Education Insider

Let Indian universities have the freedom to focus on excellence

📄  01-October-2013     👤 Lakshmi Narayanan
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A developing country like India could follow the policies implemented by the USA, the most revered superpower, to mark a remarkable change in its existing educational system. Both countries have a large number of universities, especially management institutions and with well-established academicians. Even then, American universities are there in the list of top world-class universities with their academic and non-academic performance, but not even a single Indian university could find a place in the list over the last many years.
What prevents the Indian universities from being world’s top-notch universities? What is the hurdle before the Indian education system? What should be the focus of the Indian academic institutions? Can India be competent for the US in management education and entrepreneurship? What should we need to learn from the USA? Questions are many.
Soumitra Dutta, an Indian American thinker, education expert, management specialist and an entrepreneur, who at present is Dean of Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, the USA, is the right person to answer these queries, with over two decades of experience in both the Indian and American education sectors. An alumnusof IIT Delhi, Dutta was the Roland Berger chaired professor of Business and Technology at the most prestgious business school INSEAD.
Education Insider interviewed Soumitra Dutta recently. Excerpts:

By Lakshmi Narayanan

You have completed one and a half year as Dean of Cornell University business school. How do you evaluate your experience as Dean?

It has been an exhilarating experience. Cornell is a world-class university and it has been a pleasure to work with its leadership and talented faculty, students and staff. Johnson is a leading global business school and it has embarked on many innovative projects, including the Cornell Tech project in New York City.

How do you evaluate the approach of the Indian and the US people towards academicians?

Elite academic institutions such as Cornell enjoy a special status in the USA. The faculty of such prestigious institutions is not only world-class researchers but is also actively involved with the government and the private sector. These relationships are very fruitful and rewarding for all players and lead to a stronger ecosystem of innovation and leadership. In India, we could benefit from more of such interactions.

You are a Dean, an author and an entrepreneur. Which position gives you more satisfaction, and why?

Well, this is like asking which of your children is your favorite one! Not an easy answer – all roles are both rewarding and challenging. Each of them also has its place in one’s career. Now, as Dean, my energies are certainly focused on leading Johnson, but I also try to spend some time on research and working with startups.

Could you comment on the need of improving innovative performances on campuses?

Education is on a tipping point of disruptive change. Technology is one of the key drivers for this change, but the need to provide quality education to many thousands of young people is also an important factor requiring innovations in the business models of schools and universities. Business as usual is no longer an option for the education sector.

How we can associate such practices with curriculum?

We need to become more agile and flexible with curriculum development. Knowledge in the world is evolving at a fast pace. I do not think that we are very good at keeping pace with this change in our classrooms. It is not just the textbooks that we use but also the knowledge that our teachers and professors bring to the classroom. The way young people learn is also changing with the ubiquitous presence of technology. Teachers need to change the way they teach.

Being the Dean of Cornell University business school, how do you evaluate the business education in your home country and the US?


Business education in the US is certainly leading in multiple respects – quality of research, diversity of faculty, quality of student, infrastructure for schools, relationships with the private sector, etc. Leading business schools in the US are centers of excellence, which stand as models for similar schools in other countries, including India. While, we have some excellent business schools in India, we need to create more original research in India and increase the global diversity in the faculty and student body of the Indian business schools.

Do you think that India can be a challenging country for business and management education? If so, why?

India is a great country for business and management education as it provides a fertile ground for experimentation and innovation. There are many problems to be solved in the Indian context and these problems usually require different solutions as compared to the Western environments. These solutions are more easily transferred to other emerging markets also. We need to get our business schools and business faculty focused on developing this uniqueness further.

What are the major opportunities and challenges before the Indian universities?

As I said before, the Indian universities need to focus more on research and knowledge creation. The Indian education sector can provide leadership in unique solutions for the emerging world – such as the concept of innovation at the bottom of the pyramid. The US universities also need to broaden their vision to include India and other emerging markets in their field of research and study. Most of the growth in the world today is happening in emerging markets, and the US universities need to become relevant for these markets also.

What the government should do to lift the Indian universities to global level?

I would say, focus on quality without creating too many layers of control. Freedom to focus on excellence is one of the hallmarks of excellence in American academia. In India, many private schools and universities exist, but, in many cases, they are not focused enough on quality and excellence. The involvement of alumni in the governance of the school is also a strong point of the American universities where alumni take an active role in supporting and making the university better over time. We need to see more of this in India.

What motivated you to start your entrepreneurial venture Fisheye Analysis?

I always like to put some of my ideas into practice. I was researching social media and I felt that there was a niche for helping put some of my ideas into practice. Hence Fisheye Analytics was born to focus on helping companies and organisations make sense of social media data.

What is your opinion on the relevance and quality of research activities in the Indian universities?


The Indian universities have great potential – the quality of human talent is very high. However, they need to focus more on research and creating unique knowledge. The Indian universities need to compete for global talent and create their own name in the production and dissemination of knowledge that can help make the world a better place.

What is better for quality higher education: education under government sector, public sector, or PPP?

Quality education needs strong partnerships across the private and public sectors. However, excellent universities also need independence to thrive and excel. The challenge is for the government to support but not stifle academic excellence.

Soumitra Dutta

Soumitra Dutta is an Indian-born American management expert, and a professor of business and technology and founder and faculty director of a new-media and technology innovation lab at INSEAD’s French campus. He is an alumnus of IIT–Delhi, with B Tech in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He has secured the second rank.

Soumitra Dutta is the first Indian-born Dean to serve a top-notch American business school. He is the eleventh Dean of the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.

Soumitra was born in Chandigarh as the son of an Indian Air Force doctor. At the age of 26, he moved to Fontainebleau, an hour and a half from Paris, as an assistant professor at INSEAD. The management prodigy has served as a visiting professor in the Haas School of Business at Berkeley, Oxford Internet Institute at University of Oxford, and Judge School at University of Cambridge in England.

He has lived and worked in the US, Europe and Asia, including stints as an engineer with GE in the US and Schlumberger in Japan. He has authored many books on management, including Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work and World, and Innovating at the Top: How Global CEOs Drive Innovation for Growth and Profit.

At present, Dutta is actively involved in the policy development at national and European levels and working as a member of the Advisory Committee for ICT for the Government of Qatar.

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