Prof. Rajita Kulkarni
President, Sri Sri University
How do you perceive the scope of global partnerships and multidisciplinary courses as stipulated by the NEP?
We started it actually, you know, we have so many fabulous partnerships. And with the academic bank of credit, you will anyways in a way come together. And I think it was an amazing coincidence that the NEP came at the time of the pandemic. And in this virtual world, I cannot move out of my zoom app because every day we have at least 3 or 4 inter-university educators conferences, think tanks, task forces. We are talking together and for some of us it will take time. But the intent is… I am ready.
How do you perceive the scope of global partnerships and multidisciplinary courses as stipulated by the NEP?
We are already seeing Sri Sri University, because of Gurudev’s vision we were already few years ahead. We launched last year, first in the world, department of contemplative and behavioural sciences. Dr Girishwar Mishra who is the Guru in this field of psychology in India, he said that this is not only historic for Sri Sri university but historic for the field of psychology as well. So Gurudev’s idea of marrying the best in the East and best in the West that’s the vision for Sri Sri university, that we have the best in the East and the West. Bringing in field of contemplation from the east with the field of modern western psychology, that has art, dance, that has astrology, that has everything. It’s a solid multidisciplinary program. So, we have already started it. The possibilities for that have now opened up for everybody.
What else is different about the SSU?
I say this every time that we are probably the only university in the world that starts its academic year with the silence program. Spirituality, service, values is the foundation of our existence. It is in our DNA; it is in our blood. Because Guru dev gave the principles for SSU that learn, lead and serve. Learn from the best source possible. See there’s a lot of prejudice, there’s a lot of bias, even in learning. I won’t take it from this area, I won’t take it from this region. So, learning from the best source, so that you can lead, and become successful in your own area; but not just as an individual, so that you can serve. So, DNA of service, where kids do sewa, the mindset expands. If you are complaining about more salt in your food and you go and see in a village that people are not getting two square meals a day, your context changes.
We used to do term halls, when our campus was very new, students used to say there is no light here, there is no facilities, and then we did a project with Schneider in which we distributed solar lights in villages which never had lights in their life. So, giving this exposure to students to see situationsis a challenge to this generation. We are in an instant gratification world. Pizza comes in 30 mins… kids get used to that. But cultivating that mindset that there are people who are worse off; because when you into jobs, you need to have community sensitivity. You cannot build an industry where you are sending your waste into rivers which then pollutes the livelihood of people who are living alongside that river.
So, what makes us unique is 1- that integrated service and 2- the spiritual foundation. Our students do sadhana everyday, Surya namaskar, meditation, Sudarshan kriya, breathing techniques. Even during the pandemic, 6 to 7:30 in morning, every morning we would do on Zoom we joined. That makes them solid, gives them grit, and makes able to deal with peer pressure. Thirdly, we are completely smoke free, alcohol free, drug free, vegetarian campus, respect for all lives. So, creating an ecosystem for students to live a life like this.
So, when kids come to us for say, an B.com and an MBA, in 5 years all aspects of them change, including their weight, and a lot of things. Gurudev wants every student to have a seed of enterprise. So, our placement office has a joke that one day you will not have a job. We are known as a university of start-ups. Within 3-4 years around 40 startups have got incubated by our students.
This intention of coming out of the student phase and becoming an entrepreneur, this was mostly followed by ivy league colleges. But do you think that chaos about employment is false?
In our university, we have seen students going in multiple fields, depending on their specialization or program, many are starting their own enterprises, many go back to their family businesses. Many are fabulously employed in the private sector and the government also. Many have gone into politics, or gone back to farming. Architecture students are starting their own studio, Yoga students are starting up on their own. So, I think kids today are quite clear about what they want to do in the next 2 years, or 5 years.
So far as the generation of finding is concerned, how does SSU manage that. Because govt is now coming up with many collaborations also, foreign investments.
We are doing many representations. See there are private univ of many types, one that are financed by large industrial houses, they have more resourceful streams and can decide whether to deploy them or not. But our parent organization is a charitable institution.
And there are many like this. So, we are doing representations for government funding, which is for research and other things, is going to state and central universities. They are awash with funds, get pumped a lot. But we don’t get that benefit.
We are bringing the agility, bringing the innovation and disruption with the kind of programs we do. We are the first university to start a course on astropathy. it took me three years to get the permissions, because no one knew who will grant the permission. No one in the system knew. And it’s a very expensive course for us to run because there’s no faculty member in India. We have to fly the faculty from different countries. But we are ready to do that because we want Astropathy should some to India. People like us are ready to take that risk, at the cost of making losses, we are willing to bring in innovative programs. DCPS, we had to invest 2 years to create the curriculum because just the process of ideating something which has no precedence in the world. So, we are representing a lot so that government should look at universities like us. There are others like ours, using a different lens. Because at the end of the day, the question is how you run it, your fee can run your administration, but for the infrastructure, you need capital. Physical and digital infrastructure, you need huge amount of capital. And top of that you need research, you need to invest time and money both in it. So, the private sector as well as the government sector will have to do it together, otherwise, it will take a lot of time. Today of you look at Harvard, if you look at top 10 or 20 institutions in the world, how much private funding they are getting for research.
It is even mentioned in the NEP that universities must become self-sustaining and do a lot of commercial research, but it is difficult.
It is difficult, and who can get those grants is a question. See whenever a policy comes out, it gives a roadmap, which is then to be followed. Now the focus is more on execution. There are different stakeholders with different responsibilities. We as universities have to take that step that ok, we are going to start this program, we have to start early. Government will not go and do it. So, it has challenges, but we have to keep going.
We have poor students also, and the fee structure in universities like SSU might be not affordable for them.
No that is not right, we don’t have an exorbitant fee structure. Like if you want to do a thing in ISB, it will cost you 25 lakhs, with us it is 8 lakhs for a 2-year MBA, which is average fee. So, students also understand that. It is Gurudeva’s approach, that bite the bullet, absorb a little, an give them the best that they can afford. So, over a period, you realize the economies of it, get the benefit. But, till then you have to survive.
Any message for the readers of Education Post.
I think the pandemic has shown us how vulnerable we are as a humanity. As a student, we must know that how to navigate the unknown. Everybody is still navigating it. Nobody knows what will happen, like you see what is happening in the Europe. They are in different stages of lockdown. So, no one is sure what will happen after vaccine. We have had hundreds of conversations about how we will conduct when we open up. But no one knows the answers. And the state of the world is, this is how it is. In a very practical way, things are not certain. What we say about a VUCA world, it is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. It is also moving in an uncertain direction. So, how to navigate the unknown.
So, for students, few things are very important. Do not just focus on what you learn, but be very, very focused on your ability to learn. Because gone are the days when you can say that I graduated and studied this when I was 20 and it’s going to last me till 80. We will all land up having 4-5 careers in our life. Like I moved from banking to education, I had to learn everything. I read and read and I participated in conferences where I only heard people speak. I had to train myself every little nuance of this field, whether it is compliance, or regulatory stuff, all of that. So, how you learn, your ability to learn is more important. So that’s the first thing.
Number two, be focused on building few skills in yourself. Agility, you have to develop. Resilience, is important. See people are saying I cannot deal with my life. When you are so down and out, what can you do to pull yourself out. So, I put happiness, mental wellbeing, all in one pool. Grit, how you develop it. You cannot buy that, you cannot learn, it has to come from within. That is why we do meditation, yoga, Sudarshan kriya, all this is very important. You know, the ability to connect to yourself, so that you can connect to the world. Every platform where I speak, this is the story for all of us. Let us focus on this for our kids. Because it doesn’t matter even if they get a 20-lakh job, but they cannot communicate positively with 5 people, or cannot deal with their own mind. So, first thing I would say the ability to learn, second is resilience, your own mental wellbeing, your grit, all that I put in one bucket.
The third thing is that learn to draw insight and not just run after information. I think we are in a world where we are bombarded with information. It no longer matters whether when we went to college, we had a subject and there were limited books in the library and we didn’t get it, it was a loss. But now it doesn’t matter. There are so many sources of information. So, information is universal, it is available. But what you do with it, how you use it, how you draw insight out of it is the main thing. That is true intelligence. I tell all my students that write a paragraph every day about not what you read about or what you know, but about what you think. They realize how tough it is to write one paragraph on a topic like Maya. So, writing, speaking is very important. Having an insight is essential and not information.
The last thing is that luck. Pandemic is again showing us. Life is throwing us into panic mode. If we continuously focus on not going into panic, but being purpose-driven. So that there is a bigger purpose that guides us. The purpose that holds you up, which keeps you afloat, when in a tough time. So, these are a few things.
And to the parents I would like to tell that let your children be, just let them be.
How do you feel the change from consumer banking to education and why did you want to change?
It is not about why and what, as I have associated with Gurudev’s work now since the mid-nineties. At certain point in my life, I wanted to move over from just working for myself to working for the society. When I was a banker also, I was a teacher and I was involved with all the service level projects. But at a certain time,I decided that I wanted to be associated full-time with Gurudev’s institution. That’s how I found the institution. Earlier I had a life-changing experience, maybe that was also a reason.
At that time Gurudev was envisioning up the university and I was part of the team, and we did anything and everything that was needed. Mr. T N Seshan ji was our first president and I was on the board that time. A few years ago, I took over the position.
Pre and Post NEP 2020, what would be the difference?
The NEP itself has come about from inputs and ideas from educators all over India. So, a lot of it has come from what has been happening in bits and pieces in pockets around the country. If you read the entire document, there are things that some people are doing, some other thing that others are doing. But what I think is really worth celebrating for us is that it has all been consolidated into one policy document, which shows the intentionality of the government to really push the needle to make India Vishwaguru in education. If you look at the education sector in India today; of course, we are not in the world ranking an all those things, but there are universities that are in the world ranking, which are 2-3 centuries old. You know, we get compared to Harvard. I get messages in the SSU and I tell them that we are only 7 years old. But that’s a positive pressure. I like that, it drives us to do better.
So, what the NEP has done is that it has consolidated this for us as a country. It has generated incredible excitement, there is an incredible aspirational value to wanting to do something different, to wanting to be someone different. the execution implications are very tall, especially in terms of school education. If you look at the GER targets that the government has taken, which means we have to open up 50 new schools every week, which means we need 50 new principals, for the next 7-8 years, every week. So, execution implications are very tall.
But I feel very energized about it. It has created an aspirational value for the entire education system. It is the first time that, in a very concerted and universal way we are talking about breaking silos. This was Gurudev’s idea that we must balance left and right brain. You know, students who are studying science should also have a thing on arts. But even if our students want to do it, our education system doesn’t provide that opportunity. If you wanted to study in IIT today, you can’t have physics, and organic chemistry and dance. So, it is inter-disciplinary, breaking the silos.
Even in the free entry and exit education policy is like that. Now it is a national policy, so there are more people who want to do it. So, when you look at rural India, there are many students who don’t have the money to enroll for a full 4-year program, so let them come, study one year, let them go back, earn some money and come back. I think it’s a very revolutionary conduct. the ‘academic bank of credits’ is a very far sighed idea, which pushes the universities to collaborate. Today everybody is competing for the same limited resources; resources, like capital, human resources. But you can collaborate. Since I have become president, I keep saying that why are we only looking at international collaboration? Only if you have 50 MoUs, 50 logos on your website that means you are somebody who has done something. I say, why don’t we collaborate within India? There are many universities that are specialized in their own areas. So, those who are not can look at ways to collaborate.