Interview by Bhawna Rawat
Dr. (Col.) A. Balasubramanian is the Founder President of Sri Balaji Society, Pune. He is a triple Post Graduate and a rare personality known for his creative approach and making history in the field of education. Born in a poor farmer’s family, he ran away from home to join an orphanage to complete his education till High School. Later he joined the Indian Army and served there for about 28 years and retired as a Subedar. During his service with Army, he acquired three post-graduate degrees with flying colours. He is a classic example of courage, commitment and intimate relationship with the corporate world.
Dr. Balasubramanian is a trainer, a consultant, and the author of five books on management, more than 100 short stories and two novels to his credit. He is the one who conceived the very idea of creating the first Post Graduate Management Institute in India exclusively for the Defence Personnel and their Dependents. He is the first Indian from Armed Forces in the history of India to be conferred the Honorary Rank of Colonel after retirement. Thus, he has many feathers in his cap and is known for his creative, successful and bold experiments in management education ventures.
Dr. Balasubramanian is an educationist who is clearly ahead of his time and has time and again demonstrated an uncanny ability to foresee the trends of the future within the education industry as well as in the corporate world. He has introduced many innovative ideas in Management Education of which many have become norms and style of management education.
Dr. Balasubramanian is the founder of the prestigious Sri Balaji Society. He is running four prestigious management institutes namely Balaji Institute of Modern Management (BIMM), Balaji Institute of Telecom & Management (BITM), Balaji Institute of International Business (BIIB) and Balaji Institute of Management & HRD (BIMHRD).
The vision and mission statement of Dr. Balasubramanian is 'Problems are opportunities and be selfish'. The other colleges run by him are Balaji College of Arts, Science & Commerce (BCACS), Balaji Junior College of Arts, Commerce & Science (BJCACS) and Balaji Law College (BLC) providing education to undergraduate students. He is also the Executive Director of BIMM and Dean of BITM, BIIB and BIMHRD. As a genuine philanthropist, he has generously donated lakhs of rupees for the educational purposes for which an award in an All India conference was recently conferred on him.
The current scenario in the education sector is really depressing but I have hopes with the new HRD minister
India is a growth-oriented economy, a developing country but when it comes to education we have destroyed the education. There was a kind of competition in government after government to downgrade education. Now, everybody started to speak nice words like students should not have any pressure or tension there shouldn’t be any examination, etc. So what happened is the basic education got destroyed. After all, teachers are also human beings. Where there is no check and balance, nothing will grow up to 10th standard, there are no examinations. Whether you go to school and college or don’t, you like the exams or don’t, your level should grow. The levels are upgraded.
After 10th standard, there is no system. Particularly the government schools are pathetic. For examples, they say there is one teacher for five students and students are getting scholarships. But there is no accountability. The students don’t exist. These are all reported news items. Elementary and high school education is finished. Both Congress and BJP government are responsible for this.
Now, the competency of students promoted to the next class is not measured. There are just examinations which you have to pass. There is no role or teachers. To pass or fail a student there should be some method. A student who gets 30 marks is promoted and a student who gets 0 marks is also promoted. Can you imagine a country where more than 90% of the students scored more than 90% of the marks in 12th standard? How can this happen?
Most of the schools, when it comes to 12th standard, are helping the students to cheat so that the school can get a good percentage. This is the tragedy of the system. So the ethical and moral values have been compromised. Discipline and evaluation methodology of students have been compromised.
Let us talk about higher studies. For example, there is a case in Tamil Nadu where about 50,000 or 60,000 students failed. All of them applied for revaluation. Now all of them get good marks and passed the exams. 30 professors have been arrested in this. In Bihar, one girl is the topper in IAS selection. And when she was asked that when was Gautam Budha born she wasn’t able to answer. She doesn’t know English. The government is not accountable. The school is not accountable. It has become a drama, a commercial activity. So, this is what I am seeing these days.
In earlier times, there were Gurus. They used to beat and scold us but for our benefit. Not only the elementary but even the higher education teachers used to do this. So, there is a total revolution and change in the education system.
Fortunately, the current union HRD minister is focussing on this. He has understood this. And therefore, a lot of reforms are taking place. For example, the first HRD minister who really cared for improving the education standards is our honourable HRD minister Prakash Javadekar. He was an ABVP activist so he understood all the nonsense. Therefore, he is taking very stringent actions. But it is too late so it will take some time to recover all the damage done. But I am very happy to see the changes. His wife is also a professor. So the right man has become our HRD minister. AICTE is now very responsible. They say no court, we will come and talk.
Indian education system is in ICU-Intensive Care Unit right now. The HRD minister is trying to take it out of it. The real challenge is to improve the higher education. We give an LLB degree in our Balaji Law College but the government says that you cannot practice until you pass an eligibility test. That is innovation because they have no instrument to measure the quality of education in the college. Whether it is a Law college or a Medical college. So, the government is trying let us see what happens.
I believe leadership in education should be service-oriented
I don’t want to get into the corporate definition of leadership. I am an educationist. I am surviving on the fees of the students. The students, therefore, are my masters. My students are my masters. I am their servants. I have to deliver because they pay me. Without them, no college can exist. So, I believe leadership in education should be service-oriented. The leader should be humble and should be dreaming about the future of the students because the parents have their faith in you. The parents want their children to grow.
The education sector has to build the career. Nobody is reading for the sake of knowledge. Everybody wants a job. But are we preparing them for that? And if you want to get a job then knowledge, skill and attitude are the important factors. Knowledge is just one-third of the total portion. Rest of the two things are skill and attitude which are related to behaviour. Now, this behaviour is a by-product of how you can train a person.
So, everybody is coming with their own background. But can we bring them to the expected good level of behaviour? So, sincerity, humility and growth-oriented analytical abilities have to be infused. Leadership is not about power. It is about making others empowered.
Experiences gained from the army life are helping in the education sector
The army is the best democratic organization in the country. People think that army means discipline. In the army, the people give their lives for the country. Every day we see soldiers killed. Why should somebody give their life? Because they have been trained like that and are the real patriot. Any complaint or grievance was listened to at 6’o clock. Anybody can file any complaint. So there is a discipline and a lifestyle. I enjoyed my army career. I also served in the war. War for us was like playing cricket. That mindset was created in us. That was the success of our leadership.
Now, I brought that system to the education sector. The leadership which I saw while I was in the army, I brought that system to our academic system. And to my surprise, students were cooperative. For example, I said no holiday and the students were willing to sit in the class. Now, I must proudly say that the youth of this country wants to do something. Students want to learn a lot of things. But the defaulters are the teachers and the professors, those people who are running the college commercially. It’s okay if you want money but you cannot cheat the students. The main thing is to give the students the attention and make them give their best.
The commerce graduation colleges in the country, at least in Maharashtra run for only four hours and Pune being an educational city, this concept will eventually spread all over India. So the students are taught for only 4 hours and are left ideal for the rest of the 20 hours. Thus, at such a young age they can be spoilt with such a large leisure time. So who is spoiling the children? The college! The college should engage the students in some assignments or projects so that they are occupied. Mental growth, knowledge growth, behavioral growth and interpersonal relationship growth is the need.
The government of Maharashtra recently gave an order of the biometric system. But still, in the colleges, corruption is there that allows low attendance to continue. The system has been destroyed and we have to rebuild it. As far as honorary colonel is concerned, I am an innovator. I asked Dr. S.B.Majumdar that why we don’t start an institute for military personnel, all the forces personnel. He said, “We are civilians. Government is there, the army is there. Why should we start?” I said, ”they aren’t starting, let’s start” and it was his greatness, he asked me what do you want and I said just ‘yes’. So, he granted me that and the army made me an honorary colonel.
Being passionate about academics since the beginning
I was a poor farmer’s son. I had no one to support me. After joining the army I saw the world. I saw the officers and then looked at myself and tried to find the difference. The difference was that they were well educated. It kept on haunting me. Then I thought that instead of expecting someone else to help me I should upgrade myself.
So, the army used to give two months holidays. I utilized those holidays and studied there. For two years I never went home. When I finished the degree they offered me the post of lecturer. Well, wherever I was, whatever I was doing I was the star, I was a disciplined soldier. Everyone liked me. In the army, I was the most liked person. I never compromised with work and they encouraged me.
Today, I am running so many colleges, all thanks to those degrees. Today’s youth wants to do a lot but we are not providing them with the facility. We are not providing them with the encouragement. That environment is not suitable for them. We are providing the required environment in Balaji. We don’t have farewell parties in Balaji. We have changed the lifestyle of the students.
Everything in Balaji is transparent, you will not see a lie. Discipline, dedication, and determination are followed here.
Establishing and maintaining an ideal learning environment
It starts with our admission process. We go to every city so that they don’t need to come here and incur expense from their own side. Of course, CMAT and CAT are among the criterions. So, we address the students for one hour. We explain to them our rules and regulations. For example, they cannot expect a holiday from us. If you have 95% attendance you will have attendance incentives marks. If you have 90% attendance you will get campus placement. But if you get 80%, you will only pass.
So, we have linked the attendance system to the placement system. We have not only said this but have also signed an agreement with the students and parents. They are educated graduates and we have told them the rules. The industries like manager-like qualities. 50% students in my colleges are engineers. Also, 50% of the seats are reserved for women. So, now students have come to us for job placements. Hence, we ask them to follow our rules to achieve that. We tell them to be punctual, get dressed properly, have a proper haircut, be respectful to the faculty, take notes, etc. So, if you take up good things, which student will oppose? They all love it.
Here students feel that something new is happening which haven’t t happened in their school, high school or college. They feel that we are bothered about their future. This door of my room never closes. Anybody can come in at any point in time. For me, it is a problem but I have to take this pain. Because if a student has come to me all the way, then he/she is having some problem. So, if I listen to them their problem is over.
In our commerce college, the students call the lecturers, didi-bhaiya (sister-brother). So, we have introduced this culture. So, by imposing this culture we have shortened the distance between the faculty and the students. If the students want to do something in their life then they have to do something. For that something, you have to be very honest.
All the students are getting job placements
It’s simple, you produce gold and it will be sold. We are enjoying cent per cent placements every year. The corporates expect certain qualities. Certain qualities include perfection in their course, knowledge-based. The personality of the students depends on their behaviour. Everybody wants the right man for the right job. So, we are providing placements. Our average salary package has been 6 lakh per annum and the highest salary package has been 15 lakhs per annum. There are 150 students who have got more than 9 lakhs.
So, whatever training we gain it depends upon the students that how much they grasp the knowledge. So, there is no principle of equality when it comes to education. So, this differentiation will be there. But overall, everybody is getting the job. In India, which is a goal-oriented country, we have all the problems. Industries are there to say and job opportunities are there to say but only for the right attitude and right knowledge. Behavior is the key factor.
Students need to devote their free time in productive tasks
The concept of time management is all nonsense. Nobody is locking you for 24 hours. There is a set time for college and sometimes you are at your disposal. If you are goal-oriented, you will google or read books to get more knowledge. If you are a disinterested student maybe you will be watching movies frequently or you will be visiting the non-educational websites.
The success of the students doesn’t depend on his/her attending the class because that time all are the same. One faculty is speaking and everyone else is listening. The real challenge is how we engage them in the class hours.
It is the non-teaching class hours and the friends with whom you are moving around who will decide your future.
It is not the professors. If you are in good company, good friends, you will be sitting and discussing things related to your course or news headlines. That is why your friends will decide your future.
Today’s youth don’t sleep before 2’o clock. They are wasting time on mobile. If they are reading something on Wikipedia then that is understandable. So, again it is not the institute that is responsible for the growth of the students. The institute is responsible for the responsible and interested students. Otherwise, why one student would get 15 lakh package and the other student would get 6 lakh package.
Adopting the current changes help in keeping the educational sector updated
Education has to keep on updating itself. For example, telecom and analytics are in demand now so we started both the courses. We bought an ACP software and we are teaching our students. So we are not here to give degree. We are here to give the human resource the specific skills which the industry wants. They are not recruiters. When they will have any requirement they will come and pick students up. They are not the public sector. They are surviving on the shareholder's money. There is a board of director and the shareholders will question them. That is why many companies have died.
A company is not owned by any XYZ rather it is owned by the shareholders. Shareholders have to be accountable. For that, you have to select the right man for the right job and at the right time so that they go on to produce wealth. My students are not going for jobs they are going to earn wealth and to manage technology. Running an Industry is all about making a profit. So everybody is making money.
In our university, we have the right to add or delete anything from the course according to the demands of time and industry. Perhaps that is why we are able to do so well and that is why we have a lot of visiting faculty.
I am located in such a place where there are industries all around. The industry people come and teach and bring the changes which are happening.
My goal is to provide satisfaction to my students with the education provided
My goal includes how to stand up to the expectations of the students, parents and the industry. The ultimate thing is that the students of my college are referring others to study here. They are referring their sisters and brothers to study here. We have gained the trust of the student and maintaining that trust is the goal of my life.
Goals will fall under the category of natural growth. It will be a natural growth. My goal is to produce satisfied students and that is a big challenge. I have to match their aspirations too. We have been successful so far. I have an excellent team of professors, directors and principals. We are a big team and our goal is to make sure that the students are okay. A student can come and shout at me and when he does so I feel that she/he has grown up. Now, they can be independent.
Finally, I think that we should stop blaming the students or the government. We should start blaming ourselves and take the responsibility. Every faculty should do their duty, from the nursery teacher to a college professor. Only then this democratic country can grow in the world.
Do you know in the central universities more than 70% of the faculty positions are left vacant? Why? Education is not an attractive area. Why? Education is not paying well. why? The government imposes a restriction on collection of fees. So when there is no income how can they pay the faculty? This is one of the basic reasons. In America, education is the first choice. In India, education is the last choice. Who doesn’t get a job anywhere comes into the education sector. These are the basic problems. So, such kinds of teachers will produce the same kind of students.