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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Idea of an Executive MTech Program

The MTech program in India is considered a research program, which one does leisurely over a two year period. There is a strong need, however, for different types of offerings at the Master's level, and the more innovative universities can create a program fulfilling that need.

NASSCOM (and many others who have studied quality of Indian higher education system) has pointed out that a large number of engineering graduates are not employable, and most of the graduates that the software industry employ, need significant training running into months. Companies also provide short-term training to their employees on a regular basis.

All this training ensures that the employees are aware of latest technologies and tools and they are able to execute projects incorporating those technologies and using those tools. However, after a decade of growth and promotions, many employees start reaching a plateau in the technical arena. If the college education did not teach basics well enough, all this training cannot take you too far.

For these employees, it appears as if the only way to climb the corporate ladder is to go through the management route. This perception of the employee is taken advantage of by the management institutes who have made executive MBA (or equivalent) options easily available. Management institutes have realized that it is unrealistic to expect a working professional to take a long break in career and do a degree at leisurely pace. But the MBA route to career growth is not a scalable option. As long as industry was growing at rates upwards of 20 percent, it could absorb large number of management graduates. But the need for people with higher technical knowledge is becoming acute.

As stated earlier, all the training that the companies provide cannot compensate for education that happens on a campus. A large number of current employees had gone through a relatively outdated curriculum from faculty members who did not know much better. If Indian industry has to go up in the value chain, they will need employees who are better educated, and not just well trained. This means that there is likely to be a large market for an executive (one-year) MTech program, and if some university starts it, it would be doing the industry a huge favor.

It is common in US universities (and elsewhere) to have multiple options for a master's degree. One can do very few courses and significant research work, or some more course work and a project, or even just course work. One can complete a course-based master's program in one year, though the thesis option would normally take six months longer.

If we look at the way MTech programs are structured in India, it is easy to compress them into a shorter duration programs. At IIT Kanpur (and I believe the credit requirement at other IITs would not be significantly different) one needs to do about 8 courses over 2 semesters, and a thesis work over another 2 semesters where the expected effort is equivalent to 8 courses (with minor variations across departments). Till a few years ago, the requirement was 6 courses and thesis equivalent to 6 courses, which could be completed in 3 semesters.

Why is it that a BTech student does 5 or 6 courses a semester, while an MTech student does only 4 courses a semester. Well, most of the MTech students are expected to provide some support to teaching or research to their department for about 8-10 hours a week. They get financial assistance for doing this work. Because of this requirement, they do only 4 courses. But, if someone does not want this financial support, and would rather do additional courses and finish early (and get a much higher corporate salary in the period that one saves as a result), it should be possible for someone to do 6 courses a semester. MTech students in general, and working professionals in particular are more mature than under-graduate students. They do not spend much time on partying, Internet surfing, movies, and games.

The rest is straight-forward. If the MTech program starts at the beginning of the summer term, a student does 2 courses in the summer, 6 courses each in the two semesters, and another 2 courses in the next summer, and in a total of 14 months, one has completed the 16 courses required for an MTech program. This does not reduce the credit requirement for the MTech program, only replaces thesis with courses, keeping in view the requirement of the industry.

Notice that it is possible to start the program in the beginning of the summer term, since the target audience are the working professionals. So no issues regarding having to wait for the result of the BTech program.

In fact, one can further reduce it effectively to one year, by requiring a project work to be done in the second summer, which would be equivalent to two courses. And this project work can be done in the company where the student is getting employed.

To run such a program at a very high quality, one can follow the ISB model. In the ISB model, one does not have an 18-week semester, but rather 6-week terms (including a couple of days break between two terms). So a student does not do 6 courses in parallel, but only 2 courses at a time, which get over within 6 weeks. It is easier to bring in high quality visiting faculty for 6 weeks, rather than for
a full semester of 18 weeks. So overall, the year is organized as seven 6-week terms. The exact dates can be tweaked to make it convenient for the visiting faculty. One could have a break of 3 weeks after four terms, which could be used for placement activities.

The puritans will balk at compressing the courses so much, but I believe that at the master's level, when one has only the motivated students and high-quality faculty, adequate learning can take place at the fast pace. But I concede that this may not work at the under-graduate level.

The program makes financial sense for all stake holders. If we assume that we would be able to attract high quality faculty by offering a compensation of about Rs. 10,000 per lecture hour, then the cost of faculty is about Rs. 4 lakh per course. If the physical infrastructure already exists in the institute, normally one would expect all non-faculty costs to be roughly equal. So the total cost to the institute for one course is about Rs. 8 lakhs. Assuming that there are only 40 students in a course, the average cost to the student is about Rs. 20,000 per course. If the student has to do 14 courses, the total cost to the student is only Rs. 2.8 lakhs. Even if we throw in goodies like a free laptop, invite a few foreign faculty at a higher cost, include personal costs of the student like mess food, the total cost to the student will still be within Rs.4 lakhs for the entire program.

In the current two year programs, typically the student earns enough during the program to take care of tuition and other expenses. So there is generally zero cost to the student. In the one-year program, the cost is Rs. 4 lakhs, but this is peanuts compared to what the student will earn in that one year that s/he saves.

Students will be attracted towards this program, if either their current employers promise to retain their jobs after they return, or there are other employers who have promised to consider the graduates for employment (of course, at a higher salary than what most of these students were earning). So one has to have agreements with employers for providing support to this program. Also, some students would have cash flow problem to pay high cost in the beginning. Therefore, arrangements have to be made with banks for student loans.

To summarize, universities need to innovate to solve real problems of industry in terms of not having sufficient number of people who can become technical leaders. The idea of an executive MTech is a step in that direction.


Jaya said...

What I would wonder about is whether providing solid technical education is at all possible at that stage to people, given the assumption that their undergraduate education has been faulty and industry has provided training more to get their immediate work done, rather than strengthening the fundamentals. With a baggage of working 5-6 years or more in the industry, I see that most people do not even realize how shaky their technical base is.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Jaya, I am assuming that people with motivation can overcome some gaps in their education. I am also assuming that people without motivation will probably go for change of career at this stage. Also, the courses will have to be planned in a way that the first term covers some basic stuff. If you consider defence officers, for example, who come to IITs for MTech, they take a bit of time in the first semester to settle down, but they perform very well after that, even though they often have gaps in the knowledge to begin with, and haven't had as much technical training as people in industry have.

mcenley said...

Dear Prof. Sanghi,

I am aware of at least a couple of institutes running a "near-to" executive MBA program. Probably, you can provide a perspective on existing executive MBA options in your next blog post. :-)

mcenley said...

PFB a correction in my earlier comment.

Probably, you can provide a perspective on existing executive *MTEch* (and not MBA) options in your next blog post

pr said...

One can complete a course-based master's program in one year, though the thesis option would normally take six months longer.

You are off by six months there. The non-thesis option usually takes 3 semesters while the thesis option takes 4 semesters.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@mcenley, I am not really aware of executive MTech program. There are part-time programs, and there are distance education based programs, but a full-time one-year MTech, I don't know. When I talked to a few folks in private universities, they are concerned that UGC or AICTE might be unhappy with such a program.

WebMiner said...

Why "executive"? What do they "execute"?

mcenley said...

The committee has also recommended an executive MTech programme for about 10,000 working professionals from industry through live video classes to enhance the knowledge base.

Deval said...

good post and i saw well connected because as a working professional I too faced the same dilemma a year back.
I am having 5 years of experience in IT but I didn't wanted to migrate towards MBA.I was searching for M.Tech program through which I can gain further technical skills without leaving my job.

I didn't got any options except distance program from Bits Pilani.

Sangram Dash said...

India Need M.Eng 1 Year couse based progammes like Cornell and Berkeley.