Interview by Yash Panchal
Dr. Shrihari has a career spanning over 25 years where he has been a teacher, researcher, leader associated with the growth of several institutions. He is a senior academician with administrative and governance experience. His progression in teaching career through responsibilities of Head of Department, Vice Principal, Principal of a College with 2000 students, Vice Chancellor of a university with 12000 students, etc. finally led him to GD Goenka University, Sohana, Gurgaon as its Vice-Chancellor.
He has visited universities abroad in Spain, France, Turkey, Malaysia, and Thailand. With close to 2000 undergraduate and postgraduate students whom he has taught and several Ph.D. awardees under his guidance, his passion remains to teach and he believes in staying in touch with students through classroom teaching.
Dr. Shrihari’s experience in the education industry
I joined the teaching profession purely because I thought that would be a familiar environment for me with research possibilities. I believe, I did find my passion in teaching eventually and stuck to it. In fact, even now I do make sure I go to some class or other and teach parts of a course, time permitting, and enjoy the wonderful feeling of being a teacher. The tragedy of any industry is when you show you are good at one level you get promoted to the next level where you need different skills and that is exactly what happened to me. The career path moved to the academic administration which most celebrated teachers detest, rightly so, because you do not get to teach a class as a teacher, in fact, there are times you do not get to teach at all.
At the same time, one also needs to take up leadership positions. I have had a wonderful time teaching, hopefully, some of my students would agree. That was the phase when I developed new courses, got involved with curriculum development, learned not to take yourselves too seriously, matured as a teacher and became very tolerant with learners and derived immense pleasure and satisfaction when the learning happened. The leadership position has been mixed, but there is indeed the satisfaction of being useful to some students and faculty. Some of my younger faculty colleagues would give me credit for guidance, mentoring, some even give me credit for inspiring, etc.
When I do look back, I realize that I got exceptionally gifted guides all along starting from Prof R. Kumar, Prof. Gandhi and Prof. Jayant Modak at Indian Institute of Science, to senior professors like Late Prof. M V Joshi at MIT Pune, Prof. K K Tiwari in Mumbai and the likes of Prof. B P Pandey and Prof. D N Saraf at Dehradun. I can not forget mentors I got in the shape of Dr. D J Shah in Mumbai, Dr. Diwan and Dr. Chopra in Dehradun. In fact, even currently I have been extremely lucky to be working with a very forward-looking top management team at GD Goenka University in form of Chancellor Mrs. Renu Goenka and Managing Director Mr. Nipun Goenka. Everywhere I have been fortunate to have a wonderful team and colleagues who have ensured success and all-round satisfaction. All in all, I should feel very lucky with my journey as a teacher, academic leader, mentor that I did receive so much more than I have been able to give to others.
Education Industry is the best industry even today when a student is seen as a customer, and universities as service providers, by all the stakeholders because of several reasons. First and foremost, the continuous supply of young blood that invigorates every one. There is a tremendous amount of optimism, hope and enthusiasm overpowering any anxiety about uncertain future. This is a place where you feel proud of the talent and ability that you come across day in and day out. It is self-curing and therapeutic atmosphere. It has sparks even when the rest of the world sees gloom. It is a wonderful place purely because there are students and for them, there are teachers. There is something new to be learned every day for everybody.
Dr. Srihari’s philosophy of leadership
This is something for others who are a part of my team to tell. The reality is very likely to be very different from what I think. I can give you some philosophy, which I believe by and large although there are exceptions to it and so I want this to be seen in proper perspective. My philosophy of leadership is to be a democratic leader as the team is participative and working on a common goal. I believe every human being has some talent useful to the society and it should be used. I strongly believe you will never have an all-rounder without defects. I believe in becoming redundant as far as possible. I believe in mentoring successors all the time. I am not sure how successful I am in practicing this philosophy.
How Dr. Shridhar’s experience as the Director & Vice Chancellor of UPES helped him in GD Goenka University
Let us understand any experience anywhere within education industry would come in handy. So, I am sure conscious and subconscious lessons learned everywhere have helped me. Working with faculty colleagues of all kinds and understanding of student psyche to a certain extent can be said to be most important learnings from the past. Having said that, every place has its own culture, style, flavor, and challenges. One needs to learn from experiences every day.
Significant challenges faced by Dr. Shridhar as the Vice Chancellor
As I said earlier, every new place has challenges of its own. I must say I have faced the same challenges a new Vice Chancellor would face and believe me, the learning phase at this level is longer and while there is a tapering off, learning never stops.
Curriculum of GD Goenka University
The academic processes ensure that the industry inputs are available not just in making the curriculum but also in delivery. Our industry connects and outreach ensures adequate internship opportunities and interactions with experts from the industry. We also have capable faculty who keep abreast of the developments in the industry through these connects and I am sure for a young university, we are doing a very good job of it.
Growth of students through placement opportunities available at GD Goenka University
Let us separate placements and growth of students. University works for the growth of students by building in them a learning ability and helping them build aptitude and develop an appropriate attitude. Placement is an opportunity where one uses these and learn and grow. I am sure with our connect, we are able to offer this stepping stone to our students to build their careers and their performance in the industry will automatically “push the envelope” year on year. To be precise, even now we are year on year pushing the envelope and have already crossed the million-rupee barrier for the highest salary and the students have been placed in reputed companies such as IBM, HCL, Allan Llyods, Hewlett Packard, Genpact, Siemens just to name a few out of hundreds of companies on campus.
Dr. Shrihari on the changes he has noticed in the Education Industry and the skill set required by a corporate
See, the education industry has changed from being a temple of learning to become a service provider. Thankfully, the respect teachers had from the students is still there, notwithstanding aberrations we notice day in and day out. We did go through a proliferation of colleges affiliating to large universities, which have catered to large number of youth over years. This model is perhaps not the best model for excellence as these institutions suffer from lack of autonomy. I belong to the group who feel academic autonomy is “essential to excellence” and if we did not create excellence, then the regulators need to own up their share of the blame. We are now in a phase of autonomous institutions in the form of unitary universities which need to gear up to face challenges in the future.
There would be a few years of churning with regulators which once settles down then we should have a period conducive to growth and excellence. I am sure even now our students have the skill set we are talking about, otherwise, how is industry recruiting. What we need to understand are two things, number one is are our millennials going to do the jobs we did? Second is what did we do wrong in scaleup? I am sure we will find our answers there. The IT boom, followed by slump killed the training system. We need our graduates to be willing to dirty their hands, teamwork as opposed to individualism, attitude for learning from others and from the situation, become enterprising (some may even become entrepreneurs) are a few simple skills one needs to ensure. Other skills are time variant and a person with good analytical and communication skills can and will continue to adapt. This pressure on skills is partially coming because of industry not wanting to spend the time and effort to train and retrain their employees.
Dr. Shrihari’s relation with the students and his availability for them
GD Goenka is a student-centric university, the student is the focus of everything we do. The university by design is connected intricately with student aspirations and caters to the needs. Personally, I do engage in classroom teaching where I stay connected with the pulse of the students. I meet students who are doing well, and those who are not doing well, I am clear that students should have access to the Vice Chancellor especially those stuck in processes. Regular walks through corridors are also an opportunity to access on either side. The most important thing is that the students should know that they can reach the Vice Chancellor’s office. Having said that, it is impossible for Vice Chancellor to meet all the students. This communication happens through various functions, seminars, and publications. GD Goenka University students know that they can access the Vice Chancellor anytime and every time.
Ideal school environment for Dr. Shrihari
The ideal school environment has to cater to each student’s aspirations through facilitating all learning outcomes through appropriate pedagogy, which is very likely to differ for each student. Students need the time to build their personality, which happens both inside and outside classrooms. Universities should recognize that the learning outcomes are also achieved quite often outside the classroom. While the formal instructions and the formal examination system have their relevance and place in the learning process, other non-conformal processes of learning and evaluation systems should be available for students to both learn and establish their credentials.
The school should also be a place, where each student is able to discover his passion, aptitude and pursue it. Just like a cafeteria where you could order any combination and mix and match from a menu. The first step is credit based course structure. The electives give certain freedom. Allowing credits that can be taken from any school of the university is another step forward. Movement from one program to other is facilitated. Credits earned in any other university can be transferred or exemptions can be granted for the same. Most importantly, our students have the freedom to pursue additional minors concurrently by acquiring additional credits. The university provides for all these and our relationships with many universities abroad enable the students to get their credits from these universities.
As we grow, we would be able to provide even greater flexibility, in both pedagogy and evaluations. The campus has ample space and facilities for personality development and outside classroom learning to happen.
Top qualities that an aspiring PGDM/MBA/BBA student must possess
To me personally, a student wanting to learn for a particular profession, is the most important quality. It is the job of the universities to develop skills and provide knowledge to aspirants. The aspirants on their part need to possess the basic ability and aptitude to learn. Ability comes through language skills including comprehension and expression, which is referred to as communication skills. The ability also includes analytical ability, which is around logical and minimum level of numerical prowess. All these qualities are essentially learning outcomes of prerequisite qualifications and personality development till that stage which is essentially his ability to fit into the society.
This is evaluated based on his awareness of the society and his affinity towards the society and his wanting to fit in the society. Using these and aptitude to learn, the university would be able to develop them into worthy professionals. The entire selection process is around ensuring these prerequisites, be it a written test, Group discussion or Personal Interviews. Only when the selection becomes tougher, there would be other differentiating factors which could be overall personality, articulation, and vocabulary, problem formulation ability and self-belief, etc.
Goals in mind for GD Goenka University for the next few years
GD Goenka University will actualize its byline “From foundation to flight”. We have crossed our runway and taken off. We will continue to grow and achieve greater and greater heights with every passing year. We will have innovative programs, innovative pedagogy, and a wonderful learning environment continuously improving with every passing year. In the next few years, we will add vertical growth to our already existing horizontal expanse. We will be reckoned as the most modern, student-focused, research-driven campus in the region.
Suggestions to the current youth and the aspiring students
The youth today are an impatient lot, the youth of every era are. But the youth today have a situation of the flood of information and only a few of them can analyze and convert the information into knowledge. There is always anxiety about the future. The future is always uncertain, what is certain is your ability to take on challenges as they unfold before you. The world will continue to evolve and therefore, so must you. Learn to enjoy the process, assess your aptitude, passion and pursue your dreams. Make sure your dreams always involve you becoming useful to the society at large and you are unlikely to fail.