Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The ROI of an MBA - MBA karna chahiye - ya nahin??

#POST 0021 

In the last couple of years I've met with students at ISB, Great Lakes, ICFAI Business School Hyderabad and IIM Indore. And the one concern which unites students across one year and two year programs is the burden of the EMI.

The average ISB student will be paying an EMI of 25k over 7 years, an IIM student 25k over 5 years (going for the exchange program could jack that up by another 4-5k per month). So the concern students have is: "What will be my ROI?"

The way in which a bschooler calculates ROI is very direct: compare what I spent on the course, with the placement salary at the time of exit. In case you have significant work experience, also factor in one year of 'lost income'.

OK. By this method of calculation, the ROI - for a majority of students - will be negative. 

The published figure for average domestic salary at ISB last year is Rs 16.47 lakhs p.a. (CTC).

The fees for this batch were approximately Rs 19 lakhs, while the average incoming salary was Rs 8 lakhs p.a.

Do the math and you can see that there is much heartburn. Especially for the 50% of the batch which must - necessarily - bag a job lower than the 'average'. 

The same holds true for an ICFAI Business School graduates, where fees + living expenses for the course would works out to Rs 9-10 lakhs.

The average placement salary would be in the range of Rs 5-6 lakhs. A large % of candidates are freshers or with 1-2 years of work ex so we can discount the income loss component.

Now let us examine the case at IIM Indore. The average salary for the class of 2010 was Rs 10.29 lakhs. 

The cost of the 2 year course for this batch was approximately Rs 8 lakhs.

Of course, 50% of the batch would have bagged jobs in the Rs 6-10 lakhs range but prima facie IIM seems to provide maximum chances of a high ROI.

However. As they say with mutual fund investments, past performance may not be indicative of future returns. So students who are considering the MBA today - be warned.

The class of 2010 at IIM Indore consisted of 175 students. That number went up to 235for the batch of 2011. The class of 2012 is a record 450 students.

No doubt this will affect the average salary figure. (In fact the larger the batch, the more focus the institute puts on 'quantity' over quality). 

Moreover from this year, the cost of attending IIM Indore has also gone up to Rs 10 lakhs. Making the 'equation' far less favourable.

I can bore you with several more examples but you get the drift. 

The origin of this entire mess go back to 2008, when the market was booming. It appeared that the MBA was a Golden Degree which, like the yellow metal, could only go up, up and up.

Record placement salaries, record number of jobs - and a relatively low fee structure - made the MBA a most exciting qualification. The better the bschool brand, the more excitement, of course.

At this stage two things happened:

1) In April 2008, IIM Ahmedabad more than doubled its fees (from Rs 4.3 lakhs to Rs 11.5 lakhs). Other IIMs followed.

2) At the same time, year on year, IIMs began admitting more students (seats increased btw 40-100%)

Let me be honest, when IIMA first hiked its fee, I thought it was a good thing. The course was highly subsidised, there seemed to be no reason for taxpayers to underwrite the careers of bright students bagging excellent jobs. 

What's more, IIMs promised that no one would be denied a seat due to lack of funds. Education loans were made available to all and also merit scholarships, based on family income. 

But. The consequences of these actions were not limited to IIM students.

In the world of finance the Reserve Bank of India signals changes in rates. Similarly, IIMs hiking their fees sent a clear signal to the entire bschool industry. Practically every bschool in India increased its fees by 50-100%.

In a strange and convoluted way, the low fees charged by IIMs kept fees of all bschools low. Because no one - apart from ISB, with its own unique brand - dared to charge more than the market leader.

To compound the problem, the market crashed. Jobs disappeared. The class of 2009 saw the worst of it - higher fees and lower placement salaries. The number of students appearing for CAT in 2009 also declined - for the first time in years. 

So, what does this all boil down to? MBA karna chahiye - ya nahin??

Well, I think the 'Gold Rush' era is over. If you are looking for quick and safe returns, you will be disappointed.

I do think an MBA will add a lot of value to your career over the long term. By long term I mean a 10-15 year horizon. But you will begin to see the difference in as little as 3-5 years.

Certain avenues in the corporate world do open up for you, if you have the right 'branding'.

And if you are not from the best known schools you still have the chance to work your way up the ladder through performance and personality.

40 years of working life lie ahead of most of us, a one or two year program is an investment whose returns cannot and should not be calculated merely at the end of the course.

And yes, demand and supply is the inexorable law of Nature. Bschools may well have to go back to smaller batches and lower fees - to make themselves more attractive.

The other - and tougher way - is to provide such value addition that recruiters are happy to shell out more to snap up students. A scenario so implausible... the more practical method would be to hire Leonardo di Caprio. 

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