Friday, 19 December 2014

Masters In Economics - Where to go?

The Inside Story

By Anshuman Kamila

Without much ado about nothing, I’ll get to my primary task. I am supposed to draw points of comparison between the several institutions of prominence for study of Masters in Economics in India. So I’ll try and cover as many perceptions and as much information I could manage to gather regarding these. Since much of the historical foundations of these institutes are accessible easily, I’ll take the liberty of skipping these and focus on contemporary perceptions and matters of fact.

South Asian University (SAU): “The new core for core economists!”
OPINION: Based on interaction with senior faculty of the University and friends of faculty, one can advise to keep it as an option right below or above JNU. The syllabus is in line with the one covered at Delhi School of Economics (DSE), albeit at a level a tad lower than at DSE. In the last semester, a student is supposed to submit a dissertation towards the fulfillment of the requirements of the course. This, paraphrasing a senior functionary at SAU, “is the forte of the course where a student is urged to have an independent thinking and research into a subject of choice and serves as a timely initiation into a career in research.” Certain key members of faculty are well net-worked, and a rapport with them may guarantee an enviable internship.

ENTRANCE PREPARATION: The entrance to this fledgling University happens earliest of all. The syllabus is roughly the same as a standard entrance examination syllabus, going by hearsay conjecture and personal gut feeling. It’s relatively easy to get through, if one were to go by the level of questions asked in the past years. The trick is to have some native intelligence and be on terms with last two years of undergraduate syllabus of Economics (H) at DU, through means of a cursory read. 

Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU):  “The melting pot of thesis and antithesis”
OPINION: A temple of learning, rather than mere ‘training’, JNU emphasizes critical thinking and encourages developing an opinion of one’s own. The course coverage is, unlike DSE or ISI, focused on analyzing contemporary world economy against the back drop of conventional theories and schools of economic thought. Also the teaching accommodates heterodox economic thoughts, so not only a particular string of economic thesis – but its anti-thesis and subsequent synthesis are all discussed. If developing a scientific temper and the power of informed criticism is one’s objective, JNU is the place to be. The syllabus for the entrance is hugely diversified. It is difficult to pinpoint certain sections which will ‘surely’ be asked. The entire system, beset with opaque reservation systems and grace markings, is very unpredictable and remains a gamble. It is not advisable to write this exam ONLY, for there is no guarantee of making it despite a sound base in economics and a rigorous practice of the past year papers.

Placement record is not so good, although it has improved in recent times. A concerted effort in putting together the semblance of a ‘placement cell’ has been started last year and results are showing – students are getting well paid internships. But placements so far have been confined to academic sphere alone – research associate-ships and small time analysts, et al.

Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR): “The exotic hub of economics”
OPINION: This elite research institute sits atop a picturesque hill and infrastructure is a primary attraction (as one of my professors pointed out, ‘they have a great swimming pool’ and my batch-mate there tells me a wildlife hotspot and the film city are nearby!). A small batch size and a student faculty ratio, which almost equals 1:1, are important points of consideration. Teaching level is at par with DSE, from what one infers on basis of assignments and questions asked in tests. Some of the subject’s leading stars serve on the panel of faculty, thus one can be assured of rigorous teaching and cutting edge research experience. A unique distinguishing feature of the institute is assignment of a ‘mentor’, the pool of which is drawn from the panel of faculty and research scholars. Every mentor is mandated to advise and motivate a scholar and remains easily approachable through the three years of college life. All members of faculty reside on campus, creating a sense of bonhomie and occasional parties at their homes add to the academic ambience.

ENTRANCE PREPARATION: The entrance test is a salad bowl of economics (no calculations here, so stress is on robust understanding of fundamentals and uncanny ability to ‘reason out assertions’), arithmetic and verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Maintaining cool throughout the duration of the test is the only sensible advice one can give. Interviews are usually grueling and grilling, and intrinsically unpredictable. So a lot of scope of surprises here, although confidence in answering and being thorough in subjects of preference should put one in good stead. 

Delhi School of Economics (DSE): “The corporate hotspot!”
Of course, the most sought after destination for study of Economics at Master’s level in India. Boasts of an expansive galaxy of distinguished alumnus and remains a favourite catchment area for all big corporate recruiters. The pronounced use and application of mathematics in all sub-branches of economics remains a central theme of ‘training’ at DSE. Faculty members are almost household names (of course, households that are comprised of economics scholars!) The level of instruction right from Day 1 is at an elevated level, even for someone who’s had a relatively grand run at Undergraduate level. The first two semesters are usually times when the newly inducted scholar is acquainted with the rigour and tenor of academics at DSE, so they tend to be tougher and seem drab. However, after one has successfully steered cleared of the wee semesters, one can hope for some stimulating economics.

Indian Statistical Institute (ISI): “A researcher’s paradise!”
Perhaps the only institute that is in direct ‘confrontation’ with DSE to lure away the brightest undergraduates in Economics. Apart from boasting of a dazzling array of academicians on its faculty panel, the allied Rs 5000/- monthly stipend and a top-up of stationery grant is a pecuniary attraction. With a batch size of one-tenth of that at DSE and being fully residential (co-ed, by the way!), it makes for an ideal destination for much-involved academic study. The infrastructure is geared towards fostering a healthy and conducive environment for serious scholarly work. The computer lab is open 24 hours and fully air conditioned, providing a much needed cooling-off spot for scholars in summers. Certain members of faculty are extremely solicitous of scholars’ well being and offer to help – in numerous ways, like writing influential recommendations, providing relevant and pertinent guidance for further study, etc – of their own accord. You often tend to share meals and badminton and tennis courts with professors; that just deepen and strengthen the academic bonds you forge with them.

Why DSE over ISI? Well, this question has been put to me umpteen number of times. So a well considered reply is in order. Here it is:

From my interaction with people at DSE and ISI, the gut-feeling one develops is that ISI is best suited for someone who plans to cruise the research highway (or i-way, if you like!) while DSE is a haven for anyone who’s as yet undecided about putting in hard labor in economics. That is not to say that ISI doesn’t offer tantalizing corporate packages (truth to tell, the onus and hence the choice lies with the student body at ISI to invite which companies they wish to apply to; with such a small pool of highly skilled applicants, companies are more than willing to hire and almost everyone gets their preferred pick.) or DSE doesn’t send scholars to Ivy League varsities for higher studies (as one esteemed researcher-professor at DSE apprised us, DSE sends students to Ivy League varsities ranked higher than those attended by scholars from ISI). 

That said, I felt, and had my belief corroborated by a senior academician in the economics circuit, that DSE offered more diversity in subjects and specializations. Even in interests of research and conversation, DSE campus offers greater variety than that available at ISI – simply because 200+ students will offer more diversity than less than 30 students! Also, that DSE houses the Departments of Commerce, Geography and Sociology, offers scope for a multi-disciplinary approach to any given theme of conversation and interaction.
I’ve dined at ISI, with members of faculty. The nature of dining-table conversations is usually a proximate way of gauging the perspectives of individuals and the institution they constitute. Their way of looking at any issue – be it the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines, or the (f)utility of new universities that sprung up recently – is one of extending an established economic theory to analyzing the issue at hand. This may seem very appealing to some, and precisely for them, ISI will be a preferred paradise. 

In summary, I chose DSE over ISI for the sheer diversity of interests of my prospective classmates (which turned out to be true), for the fact that DSE sits in the midst of the vibrant college life of Delhi University and that DSE is a prudent linear combination of academics and amiable social life, and I have convex preferences in this regard! 

Anshuman Kamila graduated from St. Stephen's College in 2014. He was the topper of the batch and got admission in DSE (By merit and entrance), JNU, ISI, IGIDR and SAU. He is currently pursuing MA in Economics at Delhi School of Economics.

15 comments:

  1. The article is priceless information for anyone looking to pursue grad level economics in India. One can also see the effort that has gone into bringing in all the important facts on the page, without allowing biases to creep in. Kudos again, AK!

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  2. Well MSE, Gokhale and TERI! How about them?

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  3. I am not at all interested in corporate jobs but wanna do PhD from LSE/Cambridge or try for IAS/IES. Also I really like the thesis/antithesis part of JNU as I really want to learn to apply economic theories onto the real world. Being from engg. background do you think JNU would be better for me? Does graduating from JNU inhibits opportunities as compared to DSE in pursuing PhD from top colleges? All I want to become is a good economist being able to understand economic problems of India and try to solve them.

    Please, reply as soon as possible.

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  4. What must be the stratergy for JNU entrance ??

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. If one has to choose between South Asian University and gokhale, which one would be better?

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  7. Its a priceless information. Thanks!

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  9. Buy MA entrance notes from Arzoo Sabharwal. These notes are very helpful. In past few years many students have cracked DSE using her notes.I rank her no1.
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  10. From where I can practice questions similar to pattern of dse entrance exam ? .. or any specific question bank ? Kindly help

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  11. Academic background keeps matter to igidr interview or selection

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    Replies
    1. Having economics honours will be helpful, right

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  13. DSE or IGIDR - Which one is better ?
    Please reply from your experiences

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