Satya Nadella studied engineering at southern India’s Manipal Institute of Technology. Unlike its Massachusetts namesake, the Indian MIT isn’t so accustomed to the spotlight. The school is part of Manipal University, a private school that traditionally hasn’t enjoyed the same prestige as the Indian Institutes of Technology, the country’s elite public-sector schools launched by Jawaharlal Nehru shortly after independence.
“People’s general perception was the private universities were not able to bring out this kind of quality,” explains Ranjan Pai, Manipal’s chancellor. When it comes to higher education, “the private sector in India has generally been looked down upon.”
Having an alumnus from the Indian MIT in one of the world’s highest-profile—albeit most difficult—corporate jobs should help Pai, 41, as he tries to change that perception. His grandfather founded Manipal in the early 1950s, and today there are two campuses in the state of Karnataka as well as separate schools in the northern city of Jaipur and the Himalayan state of Sikkim. Combined, there are more than 30,000 students attending Manipal classes in person, with an additional 250,000 enrolled online.
The school could be a lot bigger, though, if the Indian government would cooperate, says Pai. Manipal has been trying to expand but hasn’t been able to get officials to sign off on its plans and provide the necessary licenses. The process “is stuck,” Pai says. “It’s the regulators who hold you back. You don’t get clear signals.” For instance, Manipal wants to move into Bangalore, India’s technology capital, and is still waiting for the all clear. “It’s been about two years waiting for accreditation,” says Pai, “but it’s just going in circles.”
In the meantime, he’s looking beyond India. Manipal operates its schools in India as a not-for-profit foundation, but Pai is also the chief executive officer and founder of Manipal Education and Medical Group, a company launched in 2000 to oversee expansion abroad. Today, Manipal has schools in Dubai, Malaysia, and Nepal. Pai, who graduated from Manipal’s Kastsurba Medical College, has even gotten into the business of educating would-be doctors from the U.S., with Manipal operating a medical school in the Caribbean island nation of Antigua.