Dr Dishan Kamdar, Vice-Chancellor, FLAME University

Dr Dishan Kamdar is the Vice-Chancellor of the FLAME University – the pioneer of liberal education in India. He took charge of this position on August 8, 2018. Prior to this, he was the Deputy Dean, Academic Programmes and Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the Indian School of Business (ISB), the top-ranked global business school in India. A leading researcher, senior faculty member, executive coach to CEOs of renowned corporates and family businesses in India, and a favourite professor to all his students, Dr Dishan handles these multifaceted roles with equal ease. In a conversation with Higher Education Digest, Dr Dishan talks about leadership skills required for students to enhance employability, steps universities should take to catapult their students to the next level, and many more.

Why awareness of skills is important for students today?

With this dynamically changing business landscape and the disruption caused by advancements in technology, it is important for students to be equipped with the right skills that prepare them to be future-ready. It is also important for students to be aware and learn skills that will help them in their professional and personal growth, and that’s why, liberal education focuses on teaching students’ skills that will allow them to be skilled for life, preparing them to overcome uncertainties. In line with this, several universities are encouraging students to learn ‘‘beyond the classroom.” If anything, the pandemic has become an accelerator of sorts encouraging students to expand their breadth of learning and for educational institutions to enhance their quality of learning and focus on the all-round development of students.

What kind of leadership skills are required for students to enhance employability?

As businesses go global and workplaces become border-less, companies are looking for professionals who are able to fit into multicultural and rapidly evolving organizations. They are also looking for talented professionals who demonstrate leadership qualities and potential to go beyond the brief.  Hence, it is imperative that students learn a variety of skills, which will not only enhance their employability but also help them to progress faster in their careers and enable their personal growth.

The skills include problem-solving, critical thinking and decision-making which allow professionals to carry out their work effectively and deliver desired results. The ability to be open to learning is another very important skill that requires them to be a student throughout their career. Updating and learning new skills is important to be relevant and productive at the workplace. Soft skills such as collaboration, interpersonal skills, being a team player and written and verbal communication, accepting of diversity of every kind, will go a long way in becoming an appreciated employee at work. Being creative, innovative and tech-savvy are other skills that make one an asset to their organization.

Why it is significant for students to cut the clutter and continue to be resolute on whatever motivates them?

Students who go along with the crowd often create barriers for themselves in achieving their career goals. Having complete clarity on what motivates them and focusing on building one’s skillsets, being decisive on what to achieve and pursuing them to the highest level of commitment and efforts is important to move up the chosen career path. This focus and self-understanding will also help them in managing self-expectations in various situations, without the fear of failing. Moreover, those who have long-term vision are more likely to carve a successful career than those who look for short-term gains. All these factors would keep uniqueness on a high point and work wonders in their lives.

What initiatives are you taking to help students overcome learning issues the pandemic has caused?

Remote learning requires changes that will help in keeping students engaged.  The traditional way of teaching cannot be replicated in an online classroom. At FLAME, we have ensured that their learning remains continuous without compromising on the quality of learning despite moving online due to the pandemic. We brought in several changes to facilitate online teaching and learning. We have been working on several training sessions to help our faculty in cutting edge-technology tools and practices to design their courses to suit the online format, and deliver them to make remote learning effective and engaging for students. We also engage the students through various webinars, conferences and workshops, etc. to help widen their horizon outside of the classroom curriculum.

With the advancements in digital learning, what areas do you think students could focus on in the coming times?

As technological advancements continue to transform the world, students will need to prioritize learning new technological tools and keep themselves abreast of the latest best practices and techniques. Irrespective of the discipline or courses that one may be studying – keeping oneself digitally-literate and up-to-date is important. Depending on the kind of career path chosen, the relevant technological tools can be learnt both within and outside the classroom. Several options are available to learn such courses online; some of them include artificial intelligence and machine learning, data mining, virtual reality, augmented reality, robotics, process automation, block chain, design thinking, among others. This digital learning will enable them to develop a holistic professional development and make their career and be future-ready.

What steps universities should take to catapult its students to the next level?

In the undergraduate program, ‘mentorship’ plays a very crucial role in the growth of a student. Faculty mentors, peers and alumni mentors have a ‘purposeful’ role to play in counselling and guiding students to choose their growth path. This aspect is a life-changing experience for students. Universities must invest in creating a strong pool of mentors and a mentorship network at their institutions.

It is important to create more choices for students rather than a fully structured syllabus. Revamping curriculum, bringing in practitioners to teach, introducing cutting-edge courses and giving students experiential learning are some things that universities can look at to make a value-add to the students.  It is also important to engage students in more team-building and collaborative activities that will fasten their learning process as well as provide some breathing space which will stop them from burning out easily. Focus on newer forms of assessment which provide pre-indicators to students which direct them towards their areas of strengths and weaknesses that could be worked on before the final assessments. The teaching and learning should be towards laying a strong foundation and imparting skills that will enable them to face and manage uncertainties.  Universities must also bring in more beyond-the-classroom learning activities that will groom them to be real-world ready. Universities need to focus more on learning, and not just placements; there is a difference between being ‘job-ready’ and being ‘future-ready’.

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