The Game Changer
NIIT Chairman Rajendra Pawar talks about India’s position in the knowledge economy and creating a new model of learning
When he spoke at the inaugural Annual Lecture of NIIT University (NU) in 2009, Chancellor
Dr Karan Singh said “it gives a glimpse of what future educational institutions can be”. At NU, the University of the Future is not just a tagline, it is also a way of life. Founded by Chairman of NIIT Group, Rajendra Pawar, the university based in Neemrana, Rajasthan, offers undergraduate, postgraduate, doctoral and MBA programmes. But more than that it seeks to create students who will lead in what Pawar calls the “Century of the Mind”. These students are trained to develop skills the new millennium needs—creativity, communication, critical thinking and collaboration. In a free-wheeling conversation at his Westend Greens home, Pawar spoke about education for a new kind of world where even as nations harden boundaries, citizens will be more deeply connected to each other. Excerpts from a conversation with
How do we prepare children for the Century of the Mind?
We’ve had two centuries of the machine, in which science and technology (which is the pragmatic implementation of science), has taught humans to manage, exploit and cope with machines. In this era, the curriculum has seen social sciences and humanities give way to subjects that taught how to build and manage machines. In the 21st century, the mind is at the centre.
Where is India in this new world?
We have to marry our traditional knowledge with the benefits of technology. The Indian mind has been colonised and suppressed as many including Pavan Varma and Shashi Tharoor have written before. We were a primarily an oral society so we have lost something but it’s still just under our skin. The self-confidence of the Indian mind has to be raised to the correct level, we have to take risks. Education is about looking for new problems rather than just working on solutions to known problems. With 36 years of NIIT Ltd in over 36 countries having impacted about 36 million learners, we have both skill and scale under our belt. Now we have to cater to a new generation which needs lifelong learning.
How does NIIT University fulfil that?
We have the confidence now to build the role model university and set an example through four Core Principles to become the global benchmark. One, we are industry-linked. Higher education is considered disconnected from the job market. In the seven batches who have graduated from NU so far, 97.3 per cent have placements. Two, we are technology-based, which means that there is extensive use of technology in everything at NU. Three, we are research-based. We have evolved the idea of research into research, discovery and entrepreneurship. Till the 1990’s, Indian higher education was not challenged because of the complacency
“THE PROBLEM IS ONE OF EMPLOYMENT AND NOT EMPLOYABILITY. IN THE ABSENCE OF JOBS EVEN BRIGHT STUDENTS ARE PERCEIVED AS UNEMPLOYABLE.”
that came due to the licence raj. In a competitive market economy, higher education has to deliver exceptional research output. Four, from being a highly fractured and siloed society, we need to become seamless. The concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam—the world is a family. While the industrial era demanded specialisation and siloed learning, education now demands the divergence of knowledge and a broader understanding. That’s why NU is a 24X7 campus where students teach in village schools, plant trees, ensuring seamless less with nature and society. In most programmes we have industry co-creating curriculum, whether it is in cybersecurity or data science or finance and banking.
What about the whole question of 80 per cent of our engineering graduates being unemployable?
That comment is unfair, demeaning and value laden. It is one thing to say that institutions need to improve but another to say engineering graduates are not employable. I will give you a statistic. In 1999, there were 90,000 seats in engineering education in India. In 2017, that number is 1.5 million, and 30 per cent of the capacity is empty. Clearly, there is a demand and supply imbalance because there is grave dearth of jobs for these youngsters. The problem is one of employment and not employability. In the absence of jobs even bright students are perceived as unemployable. There is another aspect to this: two thirds of students are in private higher education institutes and three fourths of institutions are in the private sector, and a large number of poor quality institutions are closing down. The poor quality government institutions however, never close down, perpetuating a steady degradation.
Illustration ANUP RAY