Rajul Garg, Director, Sunstone Business School

“Ours is a technology led model. We conduct live online classes but the crux of our program is our problem-based pedagogy.”

May 20, 2014 4:03 IST | India Infoline News Service

Rajul Garg, Director, Sunstone Business School is a Computer Science Graduate from IIT Delhi. Rajul is directly responsible for our corporate tie-ups. He also brings in his passion and experience in entrepreneurship, business building and venture funding to the curriculum of Sunstone. Rajul is also the visionary behind the launch of free open online courses by Sunstone. Rajul was a co-founder of GlobalLogic, a global leader in R&D outsourcingwith offices in 8 countries and over 6,000 employees and >Rs 1,000 Cr revenue. He built the operation ground up in India and later helped GlobalLogic expand exponentially through global acquisitions. Earlier, he was also a founder of Pine Labs, a leader in point of sales transactions in India. Rajul has consulted with leading venture capital firms like Sequoia and Battery Capital for their portfolio companies in India. Rajul also consulted with Aavishkaar, a micro equity fund, where he focused on exploring education ideas for mass market.

Sunstone Business School launched its first batch in July 2011 in Delhi region with 25 students. Today, it operates in Delhi and Pune region and has launched its third batch. Sunstones one year Post Graduate Program in Management has gained recognition as a premier MBA program accepted by the industry. The pedagogy at Sunstone relies on three important pillars: redefining faculty as a consultant and coach rather than a lecturer, use of workplace for instantly experimenting with the learning, and use of technology for repository and collaboration.

Replying to Anil Mascarenhas of IIFL, Rajul Garg says, Ours is a technology led model. We conduct live online classes but the crux of our program is our problem-based pedagogy.

What were some of the models you experimented with before launching Sunstone Business School?

Many new companies in the education space work in the ancillary space. They try to become a provider to institutions. The other things people try is to get into vocational programmes.

While we dabbled a little bit in these, we were very quickly clear that we wanted to get into core education, i.e. formal education. We believe thats where the maximum potential for impact is.

What is the size of the market for IT/ITES education? Are you now able successfully  deliver the curriculum in a light weight model?

Well, we have nearly 3M IT professionals in our country. If you take an average salary of $1K/month across the board, then thats about $3B of wage bill/month. Significant amount needs to be spent to improve skills and if you take that to be a fraction of the wage bill, thats a big opportunity.

You once mentioned that students are able to give significant salary hikes when they change roles in India after completing business education. Does this trend remain now?

India Skills Report 2014 mentioned that more and more IT companies are hiring MBAs. The general trend is that with the increase in knowledge economy, there is a burden on every professional to add greater value. Everyone is expected to innovate, be a brand ambassador and a leader. Hence doing more is not just a growth thing, but will increasingly become a survival thing.

Comment about your course structure and fees.

We have broken the program down into 3 levels each of 4 months. Level 1 earns you a Certificate of Business Competence, Level 2 earns you a certificate of Business Proficiency and Level 3 earns you the PGP. The levels cumulate and we have seen its really helpful to students to have smaller value packets. Our level is priced at Rs. 55,000, Level 2 at Rs. 85,000 and Level 3 at Rs. 1,25,000.

How many students have enrolled so far? What is the outlook?

We have enrolled nearly 250 students so far. Our outlook for current year is to enroll almost 400 students.

Explain to us your business model. Where do you conduct your classes? Any plans to have your own space for the same?

Ours is a technology led model. We conduct live online classes but the crux of our program is our problem-based pedagogy. Our curriculum allows students to learn in context, apply principles immediately and keep it real. We are highly interactive and we also meet students in networking days. This program has no real need for a fixed real estate. We are experimenting with other products in campus education, but thats a different market.

I feel we will see a lot of innovative models in education in the next 10 years. I am happy to see more and more professionals jump into and willing to help.

What are some of the opportunities and challenges in running your B School?

I feel we are on the cusp of a phenomenal opportunity to create a viable and high quality option for our large workforce to upgrade their skills. If India has to remain competent and move up the value chain, we need to have such options.

The biggest challenge as a small school is reach. We are new and people have not heard of it. They find it difficult before they join to understand how we teach and how they get value. However, once they are in, they see the value.

You were earlier funded through equity from Omnia Education Fund. Who else has invested in Sunstone? What is the shareholding pattern?

We have only raised funds from Omnia Education Fund. We are held between founders, employees and Omnia.

Brief us on your financials. What are some of your major costs?

Our major cost is in faculty and delivery. We are close to operational breakeven.

Which are the partnerships you have in place? To what extent have you benefited with your tie-up with Harvard Business Review?

We have content partnerships with Harvard Business Review and a few others. It has been helpful to get access to high quality content, but the essence of our learning is problem-based and we create our own problems.

What are your plans for pan-India expansion?

We already have students in 9 cities in India and a couple of students from UK and US. We expect to deepen our presence in India this year.

Comment on your faculty. How many are full-time employed with you? Do you find it a challenge to find the right people?

We use a combination of full time part time faculty from industry. We have 5 full time faculties at the moment. We have found there are many industry folks who are interested in teaching and that works well for us.

What should B-Schools do to make the students job-ready?

I think B-schools should relentlessly involve industry in curriculum design, curriculum delivery and networking. Secondly, students need to gain confidence to be able to do more demanding business roles. Thirdly, we have increasingly felt that more depth in curriculum vs more depth helps students gain that confidence.

In a changing environment, do you give stress to soft-skills also?

We give a lot of importance to soft skills and behavioral skills. They are an absolute must in todays business environment. Almost 30% of our Level 1 curriculum focuses on soft skills and behavioral skills.

What do you think is lacking in BSchools in India?

If you leave aside the top schools, the situation is fairly bad in the rest of them. We have 4,000 schools and hardly 50 would be of any quality. Rest struggle to understand what needs to be done, struggle to attract faculty and struggle to connect with industry. They just end up making bigger and shinier facades. Even in the top business schools, their understand of modern business is sometimes low. Business has changed fast and its hard for everyone to keep up.

Give us some anecdotes from your career cell. How are those associated with you managing job transitions?

We help students manage transitions. We help students in identifying the right roles and target long-term career growth. We also help create opportunities and helps students apply for specific job. As our network is becoming bigger, that is also helping students in finding the right jobs.

What is your advice to entrepreneurs?

Well, its a good time in India to try entrepreneurship. One thing I have seen it that some people expect instant success which is rare. For most entrepreneurs, its a gradual cycle with rich rewards.

How are you viewing the change in government? What should be the agenda for the government as far as B-Schools is concerned?

I feel we have a strong pro-development message from the new government. This should result in job creation, which will automatically help B-schools.

What else is your wish list from the government?

I feel if the govt. can catalyze job creation, that would be a big contribution.

Do you think online education has been successful? What are the missing gaps?

I feel online education is a misnomer. People understand this to be video recorded lectures. We view online as a collaboration tool that gives us the ability to build rich interaction. Pedagogy is the key. We have been successful in delivering a high quality experience and I expect us to continually innovate in that direction.

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