Critical Life Skills Can Make Youth More Employable: Anant National University

Dr. Pramath Raj Sinha, Provost ANU and Managing Director, Anant National University opens up to BW Businessworld about the education system in India, how we can improve and develop leading institutions

IITs and ISBs became a brand due to the quality of education they impart. But today universities and educational institutions are becoming a ‘brand’ by employing marketing money. Your comments.

There is a popular saying: “nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising”. This holds true in every field. Unless an institution focuses on the quality of learning and overall student experience, it won’t be able to attract top notch students. Marketing may, of course, help create awareness and given the huge dearth of quality higher education institutions in India, students may even opt for the “better known” brands, when they are unable to make it to the top ones. But as the reality behind the institution gets known, there grows a clear distinction in the minds of students, faculty and prospective employers between the good-quality institutions and the rest.

How do you plan to climb the ladder of being India’s leading university?

In any reputed institution, quality of faculty is the critical success factor. While we are revamping the curriculum through a unique design thinking approach, we are also on a quest to find the right faculty across the spectrum - from design education to liberal arts to business and technology. It’s not easy, but it is the only way forward. And, in the very first year of our unique Fellowship program, we have been able to demonstrate our commitment and ability to do so. Having been involved in institution-building before, I realize this will be a long journey, but we are committed to it.

Cost of Education is rising fast. In fact, many a times it becomes a hindrance for imparting education to the right meritorious candidate. Can you share your thoughts on this.

We strongly believe in the philosophy of providing opportunities based on merit and ensuring that no deserving student misses out on a good education. Our fee structure will be cost-based with partial to full scholarships available to students. We envisage a ‘needs-blind’ admission process ensuring that those students who are admitted and cannot afford our education are supported by ‘full-need’ scholarships. In fact, some form of scholarship will be provided to a majority of our students.

It is often said that Indian students do not go out of college ‘job ready’, even skill development has been able to employ nearly 50% people only. How are you changing this?

Our faculty and curriculum aim to prepare ‘solutionaries’- people who are revolutionary in their thinking but solution oriented in their approach - for India and the world. That implies they should have 21st century skills of critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, leadership, and a desire to give back to the society; in addition to the technical expertise they are looking to develop. We don’t just aim to prepare people who are best in India, but those that are best for the world.

How can we create our own Harvard, Wharton, Oxford? Why are Indian Educational institutes not even among the top 200 brands?

Indians were known to be original thinkers and have contributed greatly to Philosophy, Maths, Science, and Medicine. In recent times, successive governments and regulators have pushed for expansion - given our burgeoning population - and quality has gone for a toss. Now, there is an effort to improve quality but the rot is so deep that without serious surgery it cannot be fixed. However, we continue to see Indians doing incredibly well abroad when provided an environment that allows them to freely question and experiment.

We need our kids to begin at an early age so they begin looking out for the right questions before looking for the right answers. And I am happy to see the change starting across all levels of education across the country. However, it is still at nascent stage and we have a long way to go. We also need to realise that great institutions are not built in a day. It is a relentless pursuit of excellence over many years, and even centuries; that makes a Harvard or Wharton or an Oxford.

Education is the root of every working professional. How to create students who are skilled enough to be employed?

Students of current generation are inherently smart. With an explosion of information at their disposal, they are able to find answers to most domain specific problems on their own. In the context of this environment, educators need to focus more on developing their core. High-quality education is not only about skill development. If we can work on building their self-confidence, nurturing their creativity, exposing them to a multi-disciplinary curriculum, and cultivating in them a sense of fairness and equity for all, we would have done our part well, making these youth more employable.

Should India invest more in research to bring in more employment to the graduates?

Investing in research definitely helps create more employment. But that is just one of the fringe benefits. It is important to invest in research to find locally relevant solutions to the most important issues concerning our society. By demonstrating our commitment to research we give people the freedom to think innovatively. Critical life skills like problem solving, critical and creative thinking, confidence and resilience to not give up easily, which when developed at scale across the society; has the potential to help India excel across a number of fields.

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