EDU: Darden has partnerships with various Indian schools. Any specific criteria for selection?
Robert F Bruner: We have partnered with IIM, Ahmedabad, ISB, Hyderabad and XLRI, Jamshedpur. We chose schools which share our values and are in synch with the way we present ourselves to the world. Our emphasis is on excellent teaching, service and high attention to ethics. Like us, IIM-A teaches by the case method, so we share the pedagogy. ISB and XLRI also have the same case method teaching. Because we share these values, its easy for us to have conversations about common projects, joint programmes and things that matter to us. The students, who come to our school on exchange, fit right in. Our partner schools in India and all over the world have very high admission standards. So, when we exchange students, we are confident that they can stand the rigours of our programme.
Q: What are your thoughts on setting up an institution in India in the context of the Foreign Education Bill?
A: I think it is in Indias best interests to lower the entry barriers. Many Indian schools may feel threatened because of the possibility of new entrants in their market. I was visiting a professor at IIM, Bangalore. They have 200 thousand applicants for 400 places. That is a very big unmet demand. There are high quality schools at one end, and there are diploma mills on the other, and you need screening to make the right choices. If India is careful about the schools it lets in, I believe it will make for a vibrant academic sector. Foreign schools can help strengthen Indian schools and vice versa.
Rather than more competition, it could be more collaboration. Alternately, I think the students would be the winners from a liberalisation programme in this sector.
The Darden School will have great interest in a presence in India; though our strategy at present is asset-light. We want to carry our programmes to the important countries of the world, but not necessarily make heavy asset investments, not because we are afraid, but because we want to preserve flexibility. This flexibility helps us in various ways. For instance, we offer short global experiences to our students all over the world. We take our MBA students over a dozen cities and the choice of where to send the students changes according to the conditions of the appeal and sometimes, according to very significant events. Last spring, we had programmes to send our students all over the world, including Cairo and Bahrain. This was in March when the Jasmine Revolutionwas in full swing. We said: No, we will not send our students to Tahrir Square or Bahrain, the sites of civil unrest. We will send you to Dubai or Barcelona. The students were of course unhappy.
They wanted to be in the middle of the protest. The point is that we were able with great flexibility, to shift the learning of our students to venues that were as attractive and loaded with global insights. It is in the interests of the students and the profession we serve, to be flexible.
Q: You have just established a global executive MBA programme. Can you tell us more about it?
A: This programme will take every graduating class of students to five major economic zones of the world; the ones that we think will be leading in this century. They are India, China, Brazil, the European Union and the United States. We have carefully selected these to provide comparisons and contrasts in numerous ways. In India, we are thinking of bringing our students to Chennai and Delhi. But maybe 18 months from now, going to Bangalore and Mumbai would make a better comparison. We have that flexibility and wonderful partnerships in India. We will draw upon them for |rich local content. We are not outsourcing the teaching; we are sending our own faculty.
Q: How is this programme structured?
A: It is a 21-month programme, a combination of residential experience and online learning. We seek to admit 36 to 45-year-olds, who have 15 years of work experience or more. More importantly, they are people who have established their mastery in certain functional areas: finance, operations or marketing. We are one of the worlds leading general management schools. So we have structured this programme in ways to help them develop the general management point of view and the global mindset.
There will be a two-week residential exper ience pr ogr amme f ollowed by about eight weeks of online learning and another residential experience in different parts of the world with eight more weeks of online learning. Every week, there will be three to five formal class sessions where a professor using Skype or WebEx or some other technology will be visible on the students screen and the students will interact with the professor in real time. We are also using interaction like asynchronous chats.
Q: Will the entire group of students move from one location to another?
A: Yes. They will bond and have common experiences in these different countries. But there is also a great deal of tailoring with the programme, permitting the students to learn and specialise in certain subject areas.