Students who joined Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) in 2020 prepared long and hard for one of the toughest entrance exams in the country — the Common Admission Test (CAT) — but have been unable to live the IIM experience fully due to the coronavirus outbreak. While some students got to be on campus for a few months, they had to soon return amid the worsening Covid crisis.

One such student, Swati Singh from the small town of Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh, had appeared for CAT earlier too, but could get into an IIM only in 2020, when she joined the Postgraduate Programme (PGP) at IIM Kozhikode.

“Before starting my MBA journey, I had a lot of expectations. I was looking forward to working on my personality, learning communication skills, and enhancing my knowledge resources through peer learning. Peer learning is completely absent in our curriculum so far. Our batch across IIMs has no idea how a classroom experience is like for an MBA student,” said Swati.

Swati said she had hoped to engage in late-night studies with fellow students, explain concepts to each other, hold discussions on different business models, and exchange ideas on new start-ups. “Unable to study at “God’s own campus”, where clouds float around in the mornings, we never got to experience the institute’s anthem — Baadalon mein Class (Class in the clouds),” she added.

Himanshu Rai, director, IIM Indore, said teachers too have been adversely affected by the pandemic, as many had to change their teaching styles. “We are used to physical classes, but Covid introduced us to other modes such as remote and hybrid. Initially, we had both online and offline learning, with some students in the classrooms. It became a challenge when the teachers had to pay equal yet divided attention to students sitting in front of them and those who were joining remotely,” Rai said.

Pradeep Jassal, 25, from Udham Singh Nagar, Uttarakhand, aspired to join an MBA programme to be well-prepared for job opportunities. But Covid-19 has impacted his IIM journey too. 

“It is sad that I have not met 60 per cent of my batch personally, and may not meet them throughout my course. With internet issues, technical snags and e-learning, the curriculum was a lot to take in a very short period of time. We are missing out on peer learning, festivals, sports competitions and life at campus. There is a culture that every institute has, and you can not pass that culture online. Along with classes, seniors and staff on campus add to one’s personality,” said Pradeep, who is pursuing MBA from IIM Kashipur.

And while the learning experience has been compromised, the financial strain of an IIM education has not lessened amid the pandemic. Students pay around Rs 14-16 lakh for two years of an MBA programme, depending on the institute. Despite not being on campus, students are still paying hostel fee.

Swati Singh has paid a total of Rs 78,000 under hostel charges, Rs 45,000 under students’ support services and Rs 30,000 for medical and students’ activities. Shubham has paid Rs 73,500 for hostel charges, Rs 30,000 for IT and computer, and Rs 12,000 for student welfare activity.

IIM Jammu director BS Sahay agreed that there has been little reduction in the fee students are paying. “The institute functions on a private campus with numerous costs. Students pay the mess charge on a monthly basis, which they have not been paying while they are away. Rest everything else is a part of the fee,” he said.

There has been no relaxation in fee for students at IIM Indore, said Rai, but students have been provided with need-cum-merit based financial aids. “Hostel fee is not a rental where you pay only if you stay. The charge is largely to maintain the buildings for whenever students return. Students often think that institutes have huge corpus funds which should be utilised in such times. But they fail to understand that all funds have a plan and a budget. IIM Indore will spend around Rs 350 crore in the near future for the expansion of the campus to accommodate students from economically weaker sections (EWS). It is all budgeted,” he said.

Since institutes have already lost revenue sources such as the executive programmes and mess charge, it is not possible for them to waive any component of the fee, said Rai, adding that IIM Indore has introduced a provision to refund the complete fee of the top three PGP students.

On the contrary, IIMs in Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Calcutta have told that they have either refunded the hostel fee or charged students’ only for the days they were on campus.

“IIM Bangalore students did stay on campus for at least a part of the 2020-21 academic year. They are being charged hostel fee pro-rata only for the days they stayed on campus,” said Rishikesha T Krishnan, director, IIM Bangalore.

Manish Thakur, Dean (New Initiatives and External Relations), IIM Calcutta, said the institute refunded fee based on non-occupancy of hostel rooms as per its policy guidelines and dispersed need-based financial assistance to the tune of Rs 5.79 crore in 2020-21.

A spokesperson from IIM Ahmedabad also said that out of the full hostel charges collected as part of normal fee, an appropriate amount was refunded to each student on a pro-rata basis, considering their date of coming to campus in proportion to the full academic year.

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