Interview by Sakshi Aggarwal
Prof. Ranjit Goswami, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Sharda University, is a university builder by developing the capacity of faculty members. He is a facilitator of learning and critical thinking. He believes that process management and simplification are means to effective quality enhancement/accreditation, defining outcomes.
Prof. Ranjit Goswami is a columnist in areas of education management, global economic environment, financial markets, and geopolitics. He has expertise in operations management and ICTs. He is a keen watcher of rise of China. Apart from this, Prof. Goswami is a policy researcher and management/ academic consultant/trainer.
Prof. Ranjit Goswami’s educational qualification include Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Management from Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur; MOM, Management from IIT Bombay - Shailesh J. Mehta School of Management MOM, Management and Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech.) in Chemical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.
Prof. Ranjit Goswami’s experience in the education industry
Historically, and more so in India, certain terms - like industry, profit at times have a negative connotation. There is as such nothing wrong with these words, as long as the industry is run professionally, legally and ethically. Similarly, profit is achieved ethically and appropriately; although education has been a non-profit sector in India, legally speaking.
It would not be wrong to say that barring my first few years in the education sector, I have been largely disappointed by the way education sector is being run or managed in India, be it under government ownership or under the private sector, from the primary levels to the higher education levels. So, if I claim that education sector is the best industry in India to work for, I probably would not be speaking the truth.
The pain is more because given where India stands, in its socioeconomic indicators or demographic parameters, if the nation is really serious of being a growing and developed economy in decades (or even a superpower, as often claimed by sections of media), the only way India can achieve it is through quality education – universal primary education with quality in the primary and secondary levels; and decent enrollments with quality at the higher education levels. The expansion of India’s education sector has largely been achieved through private participation, and here the experience has been mixed. Government’s own contribution here has been minimal to probably negative, and when one looks at the policy-picture; government after government has failed to come up with a policy that ensures education sector gets its due weight in the nation building.
India has always ignored education and healthcare, two sectors that it should be focusing most along with infrastructure – when it comes to budgetary resource allocation; and also messed up in policy making and implementation when it comes to education (and healthcare). Given this context, and many private sector players in education are here to make money in a sector meant for not-for-profit so-to-speak; what has suffered is the quality of education affecting both students and faculty members.
So, what could have been the best profession in India now, given its socioeconomic and demographic status, is probably one sector that no bright young person wants to join as first choice. Even I entered education, not by design.
However, there is a tremendous shortage of quality manpower to systems and processes in this sector. So, given the freedom to work and proper culture of an organization, one can contribute a lot to the education sector. The biggest gain is when you see you can influence young minds in classrooms – you make them think, ask critical and difficult questions and not easily satisfied by an easy answer.
Prof. Ranjit Goswami’s philosophy of leadership and his leadership style
Academia is a classless society, unlike the army – which is strictly regimental. In academics, there is administrative hierarchy, but not a knowledge hierarchy – meaning sometimes, a student in the class may know more about a specific area more than the faculty; and when a young assistant faculty may have more expertise in his/her area of research than the knowledge the VC/PVC has in that young faculty member’s area. And there is nothing wrong in these examples.
As a professional, we need to understand that although we may have an individual philosophy of managing a university or an organization, each organization has its unique culture. And culture is most difficult to change, so – one needs to adopt his philosophy in the context of the culture.
Sharda University is the biggest and the most diversified university I have worked so far, given its thirteen schools covering engineering, management, medical, dental, architecture, science, law, nursing, allied health, pharmacy, media studies, language and culture, and finally education schools. The ranges of degrees cover diploma to Ph.D., and in many cases short-term certificate programs. The students come from nearly 70 nations, including all the states from India.
In our organizational structure, my role is to assist the Deans in better running of their Schools, in their day-to-day operations and making them think about medium to long-term areas of improvement – in curricula design, pedagogy and delivery and evaluation side, so that we are in alignment with what industry needs. My job is also to assist my VC and various academic bodies in identifying new programs that we can launch given our existing strength and demand from the market. My job is to align academics with what placement needs. My biggest job, probably is, to develop faculty members – make them think, understand – why they are taking each session every day and what the student is learning from that session, and how that learning is going to be useful to the student in his later life – be it in getting a job, or doing well in a job or even have a better understanding and purpose of life.
Unfortunately, in most universities, although we often compare and benchmark ourselves with leading Western universities or homegrown IITs/IIMs, the overall load on the faculty members – including teaching load and associated administrative load – on the academic side or pure administration side, is too much. My role is to let faculty members get relieved from all unnecessary admin-works and focus more on classroom teaching-learning process, their own reading, and research, etc. It is easier said than done as many feel faculty members are not loaded enough.
Teaching at a university level program/course is not easy. Having real mastery of knowledge on an area, and explaining it lucidly to the students, rather is an extremely difficult and challenging task. Most young faculty members need encouragement, grooming, and guidance to achieve it. However, the other school of thought believes you hire any with the qualification and some experience – and they can do that job easily. Matter of fact is: Most of us as faculty members do not do justice to the students in the classroom – as we are not competent enough to teach them well.
On leadership style, in the corporate world as well as in earlier days, I was probably much more authoritative, expected results and compliance fast. But with experience realized, that’s not easy and possible in academics. It takes huge time and effort. So, I have tried to listen more to the problems faced by young faculty members, have patience and try to provide the clarity, where necessary.
Significant challenges faced by Prof. Ranjit Goswami as the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Sharda University
This is a relatively new assignment. As I joined here in July 2017, so, it may not be proper for me to comment on this.
Acknowledging above, an area where we have been working is in having systematic process management with clear ownership, outcomes, feedback loops, etc. This is an area where capacity in most Indian universities is lacking, and at Sharda University – we strongly believe we need to develop systems and adhere to that. How do you introduce a new course in a new program? How do you develop and encourage classroom participation? How do you ensure your research has an industry or policy application side?
So, at Sharda, these are some of the areas that I and my team have been working on. As I come from a prior management consulting/Business Process reengineering background, this becomes relatively easy for me. However, the real challenge here is the implementation part. Once we do that properly, global (or local) accreditation becomes easy as all the back-end processes are already in place.
Importance of time management in Prof. Ranjit Goswami’s life
I have always been poor in time management. I am more impulsive. So, if I am reading an interesting article – I may often forget about a meeting I need to attend, or in case I am in between writing something – I am again prone to miss my meeting schedule. However, all of these can severely affect others productivity/motivation. Thanks that I have a very young and bright secretary, who does it religiously (even when I visibly get upset).
On the organizational time and resource management, I always believe in doing less and doing well. That means rather than simultaneously working on five or ten new initiatives/key areas; I prefer to work on fewer numbers. That gives everybody time to think, understand and do a quality job. We do many academic practices in a mechanistic manner, without asking why we have been doing it or what value addition it is generating. It is important that we ask these questions, obliterate processes that no longer add value to students’ learning, and strengthen those which facilitate students’ learning. Therefore, although I may be little poor in my own time management; on the organizational side – I am very clear and focused.
Curriculum at Sharda University
This indeed is the challenge. There is no simple easy way I can ensure that all my 1,600 courses across 100+ academic programs are always industry-aligned, every session of it. The only way to achieve it is when the faculty member himself/herself is industry-aligned, along with having a deep understanding the academic and theoretical part of it as well.
As most faculty members may not have significant industry experience, or the latest of it (as industry practices have also been continuously changing), the only way to do it in our set-up is to read a lot good articles that deal with latest relevant industry challenges, developments, and issues. And understanding them well, with absolute clarity so that the faculty members can facilitate critical and original thinking with due analysis in the class, rather than some rote learning and delivery which usually happens otherwise.
This indeed is the most challenging part of most universities globally. There is no easy solution here. Senior faculty members having this understanding need to groom young faculty members who may not have enough industry awareness. Another challenge is culture and openness – once we become university faculty, we feel ashamed to admit that we do not know something fundamental or basics related to our areas, related areas or even advanced concepts in those areas. Until and unless we remain hungry for more knowledge, and admit that we can be fools too; we would not learn new things. And there are so many new things to learn – in every area, deeply.
Growth of students through placement opportunities available at Sharda University
You can take a horse to the water, but you cannot force it to drink from it. Our job at Sharda is to expose students to the best faculty, courses, learning outcomes, industry practices with internships – but ultimately, it is students who themselves are masters of their destiny.
Personally, I am against treating students as kids at a university. So, although many universities may have many policies of sending SMS to parents of students, or calling parents-teachers meet, personally I am against them. I believe students should use his/her time properly, have a keen desire to learn as well as enjoy life.
Clarity of thinking, critical thinking, analytical skills, and good communications – all these skills we try and inculcate in the students. I must admit here that it’s not an easy task. Once students have a basic understanding of their core areas and some of these skills, getting jobs through placement is no longer a challenge.
Prof. Ranjit Goswami’s relationship with the students
As of now, I have not been able to make much progress here. However, there are two ways on which I have been working here. Firstly, though I belong to the Business School as a faculty member, I try and address students from other schools in basic areas of Economics, Finance, Business Management, etc. That way speaking, the students get certain basic interdisciplinary learning, as well as I, get an opportunity to sense the classroom engagement of the students. Secondly, we also have a strong Dean of Students’ Welfare Department, and through that also I often get to interact with students in diverse areas of academic and extra-curricular interests.
Ideal school environment according to Prof. Ranjit Goswami
I prefer to treat university students as adults, providing them a safe, vibrant and happening campus. I won’t like policing students for any in-disciplinary actions as long as another student is not complaining, or the student is not engaged in any illegal activity. I prefer to have a no-nonsense approach in the classroom. Students should work hard, party hard – with both academic challenges and beyond academics – be it in the fields of the sports or music or others.
Goals in mind for Sharda University for the next few years
India has been an acknowledged global player in IT/ITeS. I believe India can also be a global leader in higher education for the developing nations (and not the developed nations). We can cater a huge number of graduates coming from developing nations all over the world with great value for money quality education. We may not be able to match the Ivy league or the Oxbridge league, but with little policy support and right autonomy; we can be the hub of global education catering to much of the developing world. This can happen with a huge focus on quality, and rather than being a university trying to do everything, we should try and become great teaching university.
There is nothing wrong in admitting that we do not have monetary resources and often times not that quality of manpower to compete with world’s top 10 or 50 universities.
Suggestions for the current youth and the aspiring students
Whatever you do, do it seriously. You don’t enjoy something – that’s fine. But what you enjoy, what you like – probe deep there, gain expertise there, be one of the best there and be ready to explore.
And most importantly – please think, and think critically. Don’t accept your professor’s words or what’s written in a paper or website or book or being said in TV channel in face value. Ask difficult questions, scrutinize and then accept what you consider to be true, to be accurate.