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‘We Need Academic Leaders, Not Administrators’
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Many new programmes and ideas have starting taking shape since the current Vice Chancellor, Rajan Saxena took over. With around 35 years of experience in teaching, research, consulting and institution building, Saxena is a renowned professor of marketing and has held the post of director for Indian Institute of Management, Indore and SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai earlier. Apart from the ongoing campus expansion plans, Saxena is keen on signing new tie-ups with universities abroad and is already in talks with a few. Saxena shared his plans for the institute and more with BW Online's Chetna Mehra. Excerpts:
What sets NMIMS apart from other B-schools?
Over a period of time we have built up a certain knowledge base in terms of the pedagogy and the learning environment that one needs to create within a business school. Now when I say learning environment, I look at it essentially as a component of couple of parameters. One is the pedagogy. As a B-school we have consciously taken the decision to move the entire classroom instructions to experiential pedagogy. And for this purpose we realised that not all our faculty members were exposed to this kind of learning. So, we sent our faculty to the Harvard Business School to get them trained in participant-centred learning. We have an understanding with the Harvard Business School for this kind of training programme. We discovered that our students found the experiential learning better than the traditional lecture pedagogy.
The second parameter is the kind of environment that we create from which students get to learn from peer group learning. We are not a residential school so the challenge becomes all the more crucial. So we try to ensure that a) There is a lot of group work: so a flexible time is built up for group work. b) There are various projects in which they get involved and c) Since working late nights on papers and cases is an important aspect, we keep our entire infrastructure such as library open till late hours. The next important element is that the students really need to learn not just in the classroom but from outside from the entire resources. I believe we have miles to go before we say we are really there.
And what are you doing to achieving this goal?
We realised that we were handicapped in terms of our infrastructure. Our classrooms were not designed for a participant centred learning. So, we are getting our old centre demolished now and will be coming up with a new campus. All our classrooms are going to be designed for 360-degree learning. That's the first step. We are also trying to bring in international faculty so the learning could be from the international experiences. We are also looking at recruiting the international faculty on permanent basis. The next step is to include overseas students in our MBA programmes.
The first thing we have done is to move our NMAT online which is being conducted across 12 countries. This makes us the only B-School in the country conducting its entrance test internationally.
Why did you choose to conduct the NMAT abroad? Is it another step to make your B-School globalised?
I believe, tomorrow is not just in taking our business school out of the country as much as trying to bring the world to my business school. So, this is a very distinct type of change in terms of internationalisation. Some of the business schools are trying to set their campus abroad, which is one strategy. The other strategy is to ‘import' the students. Our strategy is to import the students and bring in a mix of different cultures. Another major thing is that we are trying to bring in a number of online courses and hope to get international expertise in designing and managing these courses. We are also looking at the possibility of extending our e-library.
What is the role of faculty in the process of internationalisation of your B-School?
Most business schools in the country including IIMs are nothing but teaching institutions. Whatever is the research topic, it is something on which already has been written about. The test at NM is how many of our faculty members' works get quoted or referenced by subsequent researchers in any of their articles and particularly any of their research projects. You would be surprised that there are not many.
The reason may be research in this country has never been rewarded. Probably because, management of most institutions, not the IIMs but private institutions do not really appreciate the research related works.
Ironically, if you do good research in industry, it helps improve instructions in classroom. You are going to bring in that industry experience into the classroom, if you are just merely teaching from the books or the articles that you have written. So, in a way you are just reproducing what others have already done. We can claim to be great teachers, but fact of the matter is globally none of us have really stood the test of the academic worth in the B-School fraternity. I think it's the lack of research or the lack of appreciation of research in the B-School fraternity which is really driving that.
Who is responsible for that and how can we correct it?
I think there is not just one factor on which we can really put a finger on. I would perhaps call it a systemic failure. The leadership has not been research centric; in most places we have administrators. They are not academic leaders, so today the business schools instead of being lead by academic leaders are more being lead by administrators. The second part is if you look at the systems created, system of teaching, hours, courses and performance evaluation system of the faculty, it is more driven by how many hours you have taught and what is your class feedback. Apart from this, for many of them (current faculty) academics was perhaps not the first choice.
At Narsee Monjee, how do you ensure that your faculty is involved in research at all levels?
We have incentives for researchers, for example, the research chair is a powerful incentive that we have recently created, whereby we have got the industry sponsored chairs in the specific areas. We will be appointing people for or against these chairs according to their contribution in the area of research.
The second major incentive is the facility for the national and international research conferences. Third, we give incentives for writing cases, research papers or articles. And if you have successfully completed your PhD, you not only get better remuneration but also move up in the hierarchy level.
We have around 60 faculty members out of which 60 per cent have doctoral degrees. So, we are really looking at pushing the school towards the research.
Where does NMIMS stand in terms of placements?
Our placements have been the best so far. They have been at par with some of the best B-Schools today. Last year was the test for placements for everyone yet we were able to place each and every student last year. Many new companies came in, some were entrepreneurial. Public sector also recruited from NMIMS.
You have come up with a new campus in Bangalore and planning to have another one in Chandigarh. Could you tell us more about these expansion plans?
At Bangalore we are moving extensively through the executive education route, which is a 15-month programme. It is an innovative programme with one-year full-time and three months international exposure with our partner schools in Europe and US. The participants' profile in this particular group is executives with 7+ years of work experience. It is a residential programme. We have already brought in various programmes designed uniquely for example, sports management and would possibly bring in an MBA in sports management later on...
At Chandigarh we are building the campus and hopefully by next year we will be able to start the new campus. Here, we will focus on entrepreneurship and agri-management and tourism management. Along with these, we want to bring in some uniquely designed integrated programmes. We are aiming at integrating management, engineering and medical to bring in a kind of new programme. We also have a campus coming up in Hyderabad on 90 acres of land, the permanent campus for which will take another three years to be completed.
Do you have tie-ups with B-Schools abroad for various management programmes?
We intend to start with the Case Western Reserve University next September with an advanced degree programme in finance completely focusing on the area of risk management. The degree will be jointly awarded by Case Western and us.
We are also teaming up with University of Houston for our B. Tech and MBA tech programmes. We are looking at partnership for our MBA programmes wherein one year (of curriculum) could be conducted here at NMIMS and one year outside the country.