Mr. Arjun Puri is currently the Director of Admissions and Outreach in O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU). Arjun Puri was born and raised in Kolkata, back when it was still called Calcutta. As a young child, he spent time in Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru – before their names changed. His last long-term home was London. At University, he played cricket and represented the Gentleman's First Team in the West Indies. Arjun graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2007 and worked as a banker with Merrill Lynch International Bank for close to 5 years, before he realized it was not meant for him. He continued supporting the Arsenal Football Club much to the dismay to those he was friends with. He moved back to India in the fall of 2011 and joined ITC’s rural development and farmer empowerment programme, E-Choupal. His research took him to the remotest parts of the country where Arjun focused on the right to price information for the benefit of farmers. Post his stint in rural India, he took over as the Strategy Head at a leading consultancy in the high-school mentoring and study abroad sector. Arjun now divides his time between Gurgaon and Sonipat, and works in the education sector with the O.P. Jindal Global University in the capacity of Director of Admissions and Outreach. He teaches in the Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, where he finds inspiration in corridors and classrooms. He focusses on food and culture studies. He launched his first book at the prestigious Jaipur Literature Festival in 2015. He continues to write for leading publications, giving his opinion on most things food, cultural and cricket. With two books on their way, the times ahead are both nervy and exciting.
Ques 1: Kindly tell us about your experience in the education industry and what makes it the best industry to work in?
Ans. I’ve been working in the education sector for almost 5 years now. Before being engaged in the education sector, I was a banker with Merrill Lynch International Bank in London (for 4 years) and then with ITC’s Agriculture Business Division (for 1 year) across rural development initiatives around India. When it comes to education, I was first associated with the sector in the capacity of a college counselor for students who aspired to study in the finest universities abroad. The startup that I was a part of allowed me to play a dual role, as the Strategy Head and also as a lead counselor. This allowed me to understand the heartbeat of students and also of the sector. It gave me an insight into how students were thinking, what they were looking for, what made them different from the other students who were applying abroad and so on. Then, the opportunity to build one of India’s first transnational Liberal Arts programmes came my way and there was NO way I was going to refuse that! I have been a part of the O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU) for almost 40 months now. Currently, I am the Director of Admissions (for all programmes in JGU), a member of the faculty (Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities - JSLH) and a Fellow at IIHED (International Institute for Higher Education Research and Capacity Building). For me, it’s all about the passion. And, being in education allows me to do what I love. I am not sure if it’s the ‘best’ sector to work in, it depends from person to person. For me personally, it’s my calling and I look forward to the challenges that face me every single day. It’s a very challenging environment where you need to be transparent, honest, diligent and ambitious. To plan the future of India, we need to have a great higher education sector. To be a part of such an important vision, keeps me going. Institution building for nation building.
Ques 2: What are significant challenges that you are facing in bringing out the real vision of the Organization?
Ans. Personally speaking, I feel the biggest challenge JGU faces is to keep maintaining and building the reputation it has. The quality of education, faculty, infrastructure, management and staff is world class! But we are young and we are growing! The student-faculty ratio is among the lowest in India! And, in our constant endeavor to achieve excellence, we shouldn’t forget what we set out to achieve in the first place. To put JGU on the map of the world. One of the challenges I face from the perspective of admissions is the constant growth in the number of applications for the various programmes on campus. This I assure you is a good challenge to have! I feel very strongly about diversity and with more applications, we can build quality orientated diverse classrooms.
Ques 3: Tell us about some of your experiences and how does your curriculum ensure the best practices of the industry?
Ans. I am deeply influenced and inspired by Dean Kathleen Modrowski (Dean, JSLH). She has been a teacher to me as well. I feel among other things, what I have really learned from her is that we need to move towards an education system/curriculum that keeps up with the times we live in. Experiential learning is such a big part of the JGU experience. Classrooms are not the only rooms in which you sit in to learn. Workshops, conferences, dialogues are all important tools to learn from and learn in. The core curriculum is balanced with electives which allow students to gain perspectives of several fields of academia. This is what really sets our students apart from the rest. They have the resources to research, to publish and to contribute. At the same time, they have a large choice of subjects to choose from. Curriculum is constantly being developed at JGU and it’s wonderful to see the students benefit from it. Due credit must be paid to both Prof (Dr.) Raj Kumar (Founding Vice Chancellor of O.P. Jindal Global University) and Prof (Dr.) Sanjeev P Sahni (Principal Director of the Jindal Institute of Behavioral Sciences (JIBS)) for the role they play in shaping the university.
Ques 4: What goals do you have in your mind for OP Jindal Global University?
Ans. I have always believed that for any institution to do well – the focus must be ‘students’. I have great hope and aspirations for JGU. I’ve lived here for 40 months – in campus. I have been witness to the work that goes in to running this place. The highest standards are maintained and we are constantly pushing the boundaries of excellence. I am deeply inspired by colleagues, by faculty members and by students. My goal is not for just being ranked number 1, my goal for JGU is to produce the finest students who go on to excel in various fields and walks of life. To give them an education that allows them to dream and to become leaders. I think we are doing just that. But, we have miles to go before we sleep! We currently have 6 interdisciplinary schools on campus: Jindal Global Law School, Jindal Global Business School, Jindal School of International Affairs, Jindal School of Government and Public Policy, Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities and Jindal School of Journalism and Communication. We are a private university promoting public service. Our common goal is to build a world class, global university that the nation takes pride in.
Ques 5: There have been talks of JGU having very different plans for delivering educational expertise to every aspirant, kindly elaborate on it more?
Ans. Rather than answer this question, I would invite any and every aspirant to come to campus and see for themselves what we are building in JGU!
Ques 6: How do you plan to build a positive school culture or climate in JGU?
Ans. Constant interactions among all key stakeholders is an important ingredient to make sure that everyone is ‘in the know’ of what is happening around them. To build a positive or happy culture, it is most important to be happy in the first place. We run several engagements on campus – fests, Tedx, conferences, sports events, film related events, literary events etc. that builds a holistic environment and allows students to pursue what they love. As we are a residential campus, we try to keep the students engaged with numerous events and activities. We have even had happiness weeks curated for our students!
Ques 7: What is your philosophy of leadership? How would you describe your leadership style?
Ans. I am blessed with the team that I have and with the overall support system at JGU. There are various departments and linking them together for a common cause is imperative. I strongly believe that an individual is as good (or bad) as his or her team. I’ve been fortunate to have held leadership positions of prominence from a young age. I was appointed the 167th School Captain at La Martiniere (Calcutta). At 17 when you’re appointed as the leader of the student body, you tend to realize that there is a great responsibility that comes with power. Even during the financial crisis of 2007, I managed to hold on to my job and also to work closely with incredible people, all of whom have played a role in making me the person I am. I have been told often that I am among the youngest Directors of Admissions and Outreach in India. But, I know the blood, sweat, and tears that go into a role to attain it. My philosophy of leadership is very simple – take people along with you, let them grow, give them responsibility and ownership. I am a friend to each of my staff members and colleagues. I try, to the best of my ability, to treat each of them as fairly as possible. We are human and we make mistakes – we should learn from them and not highlight them. I find humour, humanity, hunger and happiness as 4H’s. I make it a point to organize lots of get-togethers that allow the team to get to know each other, I love food and make sure my team is well fed! And, to have a happy environment is the ultimate achievement! I am extremely proud of my team and they are almost extended family to me. I will do anything and everything to protect my team members and I feel they have seen that and in return, I have earned their love and respect.
Ques 8: What would be your ideal school environment, and how would you encourage that kind of culture?
Ans. I feel ideal spaces are best built in heads and on paper. We should create an environment that allows the coming together of great ideas and of ways to implement them. Some of the brightest young students are in our classrooms – they are learning and contributing each day to the university and now we must begin to work on ways we can contribute to nation building. Encouraging conversations, debates, dialogues and research opportunities is extremely important. I feel in disagreement lies one of the core functions of a democracy, as long as it’s amicable and respectful. To build the future, we must build today the environments for thought leaders to progress.
Ques 9: Any suggestions you would like to give to the current youth and the aspiring students?
Ans. Study what you love. Chase what you desire. Give everything you have to achieve what you set out to. “Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship.”Last Updated - 31 Jul 2017