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Back to books
Class of 2007: More than 82 per cent of these IIM-Khozikode students have work experience

Little Ananya found it a little hard to believe. Like him, his dad too was now going to attend classes, make projects and take exams. Atul Sharma, a deputy general manager with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) recalls that his 10-year-old son was most surprised at his decision to take a sabbatical from work and join a management course four months ago. Well, you can’t really blame Ananya. Working professionals taking a break to pursue studies was something unheard of in India until recently.

Today, a booming economy and rising employment opportunities are increasingly prompting professionals to get back to books. From management degrees to research projects — careers are put on hold for various professional and academic courses. At the Indian Institute of Management-Kozhikode (IIM-K), more than 82 per cent of the students in the class of 2007 have had prior work experience.

“Working professionals have to deal with relentless change. And these executives often find that they are losing the edge in certain areas to colleagues fresh out of college, who are better equipped to deal with new challenges. The best strategy therefore is to ‘go back to school’ and acquire updated knowledge and get acquainted with the latest methodologies, technologies and management practices,” says Udai Singh, head of the recently launched NIIT-Imperia courses for working executives. According to Singh, in the short span of a few months more than 60,000 individuals and 300 organisations have expressed interest in the NIIT Imperia management programmes offered in collaboration with the IIMs.

If going back to campus for some means a value-addition in terms of skills, leading to fatter pay packages, then there are many others who see it as a ‘break from monotony’. “Though at 40 I had a fairly successful careergraph, I found my work very monotonous. I felt I was stagnating,” explains Sharma. This IIT graduate believes that a management course at IIM-Lucknow would help him upgrade his skills.

Forty-one-year-old Shailendra Kumar, a government employee, opted for a masters degree in the UK to broaden his knowledge base. He believes that the trend to get back to college is fast catching on because people want to specialise in their fields after working for a few years. Kumar himself worked for over 11 years in the area of international trade before opting to do a course in governance and development from the University of Sussex, UK. “This course will further enhance my skills in decision-making,” says Kumar.

Needless to say, skill enhancement comes with better employment opportunities. That explains why when journalist Subhajit Banerjee wanted to make a switch from print to broadcast journalism he chose to study in the UK. “This course gives me the possibility of exploring employment opportunities abroad and perhaps commanding a better pay package if I opt to work in India,” says Banerjee, currently pursuing a one-year masters course in broadcast journalism from the University of Sheffield in the UK.

The many years of work experience also gives these students an edge in class. Besides a certain level of maturity, they are able to relate what is taught in class to the ground realities in life. “Students with work experience are in a much better position to correlate classroom teaching with issues of the real world. They also perform much better on assignments and projects since they have a lot of practical knowledge,” reasons IIM-Lucknow faculty member Sushil Kumar.

A diverse class with students from various work sectors also means a healthy exchange of ideas from which they gain an understanding of each other’s experiences. However, everyone admits that adapting to this new-found student life is not easy. Not used to studying for long stretches, each of them had to struggle to improve their concentration and to change their work habits. “As a teacher I was used to calling the shots in class. But as a student it took me a while to learn to listen to my own professors,” admits Ranjana Gyanchandani, a student of bachelor of education (BEd) at the Delhi-based Indraprastha University. Student life also means no steady income and many working professionals have to learn to live on meagre scholarship money or on their savings.

Employers too are facilitating this ‘back to books’ trend. The Aditya Birla Group, Convergys, ING Vysya, Accenture and Airtel are among the big corporates that have tied up with e-learning organisations to offer skill-development courses to their employees. Institutes are also making special arrangements to help professionals heading back to college. IIM-K allowed Sunil George Mathew to live with his wife on campus. Mathew also received a scholarship as he was the sole bread winner of his family.

But for those not ready to take the big step of returning to college, there is always the option of taking up part-time and online courses offered by most institutes today. The bottomline is that learning never stops.

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