'It’s a great time to be a student': Raghuram Rajan on Krea Univeristy

Raghuram Rajan. File  

Wholesome education is what most educational institutions attempt, but fail to deliver. This is because of barriers in execution that include conceptual mismatch, impeding policies, lack of resources and intent. Despite these impediments plaguing the education sector, Krea Univeristy is off to a promising start in its endeavour to “prepare students for the 21st century world and to re-imagine the university experience”.

Located in Sri City, north of Chennai, the sprawling campus houses the School of Interwoven Arts and Sciences (SIAS) and the IFMR — Graduate School of Business (IFMR GSB). SIAS offers B.A. Honours/B.Sc. Honours degree programmes in the humanities, social sciences, literature, arts, and sciences, based on the principles of interwoven learning.

It is backed by some of the best minds and thought leaders in the country, including former RBI governor, Raghuram Rajan, who was in the city recently to address the first batch of students at SIAS, in his capacity as Governing Council Member, Krea, as well as an educationist.

“He has played a crucial role in the conception of the university and we look to him to set the standards in terms of academic rigour, excellence and innovation. He has really pulled up his sleeves over the last three years, working with academic council as well as inspiring institution builders in the governing council to support a cause of this nature,” says Kapil Viswanathan, Vice-Chairman of the Executive Committee and Governing Council Member, and President, IFMR.

Raghuram Rajan speaks exclusively to Education Plus about his association with the University and his views on education.

What was the thought behind the idea of offering interdisciplinary courses?

Problems need solutions which span various disciplines. Education, in some sense, has to prepare you in various disciplines but at the same time, you have to have the ability to look across disciplines so that you understand how things look like when looked at from the other side. For example, when we speak of data, you can get data from various sources. When you see data, you need to think about how do you interpret it differently depending on the source and what kind of biases and concerns one should have. So, (with interdisciplinary education) you get a much broader sense of how to think than if it was just very narrow like just reading a statistics book and looking at say, five pieces of data and you have no idea where it comes from.

The point is to excite people’s minds. I can give you information, but that information is going to become outdated soon. But if I teach you, how to think about it, the love of knowledge stays with you. That is what we are trying to do.

SIAS has its first batch of undergraduate students. How are you going to eventually measure the university’s success?

Measuring in terms of placements is narrow. That is certainly what parents want. However, I would hope that what we have done is ignite minds so these students become the intellectual, political and business leaders of tomorrow. So, I would rather we measure it 20 years from now when they graduate than on the point of graduation, and see how many university professors, how many CEOs and how many top politicians we have from the batch. We want to create nation builders, especially those whose minds are wide open rather than fully closed.

What do you think India needs to set up world-class universities?

We don’t need one Krea; we need 50 or 100 Kreas. Everybody should have a chance at such an education, and the reality is we need far more resources being applied to education so that this becomes possible. And some of it will come from the private sector, but the government should perhaps think about how this could be replicated. We are not the only university — there is Ashoka and others like that — but each one should have the ambition to be really unique and add value. There is no common model we should be following, but to the extent the government can, it should ignite more such institutions.

One of the points in the Draft National Education Policy (DNEP) states that the total investment on research and innovation in India has declined. India also lags behind in number of researchers, patents and publications. Why is research important?

Research is needed for knowledge creation. We are going to be among the top five economies in the world; we better have an intellectual capacity which feeds that. We need many Nobel Prizes in Biology, in Medicine, in Chemistry, Physics, Economics and so on that comes from research. We need to match our economic heft as we grow, we need the intellectual heft.

But more than that, why does research matter in a university? I think research is an evidence of curiosity and you have to constantly try to nurture curiosity. When you are not trying to figure out more or understand more, there is a temptation to say, “Look, I know enough”, and the same course gets rolled out year after year and it gets outdated. Curious faculty implies fresh courses and more learning for the students. I think there’s a correspondence between research and teaching; not just that you teach your research — very few people do enough high quality research to be able to do that, but that research furthers the faculty member’s understanding of the field itself and also indicates a certain degree of curiosity which you want in a top class university.

The DNEP throws light on the issue of a steep rise in teacher shortage, lack of professionally qualified teachers, and so on. How can a university overcome this issue?

The initial repository of faculty has to be from other institutions in India but that’s the zero-sum game — we just take from them. But it is also about identifying young Ph.D. students and young faculty elsewhere who can be drawn here. Now, you can’t compete only on salaries because ultimately that is a game you cannot win — you don’t have the kind of resources that western universities might have, so, you have to offer something else. It has to be a combination of adequate compensation and also adequate freedom to do what they enjoy doing and to do it in an environment where they feel like they are making a difference in people’s lives.

Is there anything in particular that you think needs to be relooked in the Indian education system?

In reality, for the kind of capability that come onto the table, we make it extremely hard. Lots of resources are coming from the private sector, but the licensing process is really still incredibly difficult in India. Why is it easy for some people to get educational licenses while the quality of the education that they offer is mediocre at best, while others find it really hard to get the go ahead even though they bring many resources to the table and the experience that students get is better? We have to look into that because it seems like a place that needs quality control certainly, but we don’t seem to be doing proper quality control. It’s important we take the right decisions regarding that.

What according to you is the most important soft skill to have?

Today, you want people to be able to communicate. And not just through writing but through presentations and speeches — you want a full package. There are too many kids who come out of universities who don’t know how to write, build arguments or how to convince. If you don’t communicate well, you may be the most brilliant person on Earth but you’re not going to convince anybody because its not coming out of you. I have some friends and colleagues who are some of the smartest people on Earth but who write very poorly and therefore, they lose a lot of audience. So, you have to make sure that right from the early stages, they can say what they’re thinking and hopefully they have something useful to say!

Do you think now is a good time to be a student?

There is a lot of pressure today on students and I don’t think that is going to go away because technology demands stronger and stronger skills. You have to be better than technology and be creative in many ways. But if I go to the right place, then it is a great time to be a student. If I had to write those competitive exams today — I studied at IIT where I had to compete for my spot — I don’t think I would be in a good place (laughs). I mean, the kind of effort people have to put in to be successful in those exams is frightening — going to these coaching classes and basically abandoning your 11th and 12th grade in order to do well in these exams...we put our students through a lot of pressure. But if you are in the right place, it is a great time to be a student. But how do you get to the right place?

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 2:42:18 AM |

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