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'Universities Need To Invest And Develop Their Brand'

In an interview to BW Businessworld, Sanjay Gupta, Vice Chancellor of World University of Design, Sonipat talks about branding, cost of education and employability of the students

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In an interview to BW Businessworld, Sanjay Gupta, Vice Chancellor of World University of Design, Sonipat talks about branding, cost of education and employability of the students. 

Universities 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.

Many of the most prestigious higher education brands in the India can trace their origins to India’s higher education policy of the 1950s, which envisaged schools of excellence, especially in technology and sciences. The IITs, IIMs, and such advanced institutions created in those days are all well-known national education brands today. They have been given the credit of creating millions of jobs and billions of dollars worth in market capitalization around the world.

This envious ‘branding’ therefore happened organically over several decades. It required unlimited and consistent public funding, the luxury of subsidized fee, and that of choosing and focusing on a select few students. In many ways, it was this elitist approach that led to such high brand equity for these institutions. Hand-picking best students & staff automatically ensured ‘quality education’.

With democratization of education over last couple of decades, private universities have come up offering education opportunities for the masses. Having no access to public funds, private universities face challenges like - paucity of quality faculty, resources for research, investments in new courses for new-age jobs, providing requisite professional exposure & skills; drawing meritorious students, and state of the art infrastructure.

Competition among universities has lead to a one-sided mobility of Indian students to higher education institutes abroad. The main reason for this one-sided mobility is that while the developed countries have actively invested in branding their higher education wares, India has been complacent.

A university’s brand impacts upon its ability to attract students and retain quality faculty and staff; employability of its graduates; its overall ranking & profile and its relationship within the local community. And a university that wants to build its brand today can't afford to take the organic approach of the past. It must therefore invest in and develop its brand.

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?

Cost of good education is indeed going up in government as well as private institutions. Just a while back tuition fee for undergraduate education in the IITs was increased from Rs 90,000 per annum to Rs 2 lakh per annum. IIM Ahmedabad increased the fee of its flagship two-year diploma program from Rs 18.5 lakh to Rs 19.5 lakh. This is 400 percent higher than what the cost was a decade ago. But this rise has to be seen along with the fact that cost of living is rising, cost of money is rising and staff salaries are rising too. Institutions need to sustain themselves. Student loans are available and graduating students are being offered unheard of salaries. This makes it very easy for the students to pay back their educational loans. Having said that, all institutions today have ample provisions to ensure that no meritorious student is turned away for the lack of finance. As a matter of fact, a bright student is an asset no good institute can afford to lose today.

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 percent people only. How are you changing this?

We realize this too, and so design education at WUD has been made inherently experiential. What this means is that our students get a lot of learning outside the traditional classroom setting, including studio work, field experiences, mentored projects, internships, study abroad and such opportunities. All our students will have real-world hands-on experience, giving them an insight into the world of work and future careers and thereby contribute to the welfare of their community.

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

If World University Rankings may be taken as the top list of leading universities of the world, you’ll find that it features universities that are usually 100 or more years old. Recently, however universities as young as less than 30 years old have entered the top 50 bracket. In the rapidly changing times, it is newer universities that are doing things differently, and scoring.

We intend to be more nimble and responsive, offering new forms of teaching and research that produce more workforce-ready graduates. We want to be heavily engaged with industry, delivering quicker translation of ideas to market and problem solving at the heart of our activities. We also intend to be more engaged with the community, evolving and expanding our activities in reaction to societal needs. We also want a role in nurturing and guiding the development of other educational institutions in design education. With such objectives coupled with our world class infrastructure, we intend to emerge as the leading design education provider in India.

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

The World University of Design intends to have a three pronged approach to ensuring employability (a) A Campus without Walls (b) Personalized Learning and (c) Concept of open electives.

Quite unlike the universities of yester-years were made out to be, WUD campus will integrate itself with its atmosphere by engaging actively with nearby schools, industry, the community and other institutions in the state, country and around the world. WUD has already broken the stereotypical barriers between art, architecture, design and management by creating solver communities or communities of practice. Moving away from the rigid course-based, term-based educational model where all students are expected to acquire a common body of knowledge at the same pace, WUD follows a personalized approach that allows for individualized learning and alternate modes of assessment.