely dependent on the ‘industry’ who are the customers of their products, namely their graduates, according to Suresh Mony, advisor to higher educational institutions. “As long as the industry is embracing this trend and actively recruiting from these campuses, not having a degree may not be a problem, although, several marquee companies and public sector firms might insist on a degree,” he adds.

University system may even collapse in the long run, he says. “As business education gets increasingly expensive, and with the emergence of online education, the value proposition of a degree from the university system may lose its sheen. A stackable credit system that offers flexibility and is cost-effective might come into place leading to the collapse of the university system,” Mony says.