The career launchers

Print edition : September 23, 2005

Inside a classroom at Aakash Institute. - SANDEEP SAXENA

Management and medical education courses defy the onslaught of high-tech job opportunities.

AT 22, Anirvan Sen, a final-year student at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) - Bangalore, speaks with the quiet confidence of one who knows that his life is proceeding along a well-conceived path to success. Currently, he is wrapping up his term-end projects before leaving for a three-month exchange programme in Milan (Italy). "After my stint at Milan," he says, "I come back to Bangalore to finish my degree. And after a short break, I join Deutsche Bank at their London office." Sen is not alone in his quest. He is part of a larger process that has transformed career opportunities for an entire generation of Indians.

Structural changes in the Indian economy over the past decade have meant that traditional courses such as Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Science (MBBS) have stepped off the straight and narrow. From managing a large multinational company to starting a micro-credit initiative - the MBA helps you lead and inspire a team, irrespective of the task at hand. Similarly, medicine - which was earlier seen as a successful, yet restrictive field - now offers options such as sports medicine, genetics and other super-specialised courses.

"While undergraduate courses such as mathematics or economics are important, they do not really equip you for a job," explains Sen, "A good MBA programme provides a comprehensive combination of concepts from a wide variety of disciplines. This gives you the ability to analyse issues creatively and differently."

However, the choice of business schools is critical. With the exception of the Faculty of Management Studies (FMS) Delhi, which is affiliated to Delhi University, most Indian schools are not linked to universities in any way. What this implies is that most management institutions, including the IIMs, offer post-graduate diploma courses, as opposed to full-fledged Master's degrees. With no recognised university to authenticate business school diplomas, the value of the programme hinges on the reputation of the business school. The admission procedure for an MBA course in India revolves around the Common Admission Test (CAT). As in the case of other competitive examinations, 1.5 lakh candidates appear for CAT and approximately 2 per cent of them qualify, on the basis of percentile scores, for further rounds of group discussions and interviews. The paper aims to test an examinee's language skills, quantitative aptitude and analytical ability.

Bhaskar Kumar, a graduate in economics from Delhi University who is preparing for CAT 2005, says, "CAT is not a particularly hard examination." "The most difficult part of the paper is time management. Finishing the entire paper is unheard of." Unlike other examinations, CAT is not simply about a maximum score. Prestigious institutions such as the IIMs require a certain minimum score in each of the four sections. This means that time must be divided, between and within sections.

Kumar has chosen to enroll himself at Career Launcher, one of India's largest CAT coaching centres. Started in 1995 with the express purpose of training students for CAT, Career Launcher offers career training to over 35,000 students each year in a variety of subjects.

The organisation is best known for the Pegasus Module - the MBA preparation programme that boasts over 12,000 enrolments a year. It is also believed to have a high success rate. The Pegasus Module is designed to improve accuracy and speed through non-conventional approaches to problem solving, and innovative teaching methods. The institute has also designed modules to simulate group discussions and interviews that constitute the subsequent rounds of admission for the IIMs. Says Gautam Puri, managing director of Career Launcher, "It is important to realise that there is no standard formula for everyone. What works for one person may not work for everyone." Puri explains that at Career Launcher the idea is to help students devise their own personal strategies or formulas.

Apart from the MBA programme, Career Launcher has diversified its educational services: it provides tuitions for school and college students, and has launched an online education service as well. The organisation's preparatory programmes include Future Map (career planning and guidance for school students), Compassbox.com (online education for the CBSE and the Maharashtra State Board students) and Law School tutorials. For its law classes, Career Launcher has initiated the shift from conventional classroom-teacher interactions to cutting-edge VSAT (Very Small Aperture Satellite) broadcasts. The teacher sits at a studio in Noida, near Delhi, and the lecture is broadcast across the country, reaching over 600 students.

At the enquiry counter of Aakash Institute.-SANDEEP SAXENA

IN the age where career counsellors urge students and parents to think in terms of the "big-picture", "off the beaten path" and "out of the box", one member of the old-guard still stands tall, fending off the advances of IT professionals, corporate raiders, web designers and media practitioners - medicine. In spite of a changing economy and ethos that offer students a plethora of career options, the MBBS programme attracts a record number of applications.

While traditional areas such as general medicine and general surgery continue to exist, the growth of super-specialty health care in India has resulted in the demand for specialists like orthodontists, sports surgeons, cosmetic surgeons and neurosurgeons. Specialisation is where the growth is expected in the coming years. Given that India has among the best government-run and private medical colleges, the opportunities are tremendous.

Most medical colleges accept students on the basis of an entrance exam. These examinations, usually held in April-May, are highly competitive. Apart from the CBSE Joint Entrance Exam, students may sit for the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), and the Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC) entrance tests. A number of private institutions hold their own entrance tests.

Most of these tests are based on the CBSE Classes XI and XII syllabi. However, the concepts and preparation required for these examinations go way beyond the demands of school. "I realised that I could not balance the demands of school with those of the medical entrance examinations," says Manav Kalra, a student of A.B. Shetty Memorial Dental College in Mangalore, "That is when I decided to enroll myself with a specialised tuition centre.

Aakash Institute, set up in 1988, is one of India's oldest and most reputed tuition centres. Its students were chosen for 51.51 per cent of the seats in the 2005 AIIMS entrance examination, and 26.23 per cent in the CBSE All-India examination. In 2005 alone, 1,079 of its students secured MBBS admission in various medical colleges in India.

Aakash offers several training courses, ranging from two months to two years and costing between Rs.20,938 and Rs.73,834. It also offer crash courses, correspondence courses and weekend classes. In an attempt to maintain high standards, students are chosen on the basis of a screening test and merit scholarships are offered to deserving students. Aakash also offers free medical coaching to 25 students studying in government schools in Delhi.

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