Manoj Madhavan Kutty
Director – SRM University
What has been your experience during the pandemic and the resulting digital model of education?
During Pandemic, our brand reputation and the rich legacy of 50 years in higher education stood in favour of SRM. It was not a very tedious task for us to quickly migrate to digital platforms because SRM is synonymous with Engineering across the country, which makes us naturally inclined towards the technical aspects.
The first thing we did was we set up an MoU with Cisco Webex and we immediately aligned all our lectures on it. Now all assessments and examinations are completely connected online. We had this digital infrastructure well in place. Moreover, the students coming to SRM comprise the middle and the upper-middle class. We were contented about the availability of devices as digital intervention is happening at a rapid pace in India, and thanks to initiatives by the government, the internet is affordable and everyone has access to it.
The attendance actually went up compared to the offline classrooms. This proved that despite all the negative aspects that occurred, we did see a lot of positivity during the pandemic and managed the situation well.
How do you see the institute growing over the next few years and which domains will be in focus?
The future is inclined towards political science, paramedical courses and to a certain extent, programs that are based on pure science. There is considerable attraction towards paramedical programs, especially programs like Medical Laboratory Technology, or other programs like B. Pharm. Not only MBBS, but anything around it is drawing students. Plus, there is higher interest in the domains of social science subjects like Psychology and Political Science. We are designing all our programs in such a way that we can cover all these avenues.
Gone are the days when students only sought limited options like becoming an engineer or a doctor. Now that trends are changing, even parents are exploring newer options. They are realizing that companies don’t need just an engineer, but people who can think out-of-the-box, and have a problem-solving approach.
Tell us about your transition from the corporate world to the academic community?
That’s a very interesting question and brings a lot of nostalgia. The corporate and education industry, both have their merits and demerits. In the corporate industry, people are oriented towards revenue-generating aspects, whereas, education industry supports value generation. A company is all about meeting deadlines and creating a product. It’s a fast-paced life as every product has a defined life-cycle. There are terms and clauses, according to which, after every year, or after certain years, you have to renew the products.
Whereas, in the education system, though there are different timelines and programs that we follow, at the end of the day, we do not want to rush with what are doing, because every student is different. One student can understand a concept in one day, and another can take ten days for the same. We deal with diverse audiences, and this is a sensitive target group. Students join education institutions at the age of 17 or 18 years, and during these times there are several uncertainties among the students.
The task of handling these doubts is quite stimulating, though it is not as challenging as constant revenue generation. Hence, this space is less stressful. It’s a very delightful journey and I am glad that I shifted my focus from the corporate to the education sector.
What do you think about the current accreditation process and how does it help colleges?
If you see the global universities, they have matrices such as QS World University Ranking, or the higher-education ranking. There are so many ranking agencies that are celebrated across the globe that focus on infrastructure, placements, and other criteria.
The reason why Indian universities are unable to rank very high on the international scale is that those parameters are not entirely present here. In the US, education is expensive, but at the same time, they are more oriented towards entrepreneurship. But in an economy like India, where the population is high and people have different mindsets, I think the ranking framework present across the globe will not be the right parameter to judge an institution.
We need an indigenous ranking framework. That is where ranking agencies like NIRF or IIRF, as well as accreditation agencies, play an important role. Now with the New Education policy laying down the parameters, we will get a real idea of standards. I think accreditation is vital, but it should be based on a country’s needs. As long as it understands the requirements of the Indian institutions, I think accreditation is a good measure of where we stand.
How can we develop better relations with international institutions and form collaboration for research and training?
We need to have different universities with different mindsets.
For instance, if you look into robotics, Japan is the world leader. If you go to the US, there are some of the best institutions in the world, like Carnegie Mellon. South America has colleges that lead in drug discovery and tropical discovery, as they are excellent in research and sciences. For automobiles, it is the German or French automobile industry. Considering management education, it is always a British or French MBA that is the most acclaimed. For the Hotel Industry, the best options are in Switzerland and France. Russia has advanced technologies in aerospace and medicine. In south-east Asia, there are specialized avenues. There are many options in Taiwan, Hongkong, or Singapore for electronics.
When it comes to expanding in other countries and asking people to come and collaborate, we need to figure out the specialized segment that we want to target, and then we have to focus on the particular country that will meet the requirements. The management of our university is very supportive, and I have been to 25 countries. A few years ago, we went to Cambridge, Oxford, and the best universities in the world. We sat there on campuses, had a cup of coffee, discussed lots of things, and signed a fruitful agreement with them.
All we require is thorough research. There are national accreditation agencies, where we can check the rankings. As ranking is available online, we can refer to the list of institutions and approach them. I also use LinkedIn to great extent, for international collaboration, which has helped me to break barriers. We have been trying to establish connections across the globe, and we have 50 international collaborations at present.