Marks Are Not The True Indicators Of A Student’s Overall Capability: Shaheem Rahiman, Atria University

In an exclusive interview with BW Education, Shaheem Rahiman, CEO, Atria University, talked about the institution and more.

How has Atria University introduced liberal sciences and futuristic specializations in the domains of technology and business education in India? 

Atria University, founded in 2018 by the Atria Group, aims to redefine the higher education model in India.  

Just like the Liberal Arts, a Liberal Sciences program offers unmatched flexibility and opportunity for students to choose their own learning pathways, explore their interests, discover their aptitudes, and graduate with the skills and passion to excel in the career of their choice.  

We offer five interdisciplinary specializations in domains that are in sync with the future of science, technology and business - Digital Transformation, Energy Sciences, Interactive Technologies, Mobility, and Sustainable Life Sciences.  

Highlights of design of customized learning experiences, sprint style learning and new models of evaluation.  

Unlike yesteryears, students are increasingly looking for an education system that is in sync with the world and enables them to become industry-ready. At Atria University, we do not believe in a ‘one size fits all’ approach. We have redesigned the prevalent higher education model that places students at the centre of the learning experience. We don’t encourage 18-year-olds to be limited to a single domain or degree track. On the contrary, we offer absolute flexibility to move between domains and degrees. In the first year, they solve interdisciplinary problems and master concepts related to that and gradually arrive at the domain they would like to specialize in. They are able to craft their own degree by mixing courses between tracks of research (BSc), application (BTech), design (BDes) and business (BBA), as per the unique needs, interest and aptitude over the course of three or four years.  

Atria has introduced two-three weeks sprint style learning as an alternative to six month long semesters. Each three-week sprint is driven by a real-life project where students deep dive into concepts across disciplines. Students converge that learning to complete the project, every three weeks, as they would be expected to deliver in their professional lives. In keeping with industry readiness, students are not only participants but also co-evaluators with their professors of the work done by their peers. This makes the students more responsible for their learning and progress.  

  1. Craft their own degree: For the first time in Indian higher education, students at Atria University are not slotted in any one-degree track at the time of enrollment.  

  1. Sprint style, project-based learning: Six-month long semesters replaced by three-weeks of intense and immersive sprints of learning.  

  1. Peer-to-peer evaluations: In keeping with industry readiness, students are not only participants but also co-evaluators with their professors of the work done by their peers. 

How does the university compare in terms of innovation in undergraduate and postgraduate education with MIT and Cornell University 

Just like the New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET) model at MIT, USA, which focuses on “integrative, project-centric learning”, the undergraduate experience at Atria University starts with students solving ten or more real, interdisciplinary problems in their first year. Students in the NEET program are not enrolled in a narrow specialization but are directed along ‘threads’ of ‘autonomous machines’, ‘renewable energy machines’, ‘living machines.’ Atria University also offers five interdisciplinary majors like Interactive Technologies, Mobility, Sustainable Life Sciences, Energy Sciences, and Digital Transformation. 

Cornell Tech, which is a new campus of Cornell University, is one of the first Ivy League institutions to attempt creating a learning experience and majors that are at an intersection of technology, business, law, and design. Atria is the first institution in India to offer BSc, BTech, BDes, BBA in each of the five domains of specialization. So, instead of a BBA in HR or Finance, a student has a domain-specific BBA in say, Digital Transformation or Mobility. 

How is the admission/student selection process unique at Atria University? 

We believe marks are not the true indicators of a student’s overall capability. At a time when most conventional universities consider marks over merit, our selection process is designed to understand the entire student profile. We respect the personal and socio-economic context of the candidate and consider all their pursuits and achievements in that light. Our selection process focuses more on a student’s “ability to learn” than their “ability to score well in exams”. Passion, rigour, ability to learn, curiosity, teamwork, communication, general awareness, and perseverance are qualities that we look for in our students. We are also one of the first universities in the domain of science and engineering to overlook board or JEE scores while selecting students.  
Our admissions process is in line with global universities and comprises three phases – a dynamic online application, Student Engagement & Interaction Day (SEID), and a declaration of admissions decisions.  
During our Students Engagement and Interaction Day, students get to demonstrate their capabilities through LIVE projects. 

While selecting students, we evaluate candidates based on certain qualities. We’re mostly looking for: 

  • commitment to social impact driven by science, technology and entrepreneurship 

  • sincere passion and dedication in the domain of interest of the candidate 

  • characteristic traits or evidence of constructive risk-taking 

  • ability to think differently and willingness to appreciate new ideas 

Why faculty from around the world from institutions like MIT, Stanford, Oxford and UPenn have come together for Atria? 

Faculty from these institutions are excited about the innovative design of education at Atria University. The academic team believes higher education is not just meant to earn a degree but should be a way for students to find their true passions & pursue them in an environment that encourages curiosity and questions the conventional. The academic team considers it a matter of pride to be associated with a University that is daring to walk the path less trodden, by bringing world-class education to India and doing it in a way that will transform not only our mindsets but the future of our workplaces. 

The faculty members believe in the modular nature of learning that is exemplified in the sprint-style learning model. They firmly believe that tech and business education in India needs to be revitalized and in the words of member of the Academic Council of Atria,  Prof. Alok Kumar, Department Chair of Finance at University of Miami “this is the future of education across the world and Atria is ushering this future in India”. Prof. Babi Mitra, Executive Director of the NEET Program at MIT, shares how “It is exciting to see how two different institutions at two different parts of the world, have arrived at a similar model of redesigning engineering education.” 

What is the future of higher education in India? What is the trend you foresee? 

The global pandemic has impacted the decisions of many Indian students who wanted to study abroad in 2020. While academic calendars witnessed a record disruption with delayed board result declarations, many students are now ready to consider higher education within the country. This provides the entire higher education industry with a great opportunity to re-evaluate and re-define the conventional higher education model of learning. Extensive use of technology like virtual reality labs, simulators and collaborative projects that are uniquely designed for online environments will definitely replace the chalk and blackboard style of learning.  

Modular courses like Atria University’s three-week, sprint-style learning instead of long drawn out semesters, where the major exams and evaluations happen once or twice a year is yet another trend that we foresee. This will enable faster learning, avoids learning fatigue in students, and also addresses future risks associated with stalling student examination results. 

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