Interview

Government has created number of IIMs and I think the value is being diluted

Dr Nagesh Rao is
presently serving as the Director of Mudra Institute of Communications Ahmedabad
(MICA). Dr Rao got his doctorate in communication from Michigan State
University in 1994. Over the past twenty years, he has taught in several U.S.
universities, including University of Maryland, Ohio University and University
of New Mexico. In each of these universities, Dr Rao was voted the Teacher of
the Year at the university-level, and was voted University Professor in 2002.

He has also been a
visiting professor at Bangkok University, Zayed University (U.A.E.) and Hong
Kong Baptist University. His work has been published in internationally reputed
communication and health journals, including Communication Monographs,
International Journal of Intercultural Relations, and Studies in Family
Planning. He has served as professor
at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India

Dr Rao is a member
of the Advisory Board, Intercultural Communication Institute, Oregon, U.S.A and
Coordinator, Website Editorial Committee, Indian Institute of Management
Ahmedabad, 2011-12.

In an exclusive interview with India Education Review Dr Rao shares his experince of working for various instituions across the globe and his vision for MICA.

What are the key
trends that you are observing in the Indian Higher Education sector?

Dr Rao: There
are three things that stand out to me; one is from the demand side, with the
demographic dividend the need for educational institutions of high calibre in
India is absolutely critical. On the supply side we have relatively slow growth
in the number of universities and educational institutes we have.

We can broadly divide the institutions that we have in three
categories, the top universities or institutes which have done very well in
teaching but very small percentage of them doing high quality research. The
second category of institutions is the ones which are good teaching
institutions but do not do any research work. While the third category of
institutions are the ones where neither teaching nor research is done.

For me a good educational institution is one that are able
to combine teaching and research. On demand and supply side we need to move
more on getting more institutes of high quality.

The second side of it is that today students are much
brighter, more aware, well informed in both urban and rural context, the
primary motive of getting an MBA or post graduate is how much money I will be
able to make at the end of the two years, what my salary is going to be? They
have started to look at education as a product and want to know what they will
get after paying for it.

We at MICA have been pushing the notion that of course the
salary is important but we need to focus on profit, planet and people
simultaneously, it can’t be a checkmark on the annual report. It needs to be a
way of life because the generations to come will suffer if we do not do that
and focus only on financial profit.

Third thing from our side as a faculty and administrators in
the education sector, while we have the experience, wisdom and foundation, we
have to  ask ourselves very clearly are
we ready to teach this generation that are digitally wired and connected?  Their learning style and orientation is
different, they tend to be on multiple digital platforms simultaneously.

You have taught at
institutions in different parts of the globe. How do you compare the teaching
and learning in developed nations with that in India?

Dr Rao: As per
my teaching experience at various institutions in different parts of the world,
I would say the quality of students at under-graduate and graduate level in the
good institutions are same, they are all bright, curious and engaged. But the
difference between institutions in different parts of the world is in terms of
teaching and learning.

In US the teaching and learning is more engaged and dialogue
oriented, which means it is a conversation between the professor and the
students. The professor is much of a facilitator in terms of providing space
for the dialogue. Whereas Thailand, Hong Kong and India are the countries where
still teachers are offering expertise and students are taking it. In Thailand
and Hong Kong where I taught there is not much questioning or challenging, in
India it is better.  But even then the
inherent philosophy of a teacher is that the student and the teachers sometimes
think that the teacher is little above the student, which should be the other
way round.

I think we should go to the class not as a teacher but as
co-learner, today students have access to all the information.  So, what we should do in the class? We should
engage the learning component of specific ideas, concepts and practices. For me
this is the area we should go, talking in India context.

What have been the
major initiatives take by you since you joined MICA?

Dr Rao: First
thing that I wanted to do after joining was that I wanted MICA to be run
professionally, to make the system more transparent. With my limited experience
of working in India I have found that most of the institutions are director
driven institute rather than institute driven, which means there is a
centralised head who takes most of the decisions. Most of the strategic
decisions and even lot of the operational decisions come back to the director, vision
and mission is implemented by a centralised mechanism.

I wanted to de-centralise it so that after I leave, the
institute has to run because it has some vision and mission and each director
will bring his or her own perspective. But, the only way it can happen is when each
of the roles in their own institutes has a sense of what their contribution is
a clear kind of goals for each year and have assessment standards fit in.

So, that was the primary focus we had last year, this year
we have new specialisation in digital communication management, in terms of new
curriculum. We also have new online programme in retail communication
management. We are getting into film, radio and digital in much more serious
through the one year programme.

Third thing that we are doing is in the area of research, which
is a critical part for improving the value of educational institutions in India
and that happens only when the professors and the students are doing research,
publishing it in good national and international journals. Last year, we set
aside a large sum of money and this year some of them are getting converted
into conference papers and in next couple of years would get converted into
publications. So, we are trying to create a culture or ethos where research
gets value and do it in a way that is conducive to me. Most professors have not
done much research and we are promoting them to do it at different levels.

Another thing that we have done at MICA is that we have
introduced sabbatical for staff members, they also want to grow in career and
education. In this we give three months or six months off to complete masters
or PhD or if someone wants to some other thing for professional development,
that will be important for their career and also for us when they come back.

Do you think that
such critical measures which you mentioned you have taken at MICA can be taken
in institutions run by the government with a centralised mechanism?

Dr Rao: looking at my experience of working at the IIM-A, I think
it is possible, even I have lot of policies and procedures to follow set by the
governing council in board for MICA. The thing is I cannot create something
without appreciating the boundaries. So the institutions like IIM-A or other institutions
can do the same by having more clarity in policy and procedures by more involvement
from different levels. But that has to come within the confines of what the HRD
or the government says. The top schools like IIM-A, IIM-B and IIM-C have
relatively more autonomy, and personally I think it can be done and it should
be done.

MICA is among the
oldest communication institutes in India. How much the scenario has changed in
this field with mushrooming of communication and advertising schools in
country?

Dr. Rao: The
issue is that there is a need and people are filling it, problem is the quality
and the value these institutions provide. The challenge for all of us is in
terms of recruiting and retaining faculty especially in the advertising,
marketing and management area.  We need
professors who can connect theory to practical, at MICA we are fortunate that
50 per cent of the classes are taught by our own faculty and rest 50 per cent
is taught by the faculty from the industry so that students can remain in touch
with the industry.

One must keep in mind at least for the communication
industry that they are new to the professionalization process as it started
only in last 15-20 years. So as the industry will get professionals the institutions
will align themselves in that direction.

You are from an IIM
system. Do agree that IIMs are overrated?

Dr Rao: we need
to watch the parameters to judge the institutions that whether they are overrated
or not, but I would say that IIMs are not overrated. The IIMs, specially the
top ones which are more than or close to 50 years old, when they were
established the purpose was to create professionals for the industry and the
IIMs have done a fantastic job. The reason when you go anywhere in India and
you mention name of IIM everybody opens their doors.

The IIMs now are trying to do some different things, the transition
that they are doing which the world class institutions like Harvard Business
School or Wharton School did many years ago; they made a shift towards
research. The faculty were required to do research because you could probably be
teaching things that are not required in the current time.  IIMs have lot of young faculty who are
researchers and trained in US and other places. The shift will actually take
some time as the research is a slow process and in three to four years period
of time we will be able to see more changes in that direction.

In terms of the relevance of graduates for the industry this
is not just the concern of IIMs, all the management schools are concerned about
it all over the world. How is the market changing? How is the business changing?
How is the non-profit area changing and as I said earlier is our teaching
matching up to it.

Government has created number of IIMs and I think the value
is being diluted, can they all get faculty of that level it is to be seen in
next few years.

You have set a target
of making MICA a nationally and internationally renowned institute, attract and
retain outstanding faculty. What are your plans regarding that?

Dr Rao: Nationally
I think people know MICA, within the country we want to make MICA visible among
multiple stake holders, not just in terms of marketing campaign but just to say
that what we have done and who we are and that is to potential students,
government, educational institutions and faculties who could join us, etc.

For the faculty part of it, we have a faculty recruitment
team whose primary role is to scout both within the country and outside looking
for talent because like everybody else we are also looking for good people,
good people are hard to find.

Internationally, fortunately having spent 23 years in the US
and other places I have quite a few connection with the top schools. So, now
this year we are having five expert professors, professionals who are among the
top 1 per cent all over the world to spend a week with us who are related to
what we do. This will help MICA get more visibility at international platform
for them to get to know about us and for us to know them. So, they will come and
teach they will connect with our research projects; we will do an executive development
programme.

Are you also looking
for tie-ups with other communications schools across the world?

Dr Rao: not
specifically, it is quiet common these days to find specific collaborations;
MICA is also pretty niche as there are not many schools in the world, business school
with communication at the heart of it. If we see some good collaboration we
will definitely look at it.

Our aim right now is to connect specifically to programmes
and universities across all parts of the world that links to us,  we are looking at people in US, UK, Spain,
Argentina, Australia, Thailand, etc who are doing similar kind of work like us ,
trying to find right connections for us.

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