SP Jain Global President Nitish Jain on How he built a Muti-country B-school with 3000 students, and Future of Learning – MBAUniverse.com Interview

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Updated on June 4, 2022
In a candid interview with MBAUniverse.com, Nitish Jain, a Cornell University MBA and founder of SP Jain Global with campuses in Australia, Dubai, Singapore, Mumbai, and 3000 students enrolled from 25 nationalities, shares how he built the multi-country model, what challenges he faced and how with some luck and a lot of ingenuity, he went from one country to another, scaling his institution.
SP Jain Global President Nitish Jain Interview

Can Indian education sector do what Indian IT industry has done – be a Global education service provider? It may seem far-fetched, but given our native strengths, it is possible. A Mumbai born B-school has already shown that it’s possible. Set up in 2004 by Nitish Jain, a Cornell University MBA and Grandson of late Padma Bhushan Shriyans Prasad Jain, a parliamentarian and industrialist, SP Jain Global today has campuses in Australia, Dubai, Singapore, Mumbai, and has 3000 students from 25 nationalities enrolled. Students graduate with a degree accredited by Australian Government’s Education Regulator. SP Jain Global offers a well-ranked Global MBA, Executive MBA, Doctoral Program and a number of executive programs.

In a candid interaction with MBAUniverse.com Founder Amit Agnihotri, Nitish Jain shares how he built the multi-country model, what challenges he faced and how with some luck and a lot of ingenuity, he went from one country to another, scaling his institution. He also talks about the Future of Learning – which he believes, not surprising, is Digital!

Edited excerpts from this interaction follow:

Q: Let’s start from the start. In 2004, you established the first campus in Dubai. Soon, in 2005, you expanded to Singapore and then into Australia. What made you chart this unusual path!
A: Business school graduates look for jobs upon graduation. When we started in 2004, the Dubai job market was booming. This, coupled with a lack of serious competition, led to our phenomenal growth and popularity in Dubai.

Singapore happened next. Actually, we were invited by the Singapore Government to set up a campus there. Asia was poised to leapfrog the West, and this presented an excellent opportunity to expose our students to Asian business practices and culture.

Sydney is a leading first-world democracy and was an obvious choice to complete our global model.

Q: So how many students are enrolled across your campuses?
A: We have between 2,500 to 3,000 students currently studying with us. About 75% of them study full-time with us and balance are part-time students.

However, given our cutting-edge Online Technology, we see a shift toward Hybrid/Online learning in future. 

Q: What are the key nationalities of your students?
A: We have students from over 25 countries covering every continent. Mostly our students are Indian, but also have a number of them from Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other central Asian and South American countries.

Q: How confident were you when you started out…Did you imagine this success in a highly regulated education sector? 
A: We had great conviction in our multi-country model, but as with everything in life, one needs good luck and tailwinds to succeed.

Managing regulations in so many geographies has been challenging and rewarding as we have learned so much and have become a better school.

Q: Looking back what were the big breakthroughs in your journey…
A: There are several. Our faculty are amongst the best in their fields. They represent 20 countries and have a practical approach to teaching. Students join SP Jain for the learning experience our faculty deliver. 

We also have a unique global learning model that truly worked and led to great jobs with global companies, as a result of which, we are ranked by top publications worldwide. 

Our online technology (ELO) isn’t just among the best in the world; it is truly the best! Our students refuse to learn on Zoom or Teams.

We also have a remarkable team of people who manage our back-end operations and ensure that our student experience is exemplary—right from Admission to Graduation. 

Q: What is the legal/regulatory structure of SP Jain? We understand that degree granting campus is only one – Australia. Why is this the case…
A: Our students live and study in different countries as a part of the same program. In each city, they have opportunities to pursue projects and internships, experience new cultures, learn new skills, languages, etiquette, and make friends from around the world. In the end, they graduate with a degree accredited by the Tertiary Education Quality & Standards Agency, Australia. 

This works out well for our students because Australia is a leading hub of tertiary education, and they are very particular about quality. 

Q: Are Education Regulators different in their approach? How does SP Jain meet their criteria? 
A: Yes, each region or country has different regulations but broadly covers the same topics. Sometimes regulations conflict, but they agree to compromise when we speak to them. We enjoy excellent goodwill everywhere because they understand that we place a huge emphasis on student learning and outcomes.

Q: Coming to India, in 2015, SP Jain opened Mumbai campus. How has it fared… 
A: As of now, we don’t offer full-time programs in India. The India campus is primarily a feeder campus and plays an important role in supporting the administrative and student operations at the other campuses. 

Q: How do Indian Students compare with those in Australia, Dubai, Singapore?
A: Indians are driven. They are relentless, motivated and have a deep drive to succeed. They are both book-smart and street-smart and have the outstanding ability to solve problems creatively. We need to catch up with ‘soft-skills’ or ‘people skills’—relate to others and empathise, keep an open mind, and be mindful of body language. 

These skills are covered in our programs. We understand that each student is different; each has different areas of strengths and weaknesses, and we have adopted a customised approach to helping them. Our objective is to ensure that our students have both the IQ and EQ to succeed. 

Q: What challenges did you face during COVID crisis? How did you resolve them?
A: Back in spring 2020, when COVID-19 was emerging around the world and leading to travel restrictions and widespread lockdowns, universities at all levels were caught unaware. Courses had to be adapted for online at break-neck speed. Students and professors did their best to get comfortable learning over video conferencing apps like Zoom and MS Teams.

However, these apps were designed for office meetings, not classrooms. As a result, the student experience using these technologies was mostly dull and unengaging.  

Fortunately, we had foreseen the rapid growth in online education before the pandemic and developed our own proprietary technology—Engaged Learning Online (ELO).ELO is what we believe to be the future of online learning.

Q: Let us know more about ELO…
A: ELO is one of the biggest feathers in our cap! 

Despite students not being able to attend physical classes, our enrolment went up—from 30 students in 2018 to 600 in 2021—all thanks to the superior technology we used. 

Imagine an online technology that lets you have a face-to-face conversation and make eye contact with as many as 70 students in a classroom. That was ELO 1.0 in 2018. Our latest upgrade (ELO 5.0) includes even more exciting features like text to speech and providing access to students with low bandwidth. 

We just keep improving a winning product—we will soon launch ELO 6.0! 

Q: What are key learnings from the last few years that should stay with us...
A: If 2020-21 has taught us anything, it is that change is inevitable. 

Education has hardly evolved in the last 50 years. This is unfortunate as we should be building innovative leaders and leading from the front. In my view, education is ripe for a big disruption led by technology. 

What it will be and how it will change the current model of education is anyone’s guess. 

Q: SP Jain puts emphasis on global business and cultures. Why is it important for students? 
A: The answer is simple. When competing for a job, who is likely to stand out? Someone who has lived and studied in a single country or someone who is a global citizen? The answer is pretty obvious. 

Companies want people who can fit into their global teams and leverage global opportunities. Today, even a 5-person-led business in a Bangalore garage is global!

Q: But in last few years, Nationalism has been on rise…Will the emphasis on globalisation return?
A: We need to go back to the fundamentals and understand why the world became global to begin with. The answer is quite simple—we had more choice, world-class products, lower prices etc.

If India didn’t import oil from other countries, I dare say we would have to shut down our economy. I think I have made my point.

Q: How are your incorporating Technology trends in Business Education at SP Jain?  
A: Our focus has been on “technology with business applications”. Businesses are now being disrupted by technology, so, in a sense, technology has become a business subject. 

The future of both business and work is increasingly changing because of technology, and we need to impart these skills to our graduates so they can leverage new opportunities. 

Q: Can you elaborate this point...
A: As organisations continue to invest significantly in AI, we are witnessing a great demand for engineers with business expertise—those who understand both the technology and the business needs and can translate a business requirement to a technical specification.

Last year, we launched an interdisciplinary master’s program—Master of Artificial Intelligence in Business—to address the industry’s growing demand for such experts. The course is structured so that students gain practical knowledge in AI and business disciplines such as marketing, finance, operations and economics. Through projects and interactions with AI professionals and business leaders, students will learn to apply AI to practical problems in retail, manufacturing, finance and other business functions. 

Our objective is to equip students with the knowledge and tools to lead AI-driven digital transformation in their organisations. I haven't come across any other program that combines AI and business. 

Q: Finally, what new initiatives are being planned as normalcy returns?
A: COVID-19 has been a huge disruptor and is surely impacting how we teach and learn. For instance, onsite learning used to be the "only" way to learn. We have created a futuristic classroom that leverages technology used for online in a physical classroom. Though this may sound nothing special, it has totally changed classroom dynamics. 

We are also investing significantly in an emerging area called 'Learning Analytics'—using learner-produced data for predicting student behaviour. An example is segregating students based on their learning styles and preferences. Some students like to read before class; others want to read after class. You can also make predictions based on the student's background—academics, work experience and even gender and race. 

Personalised learning is another important area. Personalised learning is not simply a matter of allowing students to decide what they want to learn, but about identifying learner preferences. For example, how does the student prefer to learn—video, audio, or text? Educators can use these to create a variety of learning materials for students to choose from. 

Digital tutors and EdTech chatbots have become quite popular too. Imagine having your questions answered anytime, anywhere!

Stay tuned to MBAUniverse.com for more interviews on changing nature of business & work, and management education.

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