Education

The benefits of a strong alumni network

Job hunts, business deals and funding prospects are now increasingly being facilitated over a previously overlooked advantage - the alma mater connect.

Take for instance, IvyCamp — a technology-based platform that leverages on the global alumni network. It partners with educational institutions and alumni to connect entrepreneurs with experts, investors, corporates, and other entrepreneurs. This is based on the premise that it is easier to get a foot in the door with your investor if you are from the same alma mater as him/her.

Colleges in India too are becoming aware of the benefits an actively engaged alumni can have for the institution and its students. Here are some reasons why you and your college should work towards building an active community of alumni:

Brand building

With mushrooming educational institutions around the world, one way for an institute to stand out from the domestic and international competition is by promoting its brand. And an institute’s alumni are its best bet. “One of the strongest legs of ‘brand XLRI’ is its alumni,” says Rana Sinha, National President, XLRI Alumni Association, a registered organisation with Chapters around the world. Besides the alumni's professional successes driving the brand, other factors that contribute to promoting the brand are campus recruitments and social campaigns, both driven by the alumni.

“I chose to study at IIM solely for its alumni network. It is true for Ivy League colleges too. Their alumni networks are like exclusive clubs; once you gain access into it, you can tap into the various opportunities, with jobs being the most obvious and relevant one, especially in the early stages of your career,” explains Vivek Mohan, Vice President at a global private equity fund.

He confesses that he has tapped into the alma mater connect for business. “It works every single time. When I am looking at potential companies we would like to invest in, I first look up LinkedIn to see who is the IIM or BITS Pilani guy there, and start from there. It works the other way too — when someone from my alma mater messages me asking for some advice, I automatically say yes. It’s like paying it forward.”

The effectiveness of this ‘business connect’ has been explored in the article, “The Power of Alumni Networks” published in Harvard Business Review: “After analysing more than 15 years’ worth of investment data, we’ve found one way that information gets around and improves investing performance: through alumni networks... What’s more, both the size of their bets and the size of the returns increase with the strength of the connection. For instance, if the mutual fund manager and the CEO of the company were both Wharton MBA graduates, Class of 1970, the effect would be even stronger than if the manager graduated in 1970 and the executive in 1980.”

Grading and giving back

Year after year, the race for rankings gains more prominence as more institutions throw their hat into the ring. While factors from infrastructure, quality of faculty, curriculum design and research facilities, are taken into consideration, now alumni success and engagement are also increasingly being given weightage for the additional edge.

National Assessment and Accreditation Council’s (NAAC) Revised Assessment and Accreditation Framework launched in July 2017, indicates a shift in several metrics, one of it being to bring in enhanced participation of students and alumni into the assessment process. It assigns 10 points to Alumni Engagement which it states “can contribute in academic matters, student support as well as mobilisation of resources — both financial and non-financial. The institution nurtures the alumni association/chapters to facilitate them to contribute significantly to the development of the institution through financial and non-financial means.” The points are as much as those assigned to parameters such as Institutional Vision and Leadership, and Strategy Development and Deployment.

Forbes’ proprietary Grateful Graduates Index assesses if a college is producing happy and successful alumni in two ways: by looking at the seven-year median gifts per full-time enrolled student and the average percentage of alumni who give back, regardless of the amount in which they give.

Donating to one’s alma mater or fund raising bycolleges is a relatively newer practice in Indian colleges, that have woken up to the support that these funds can provide: scholarships, endowment chairs, infrastructure development, research, community initiatives, and many more.

“We have a small fund which is now going mainly towards providing scholarships to current students,” says Sinha, “But universities such as Harvard and Yale have corpus in billions, a significant part donated by their alumni.”

In keeping with the trend, Indian colleges are reaching out to their alumni, who, with international exposure, are equally aware of the significance of giving back to one’s alma mater.

Alumni donations to the top five IITs may cross ₹ 1,000 crore by the end of this financial year, quotes a report in the Economic Times.

IIM Bangalore has received pledges worth ₹1.35 crores for scholarships, research and infrastructure from two batches of alumni that celebrated their reunions on campus last December.

“We consider our alumni to be our assets and ambassadors and we are constantly exploring new ways of engaging with alumni across the world. The trend of alumni giving back to the alma mater has seen a rise in the last few years, and this is largely on account of a vibrant and engaged alumni network,” Professor K.Kumar, Dean of Alumni Relations and Development, IIMB, is quoted as saying in a report published on the institute’s website.

Skill development

Having an active alumni network is immensely beneficial to the students presently studying in the college as well. “Young alumni and students can benefit in their professional lives by learning from senior alumni, getting to hear about interesting job opportunities, and so on,” says Krishnan Narayanan, Co-Chair of Sangam 2019, the annual event of the IIT Madras Alumni Association.

“Young alumni should volunteer their time and take ownership of chapter level initiatives. This is an excellent platform to build/hone their leadership skills. The alumni enjoy and gain professionally by participating in the various alumni association activities. There is also knowledge sharing by senior/expert alumni — we have 18 active Special Interest Groups on various topics such as entrepreneurship, artificial intelligence, and so on.”

Through these regular interactions, colleges are able to keep track of their alumni’s progress, and identify those they can reach out to for mentorship and placements. The more engaged a college is with its alumni, the easier it gets to place its students. The placement committee meets with influential alumni who are in a position to decide on where to go for campus placements and invites them. With placements being one of the biggest draws of applications for a college, alumni engagement will prove to be a good strategy.

But this strategy will work only as a cyclic process. Colleges need to instil a sense of pride and loyalty in their students, which in turn will make them emotionally invested in their alma mater’s success, nudging them to give back through financial and non-financial means. In this strategy lies the motivation as well as the reward, for both the alumni as well as the institutions.

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 12:43:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/the-alma-mater-connect/article29360001.ece

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