The importance of academic excellence in the making of a highly successful first-generation business entrepreneur is perhaps best personified by Dr Niranjan Hiranandani. Over the years, he has set up the Hiranandani Foundation School, successfully run the academic institutions of the HSNC Board – it is only in the fitness of things that his wish to go further and become an educationist comes true as Provost of the newly set up HSNC University in Mumbai. In a conversation with Higher Education Digest, Dr Niranjan Hiranandani talks about the importance of the multidisciplinary approach for students and varsities, hurdles for private universities in attracting and admitting international students, and much more.
We cannot solve the problems of the postmodern world without the understanding of many disciplines. What is the importance of the multidisciplinary approach for students and varsities?
A multidisciplinary education gives the students the right to choose the subjects they would like to pursue. The recent National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 accords high importance to this approach. In fact, the drafting committee had further recommended that the three-year bachelor’s programs in sciences and commerce be extended to four years with the first year devoted to the study of liberal arts subjects.
This approach has many benefits which majorly includes the freedom of choice offered to students. Students tend to follow their interest and passion, and are whole-heartedly encouraged to learn more. Overall, it helps in forming a pragmatic attitude within students by teaching them the reality of the choice to be made and what all it entails.
Many experts in the education sector and industry claim that a culture of research is missing in Indian institutions. What is your take on that?
The time has come for Indian Education to reinvent itself. Currently, yes, there is insufficient focus on research in higher education institutes as required. The need for practical education has become the need of the hour. However, it is important to remember that these institutes are also grappling with issues such as insufficient resources and facilities.
This is an issue that HSNC is tackling closely. We currently have a strong faculty strength of 2,500 teachers that manages student strength of 45,000. We are committed to grow this number in proportion as we witness growth in our student base.
Do you consider the lack of quality faculty members to guide research aspirants as one of the major issues in the Indian higher education sector? Please tell us about the challenges Indian universities face while promoting research inside the campus?
There has never been a lack of quality in faculty. In fact, the faculty in India is highly qualified and experienced. The problem arises when we load the faculty with too many teaching hours as well as administrative duties and still expect them to research. Quality research requires a lot of time, infrastructure and support from the institution. If one looks at the Nobel Prize winners from the great academic institutions of the US, then one can see that these achievers managed quality research because they were allowed to only research. Additionally, they were given all the resources for research. We cannot expect our faculty members to teach for 40 hours a week, perform administrative work, which is often clerical and on top of all that, also research.
Now things are not upto the mark because recruitment of faculty has stopped. So, when an experienced and fully qualified faculty member retires, there is a complete dearth of faculty for hire, since academic institutions cannot afford to pay seventh pay scales, hence recruit only on contractual basis. If quality is being sought in faculty, then they have to also be paid appropriately.
How can Indian institutions make the country a global hub of education? What are the hurdles for private universities in attracting and admitting international students?
An iSchoolConnect Inc. survey conducted in 2020 found that despite the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, over 91% of Indian students expressed a strong interest in studying abroad as soon as they were allowed to do so. This needs to change. To make Indian educational institutes compete on a global level, the hope remains in NEP 2020 and further focus on global collaborations.
Elements such as formal education courses to foster entrepreneurship and global associations to create a fusion in teaching and learning pedagogies are, in fact, being introduced. Additionally, the Government has put in place a regulatory mechanism that allows dual degrees, joint degrees, twinning arrangements among others that encourage academic collaboration with foreign higher educational institutions. It is important for all stakeholders involved to work towards making India a preferred destination for higher education globally.
What is currently the employability status of young Indian students? Despite being a developing nation with many young talents, do we have appropriate skilling infrastructure in our country?
As per the India Skills Report 2019-20, about 46.21% students were found employable or ready to take up jobs in 2019, compared with 33% in 2014, and 47.38% in 2018. Furthermore, the report found that among the states, Maharashtra followed by Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh were ranked among the top three in terms of employability.
It is important to note here that India’s median age was 26.8 years old in 2015. With such a strong workforce looking to enter the job market each year; it becomes imperative for the government to create a level-playing field for the same. In this regard, India already has the National Skill Mission that helps create the road map to skill the population of the country. In terms of policy infrastructure required for skilling, the NEP 2020 has made great strides in that direction while the COVID-19 pandemic allowed the technology infrastructure to scale up despite the sudden nature of the event.
However, there is a huge disconnect between the skills students acquire through education vis-à-vis employer expectations. In fact, today, 90% of students do not have the required qualification, experience or skill-sets which would and could help to get a job or retain a job. There is a need to make students industry-ready and the focus on building this infrastructure becomes imperative.
This has led HSNC to redefine the education framework for itself. We focus on a multi-disciplinary approach for students to pursue their interest and to hone their skills. We also introduced multiple entry and exit points for flexibility and a Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) for the students to opt the suitable option as per their career goals.
Considering that many present jobs and skill-sets will soon become redundant, what are the significant changes that we can expect in future employment?
The pandemic caused a definite decline in hiring. However, the dawn of 2021 did witness steady improvement. According to the Naukri Hiring Outlook survey released in September, 2020, one-fifth of recruiters foresee hiring bouncing back to pre-COVID levels within the next three months, 26% predict 3-6 months while 34% said that it would take their organizations 6 months to 1 year.
A few changes that are expected in future employment includes significant changes in working cultures as focus on technology continues to grow, the introduction of hybrid working, remote hiring, etc. However, more importantly, the need for up-skilling and reskilling has become a priority for individuals. With the gig economy introducing various career alleviation programs, the education sector too needs to remain focused on redesigning the syllabus to ensure that the shifting dynamics of the world are instilled amongst the future workforce. Because, the need to stay agile, competitive and versatile will be of the essence as the world becomes more dynamic than it ever has.
What advice would you give to staff and students regarding their involvement in the country’s and the entire world’s affairs?
Everyone needs to keep abreast of all that is happening in the world today. The world is changing rapidly and those who don’t keep up with the change will be left behind. So awareness and alertness are most important. Reading helps a lot to generate this awareness and keeping in sync with changing scenarios which further helps in staying alert.