For decades Indian nationals have gone abroad to complete MBAs in the West to gain international work experience, attain a globally recognised qualification or to emigrate using their in-demand qualifications as their ticket into a particular country. But as economies in the East rapidly grow stronger, business schools have observed Indians heading back to their home country. Indian MBAs who were born and raised in GCC countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia say they are moving back to pursue their careers. They return because of the GCC's robust economies, close proximity to India and also because their immediate family members reside in the Middle East.
If India's economy is doing so well, why then do prospective Indian MBAs still want to study abroad?
"I think there is still a strong preference for good MBAs to go abroad [because], with the exception of perhaps the Indian School of Business and the IIMs (Indian Institutes of Management), there are still not enough business schools that have been established with an international pedigree," said Nunzio Quacquarelli, Editor of TopMBA.com and Director of the QS World MBA Tour.
There are business schools that are working towards international recognition but they are in the early stages, which is why aspirant Indian candidates are heading to North America and Europe in very large numbers, Quacquarelli said.
Other factors that attract Indians to overseas business schools include reputation of the school, employment outcomes after graduation, specialisations available, the strength of the academic programme and the return on investment that candidates expect to achieve.
Another reason Indians prefer studying abroad is because of the disparities in income depending on where you get your qualification. Domestic employers who employ MBAs from Indian business schools pay an average of $40,000 per annum while a global MBA earns $90,000 on average said Quacquarelli. However, candidates may accept a slightly lower salary because of the lower cost of living and the room for growth that jobs in India offer.
There are no exact figures for Indians returning to India or the Middle East, however Quacquarelli says, "I certainly know that of the people attending the tour in Dubai, 90 per cent are non UAE nationals and that includes Indian nationals who are working in the UAE - they represent a high proportion of those attending the tour and are all interested in studying overseas. A significant number are returning to the Middle East after they graduate."
And even larger numbers are returning to India after they complete MBAs abroad. "The Indian economy is clearly one of the fastest growing in the world with multinational corporations expanding operations in India. Consumer goods and computer services, financial services and consulting sectors are all expanding.
Dubai resident and Indian national Sonia Mathews recently completed her MBA at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC) after completing an engineering degree at Bits Pilani Dubai and is looking for job opportunities in both the UAE and India.
"I was determined to do my masters degree in the UK even though I had options in the US because the UK was closer to Dubai and India."
The 23-year-old is already applying for positions in India and will be visiting Mumbai for job interviews soon. Mathews said she was optimistic about her chances of employment in the UAE but felt that chances for career growth and earning potential was greater in India due to its strong economy. Apeksha Frungaram, 23, also graduated from UWIC and wants to go to India for work experience and hopes to return to the UAE and settle where her family is. "My aim is to get a job and some experience, financial gain is not that important. I've been in the UAE for the past 15 years, it's home, and I will return if I get good offers."
Bharat Tandon graduated with an MBA from Duke University in the US in 1986 and is now the India Managing Director of Saudi petrochemical firm Sabic based in New Delhi.
As someone who screens and hires MBA candidates he has observed that "today's kids are very smart and they see that the economy is growing at 8 per cent plus while in the West it's zero to two per cent. It's a no brainer to return." Tandon said his son is also studying in the US and when he meets his son's Indian friends, nine out of ten want to come back.
"They are heading back to where the opportunities lie and where they will settle down. If you look at the financial sector for example, you will find that salaries are on par with those in the West and in many sectors salary equalisation is taking place." "When I went to the US in the mid '80s to do my MBA, nine of out ten of us wanted to stay there because of the opportunities and now the situation is reversed," Tandon said. Tandon said there was still a strong interest in pursuing careers in the Middle East "but I don't think it was as strong as it used to be about a decade back".
Reasons they stay in the West
It is not only Indians who are heading back to their home countries, according to Prof Blair Sheppard, Dean and Professor of Management at Duke University's The Fuqua School of Business, which also has campuses in Dubai and New Delhi. At Duke University MBAs from Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East want to go back home. "Central Asia Indians are least likely to go back but those wanting to go back are increasing," he reveals. The percentage of students "who want jobs overseas is increasing dramatically but slowly - in a sense it was a small base to begin with. It is fair to say India is probably the third or fourth preferred destination for jobs overseas," Sheppard said.
Business schools are also advising their MBAs to take up their first jobs in a foreign country to gain international experience, however India is not the preferred destination because of starting salaries. "Students will come to a top school in the US and Europe and the challenge is repaying that debt. It's not that students don't want to go to India, it's the salary structure that is lower."
To remedy this, Duke University is talking to firms in India about purchasing parity where Duke will negotiate that firms help graduates cover the cost of their loans and the MBA joins the company at a lower salary.