Institutes Need To Rethink Their Investment In Technology: Kulbhushan Balooni

In conversation with BW Education, Kulbhushan Balooni, Director, IIM Kashipur, sheds light on the transformations being brought in light of the pandemic and explains how the institution and the faculties are upgrading themselves to adopt the new normal. Excerpts:

How has the overall business landscape changed in the last few months? What parts are permanently changed and warrant new orientation?  

Business is evolving very fast to work ahead with disruptions like COVID a part of the business environment and it is realigning a lot of infrastructure and capacities towards adapting to this reality. This involves a basic restructuring of business starting with targets through strategy and infrastructure realignment and leading to modified processes and operations. The changes in infrastructure and related CAPEX are long term changes that can be termed as permanent changes and these are in response to the permanent change in focus on employee wellbeing and productivity, profitability and ESG, risk mitigation and reskilling a part and parcel of everyday decision-making and strategic initiatives in the organization. Business has moved much closer to being situated within the larger society and not just its niche segment to allow access to opportunities outside the niche segment that disruptions may allow to be harnessed.  

In your opinion, what are the strategic drivers for the institutes in the business education sector? 

A shift to online education delivery, especially for the executive training and courses for working executives is probably the most important driver to immediate changes in the education sector. The second driver is the surge in demand for reskilling and upskilling by working executives amidst a rise in gigworking. This will mean more adaptive education paths and significant shift in curriculum design and programme management are required urgently. Institutes will therefore need to reconfigure their service delivery models while rethinking their investment in technology. Technology makes the playing field more level and hence the institutes will have to think of either meaningful differentiation or performance in common metrics such as the various rankings.  

How is your institution coping and rising to this challenge?  

IIM Kashipur has revamped its long duration programmes following programme reviews by experts and restructured its executive education offerings as well starting in 2020 and the disruptions and future expectations are therefore inbuilt into the restructuring undertaken. IIM Kashipur has updated all its offerings by inclusion and integration of technology, analytics & data sciences, design thinking, critical thinking, environmental and sustainable business practices, industry workshops and a massive focus on experiential learning initiative.  

The focus is on reconnecting the MBA and all other education offerings with the real-world problems with a strong analytical and problem-solving approach, enhancing not only the employability but also the career prospects of all our alumni. 

What are you doing to stay ahead and re-visualize your institution?  

The institute has launched new programmes as well and has charted out a detailed long term strategic plan during the COVID duration to charter the future direction of the institute. The strategic plan promises IIM Kashipur to deliver on expectations and take a leading position with its differentiated offerings. We expect IIM Kashipur to become the go to place for rapid career progress in the times to come.  

According to you, will there be an impact on on-campus education from the changed scenario?  

While there appears to be a massive shift towards online education, an important realization has been the value of offline education in a campus setting for the freshers. The on-campus education is now going to come at a premium as its true value has been realised for the freshers who do not have any exposure to an institution such as an IIM or to a corporate work-life. The on-campus education will now be more focused on delivering the intended benefits to the students while online education can be focussed on the working executives and those who are not able to make it to the campus or undertake a residential programme. 

How are you implementing hybrid education?  

The institute has made significant investment and has drawn up a long-term investment plan to upgrade the IT and related infrastructure including the classroom and teaching aids, considering the future of hybrid education. The institute has already taken up training programmes and special seminars for preparing the faculty and staff members towards such offerings.  

What are the steps being taken to upgrade and reskill faculties?  

The institute has conducted special teaching workshops and seminars for the faculty to prepare for the changed online education scenario. The institute also has provisions through which a faculty member can receive training and attend workshops and capacity building exercises for their upgradation. Building a collegial culture of sharing innovations and building teaching innovations together is a critical enabler towards this. The institute also provides ample research grants, research leaves and even facilitates research collaboration through various initiatives such as travel support and visiting fellowships for decorated international researchers to enable faculty to undertake collaborative research and projects with the best to regularly upgrade and stay at the cutting edge of education and research delivery.  

What are the new management courses that should be introduced?

The institute has built a significant niche with a large proportion of faculty involved in teaching and conducting research on analytics and data science related domains. The institute has already launched a two-year full-time MBA in Analytics course in 2020 and the response has been overwhelming. IIM Kashipur has also recently launched a two-year online MBA in Analytics focussed on working executives. The institute looks forward to introducing new entrepreneurship and management courses built on expertise and achievements of the faculty and Centres of Excellence at the institute. The institute is poised to launch new offerings in the next couple of years. Announcements for the same will be made at the appropriate stages of development.  

How are you collaborating with industries for internships and placements?  

IIM Kashipur facilitates the internships and placements activities but largely these activities are student-driven. This year the response for internships and placements has been exceptional based on the post-covid recovery of the economy including the critical sectors. More than half of the batch eligible for summer internships has been placed and over 90 per cent of the final year batch has already received placement offers. IIM Kashipur has hosted a generous mix of recruiters from ongoing long-term relationships to first-time recruiters as well and we are looking forward to wrapping up the placement season this month. Big 4 consulting firms, industry giants of different sectors as well as top tier startups have also recruited from IIM Kashipur for both summer placements as well as final placements. 

What role can EdTechs play in management education?  

EdTechs are going to play an important role in the education sector in times to come. IIM Kashipur considers it important to see them as collaborators and not as competitors. IIM Kashipur has long term partnerships with several EdTech companies including TSW of the Times Group and Nulearn and is in the process of the expanding the number to register a growth in online offerings across various types of programmes and offerings.  

How has the COVID crisis, affected campus placements?  

During the initial few months of COVID crisis there was uncertainty around placements and there were more apprehensions at either side of the placement activities. There were some unfortunate incidents wherein organizations were forced to withdraw their placement offers across campuses. The situation started changing gradually as the economy opened and is seeing a very good upswing in the recent few months and the same is reflected in the campus placements. The use of remote and video-conferencing technologies to run the placements processes have converted the so-called locational disadvantage of Kashipur into a sought-out preference as our graduates come with a differentiated experience and immersion into the real world resulting in enhanced employability.  

Are we seeing more female students coming into management studies? What steps have you taken to ensure this?  

The social change of accepting women as career-makers is starting to show in management education as well and the numbers of women-students across programme offerings has gone up. IIM Kashipur has performed exceedingly well on gender diversity in the recent years and we boast of the one of the highest proportions of female students across IIMs. Emphasising on the importance of participation of women in the management domain, the Board of Governors of IIM Kashipur had sanctioned a supernumerary quota for women candidates. However, the quota was never required to be exhausted as the number of female candidates increased over the past few years. In fact, the batches of MBA (Analytics) registered an impressive 49 per cent women students breaking the myth that there are very few women candidates seeking quantitative-oriented careers. Most of the groundwork towards this achievement has been based on development of culture, sensitization and building awareness and the efforts have culminated together into a meaningful offering.  

How have govt initiatives and programs impacted Business Schools?  

Government initiative and programmes have the potential to impact business schools in a profound manner. It is partially dependent on how the business school is geared towards engaging with such initiatives and programmes. IIM Kashipur, by charting out a vision and mission related to the real situation of 

India and its location, has ensured that government programmes and initiatives will be important to the institution. Our Centres of Excellence have been awarded generous grants and funding from the government towards contributing to the special mission of the government. Today IIM Kashipur can boast of the only Design Innovation Centre located in an IIM, and an Agri-business, Technology and Tourism focussed incubator that partners with Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Department of Science and Technology, the Government of India and the Government of Uttarakhand through the Startup India programme. Foundation for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development (FIED) at IIM Kashipur is the only incubator across IIMs of its type focussing on these issues and has incubated more than hundred startups already and some have been invested into by various agencies as well. 

What would you suggest to come at par with the education system of developed nations?  

The current National Education Policy (NEP) is an attempt to bring the education system of the country at par with that of the developed countries. IIMs have a special role to play beyond the NEP in engaging with real problems and innovating to create solutions for these problems that create an impact on the ground. By doing this we may not only come abreast but we can surpass the education system of the developed nations by making it meaningful to humanity and human civilization across the globe.  

Any prediction for the future of management studies in India.

IIM Kashipur agrees that the future of management studies in India will move towards specialisation, and we ought to see more specialisation-based education offerings soon. However, due to an irreplaceable blend of quantitative, analytical, social, economic and value-based education that an MBA can offer, the MBA will continue to be a strong offering in Southeast Asia even if it starts to lose part of its sheen in the western world. The future will see an increased shift to online education, but the differentiator will be the premium recognised for on-campus programmes and the ability to produce graduates who can solve real world problems while creating, implementing and executing new initiatives within existing organizations or through their own entrepreneurial journey. IIM Kashipur is committed to producing such graduates through its focused education offerings.  

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