Given the prestige associated with the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), it is surprising there aren’t as many students taking the Common Admission Test (CAT) this time around as in past years. According to media reports, for the second year in a row now, applicants are being given more time to sign up for the examination with the 46-day window having been extended by five days. Registrations, which are understood to have peaked in 2009 at about 2,90,000, were down to 1,96,000 last year even though students were given extra time to register.
While the IIMs still attract the cream of India’s student population, there are a lot more options today, possibly explaining the lower interest. There are more post-graduate options, including in colleges/institutions that have affiliations with well-known global names. Also, the jobs market is changing and youngsters now have much more choice when it comes to career options, including joining/heading a startup. In addition, while the IIMs may still be the first port of call for most firms, they are a lot more willing to recruit graduates from the lesser-known management colleges since they are both willing to accept lower salaries and are also more likely to stay on in certain kinds of jobs for longer. A crisis in India’s management and engineering colleges has been brewing for several years and, at the lower end of the market, very high vacancies exist—which is why, as Mint reported on Monday, the AICTE plans to cut the number of undergraduate engineering seats by as much as 40% over the next few years. Of course, given that the number of applicants per seat at the IIMs would still be many times those in most top management colleges abroad, the IIMs would appear to have nothing to worry about. Even so, a bit of introspection may not be out of order, on whether management education is becoming less attractive or whether shorter-duration courses—and far more specialised—with work experience are the way to go.