Prof Janat Shah, Founding Director, Indian Institutes of Management Udaipur

Prof. Janat Shah is the founding director and professor of Operations Management at IIM Udaipur. After graduating as a mechanical engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, Prof. Shah worked with the industry for about five years. His book has been used in MBA and executive MBA courses at IIM Bangalore as well as at numerous other business schools throughout India. In a conversation with Higher Education Digest, Prof Janat Shah talks about the impact of the pandemic on higher education, the employability status of young Indian students, his views on leadership and much more.

 

COVID‐19 has disrupted many higher education aspects, including how students are recruited, admitted, and enrolled. How will higher education institutions meet the realities of a post‐pandemic world?

For a premier education institute like ours, meeting the realities of a post-pandemic is two-fold – one is how to handle the current situation, and secondly to change it post-pandemic. Currently, we’re teaching, taking admissions, and have been engaging in serious discussion within the institution to enhance the quality of education using online technology. As a premier management institution, we will continue to remain campus-based face-to-face education, along with using technologies such as using faculty across the world using online platforms. Today through online education, we can get the guest faculty from industry even for just for 15 minutes virtually.

Sometimes, the students are not present on the campus maybe before we start the program, or during the summer internship but by using the online course, we will be able to connect with the students even when we move to face-face model.

Generally, not all students study at same levels. By using the right technology, we can handle different groups at different levels. Even people who are below average will easily understand the subject by creating certain specific modules for them. Technology and the pandemic have forced the institutions to enhance the quality of education.

What are the predictable changes in the higher education sector after COVID-19?

For a premier management education institution like ours, the campus-based face to face would be the mode of education. Of course, we would enhance the quality of learning using technology. For tier two & tier three institutions, which are currently in large numbers in our country, I think pandemic has opened up some very interesting set of ideas. Currently, their biggest challenge has been getting a good quality faculty. Now using technology, institutions will get various online resources including the best faculties in India or from the world from the content perspective. They should use MOOC through which they can get the content. Getting a process-focused faculty, somebody who can generate discussion once the content is delivered by the faculty in virtual mode. This will create a level playing field for tier 2 and 3 institutions as they can enhance the quality because their biggest problem was getting a good faculty for the content. Using this technology and the right approach towards hiring a faculty, they can deliver reasonably high-quality education to their students. Of course, necessary changes will have to be made by regulators.

In India, how badly are students going to be set back by not having formal instructions? What are the efforts of IIM Udaipur to control the damage?

It’s a promise given to our students that the quality of education they are going to get even if classes were online will be comparable, if not better. We don’t want our students to be branded as COVID year students for this year. All our faculty have decided to spend more time with students to ensure that the quality of learning does not get affected. The first step for this was to make sure to give tutorials to our faculty on improving the quality of learning in an online environment. Secondly, we also worked with the students on how to work in a group even when you’re not physically present on the campus. With both faculty and students’ enormous efforts, we have ensured that the quality of education for the students does not suffer. To some extent, we have seen the recent results, in the last batch, the quality of placements that students have got have been comparable. For example, in the institutions like IIM which is resourceful, students had laptops, adequate bandwidth, etc. to ensure there experience of attending online classes to seamless. We have also ensured that alumni were actively connected with the students during this period. I think at an institution level, you need to make sure that you are committed towards providing overall learning experience and that it will not be affected come what may. Certainly, you cannot do things in the normal manner but by supplementing certain other things, you can ensure that the overall experience remains comparative.

What are the precautionary measures universities must take when they reopen? What is the model of IIM that other colleges in the country can follow?

The idea is to provide high-quality education without compromising on safety. Ideally, we would prefer a face-to-face quality education. We see the potential of both students and faculty staff to get vaccinated. So, we should make sure that everybody is vaccinated before they get into the campus, secondly to follow all the standard norms we have COVID committee in campus. Thirdly, everyone should be sensitive to the issue as there will be instances where students or their family members may be sick, so we have made sure that we provide recorded sessions. Similarly, the quizzes, exams, etc. can be rescheduled for the affected students. From administration to faculty everyone should ensure that we are supportive towards students and by keeping empathy without compromising quality and safety standards.

I think with vaccination, we will be able to attain some level of normalcy, though following safety standards is imperative. We are hoping authorities will give priority to students for vaccinations and we are looking forward to work with the hospitals for the same. It might take a few months before at least the post-grad programs will come back to normalcy.

What is the employability status of young Indian students currently? Despite being a developing nation with many young talents, do we have appropriate skilling infrastructure in our country?

Though India is a young country, the education in the institutions is not up to the mark. There’s a weak link between what is happening in the industry and the kind of skills needed to impart to graduates. Today, if somebody asks me a question to predict what kind of jobs which would be there in five to ten years from now and the skills needed for them? I think nobody can answer that question because the industry is ever-changing and one of the major drivers is digital. So, we can do certain things to start with – focus on developing core skill which will be required across jobs in every industry. For example, skills related to critical thinking, skills of learning on their own, skills of adaptability, working in teams, etc. Students must know how to work with evolving technologies as the future of every job is based on the technology. We must ensure and provide those skills to all our students so that the demographic dividend should not become a demographic disaster.

Considering that many present jobs and skillsets will soon become redundant, what are the significant changes that we can expect in future employment?

Due to the pandemic, the world has learned to work remotely. With a country like ours which is young, we can serve nations who have aging population. You don’t need to be in Japan to serve Japanese citizens. With pandemic, one doesn’t have to be in a specific country to work for them. We already have great leadership in the IT and BPO industries, now the world has opened a lot of other opportunities. The only challenge is to ensure the students have the right set of skills. So, if technology kills a certain number of jobs, it also opens up a wide variety of new jobs. Due to some political challenges, countries don’t prefer migration, but with the pandemic, organizations are now comfortable with people working from different locations. So, being a young country, we should aggressively look for opportunities and work as the world’s workforce.

What should universities focus on to equip students with the skill to survive in the post-modern world? 

The way premier institutions would be focusing will be different from what other universities will plan. The traditional universities should use MOOC and other technologies, get access to the faculty which are best in the world. They should teach how to apply the content in practice along with theory. Similarly, using these technologies and skills one can work even in remote regions and can work with the companies which are not operating there. If we figure it out what are the right skills which we would want to impart and how you can leverage technology to impart those skills in best possible way, using MOOCs for example, I think there are a lot of opportunities and universities should focus on how to enhance their education and make their students ready for future jobs. It would be good for each institute and university to come up with their own model as to how they are going to design their pedagogy, how they are going to take advantage of technology so that the students are ready for the jobs which are going to be there in future.

What are your views on leadership? How should education administrators ensure that their faculty members and students transform into world-class leaders?

Education as a sector is very different from other sectors. One of the key requirements of education is that you have to focus from a long-term perspective. If you look at the top 10 institutes in the world, the youngest is 125-year-old institution. So the first requirement is that you must think from a long-term perspective. Second, you need to build a vision by keeping a long horizon towards developing the institution to make sure it involves all the stakeholders, including government, board, students, faculties, etc. to build a high-quality institution. Secondly, its values and culture are one of the most important elements. At IIM Udaipur, we focused on creating a vision and then creating the right environment in which both students and faculty can flourish. From the beginning, we have been focused on high-quality research, as well as the transformational journey of our students. At IIM Udaipur, we focus on high quality research and thus we offer a 10-year horizon to publish 3 papers so that quality does not suffer due to lack of time. Similarly, for students’s transformational journeys, we create the environment to support their discoveries. So for every student, whether it is a one-year program or two years, it should be a transformational journey. So for the role of the leadership in a management institution is to ensure you have a long-term oriented vision and ensure that stakeholders are involved in creating the vision.

 

More About Prof Janat Shah

Prof Janat Shah has obtained his Fellow in Management from the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad.  He is a leading authority in the fields of Supply Chain Management and Operations Strategy. He has also published extensively in national and international journals. Prof. Shah has consulted with and been responsible for management education programs for executives in, several companies, including Aditya Birla Group, Bharti Airtel, IBM, Infosys Ltd., Ingersoll Rand, Mahindra & Mahindra, Marico Industries, Tata Chemical, Tata Motors, Tata Teleservices, Yokogawa Blue Star. He has also helped companies design and develop decision-support systems for supply chain management.

Recipient of several teaching awards, Prof. Shah was also voted as the best teacher by MBA class of 1999. He was the principal researcher of the team which has won IBM faculty awards three times (2005, 2006 and 2008) for their work on human resource supply chain management. He has also been part of an international team which worked on a large project funded by EU commission.

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