Where are Our Faculty?

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In the late1960’s the distinguished SBI Chairman, Shri. RK Talwar, famously asked “Where is my Branch Manager?” in a board-room meeting.

This set the seniors and the think tank in SBI to start working how to respond to this question. The outcome of these deliberations and heated discussions was the creation of organisational structure of bank branch around the branch manager.

This is the organisational structure, you see whenever you enter a bank, to operate your account.

The time has come, finally, I would say, for all of us to ask this question,

Where are our faculty?

We are asking this question at this point, as there is change in the horizon – that is if you want to keep competing and get a high NIRF rank.

Firstly, why should we ask this question?.

Let us pan across India and observe how the colleges are functioning measured by the yardstick of quality of employable students being churned out. Among many other measurement yardsticks this is most apt and commonly employed one.

You will have realised what I am pointing at. Educational institutions are finding it hard to compete on one hand, and at the same time churn out employable students.

What do colleges lack to train students?

They have physical infrastructure, parents are willing to pay higher fees depending on the branding of the college, Govt. is supporting any and all meaningful initiatives, higher level institutions like IISc, IITs, Universities are accommodating inadequacies, AICTE is lending a helping hand and looking the other way whenever required. But, there is not much too show. The latest NIRF is a clear acceptance by all stake-holders. The drastic dip in points is a clear indicator. Why is it so, after so much work and efforts?

Did you notice which entity is not mentioned?

Faculty.

This is the hard reality.

Parents go the distance to get their wards join colleges where faculty are updated with the latest. In fact, many do not know or remember that students do a department wise analysis before joining colleges. For instance, IIT Mumbai has a strong Electronics department. NIE Mysore, had a strong Mech. Department. Based on this perception merit students choose the college. Essentially, it a competition of branches and not just college alone.

Who makes the departments strong?

HOD? No. It is the faculty. An HOD can manage or cripple a department, but a strong faculty can build it with the HOD’s guidance.

Let us look at the problem from a different perspective.

A college can be broadly looked at as consisting of three components. Management, Administration, and Faculty.

The administration at best can support the initiatives in the college, the management can at best give directions and provide funds, and good managements can recognize positive initiatives, it is the faculty who can add value, in terms of academics, research, strengthen departments and bring in branding.

Another aspect which managements have to consider is the changing role of faculty.

Earlier, faculty had to teach and do research. Now, faculty have options. They can do consultancy while teaching, and preferably in their area of research.

It is much more nuanced than you may think. A discerning mind will agree that more number of faculty can offer consultancy, as compared to the number of faculty who can do serious research. It is something which college managements have to seriously think of. Consultancy can bring in many more benefits and also lead to other collateral benefits.

Let us take a step back and look at the society. Today, society has become aspirational. Everyone wants and deserves a fair chance to grow. Any institution which does not aid this aspirational growth will attract faculty and HODs who will create obstacles to grow and compete. Like the communists in West Bengal. Get the picture?

Colleges have to be seen as institutions which will provide ample opportunities (apart from coursera courses!) to grow as professionals. Essentialy, they have to provide a free and liberal environment to faculty to grow profesionally.

So, what do we have on hand?

Let us take a typical engineering college, with anywhere between 7 to 8 branches. We have around 200 + faculty. Of these 200, most if not all of them will have completed their MTech. Of these 200, some of them will have completed their Ph.Ds., some will be working towards a Ph.D, and mostly the seniors will be Ph.D holders.

So, which tools do managements have?

Many. But, I will discuss one, which can act as a cog to build a consulting, digital branding, and strategy for the college.

Let me introduce, the concept of an “online technical journal”, which is in simple and general terms is called a blog.

I prefer to call it as “My Digital Asset”.

Any new initiative to be implemented and the management will think of the costs and return on investment if any.

An online technical journal (referred to as blog by some) will cost next to nothing for the college. Because, it is created by the faculty and developed by the faculty.

First let us see what does the institution get out of the “My Digital Asset” or “Online Tech Journal” initiative.

200 faculty maintaining and regularly updating their own online blog periodically is an immeasurable online marketing tool for the college. If done properly it can reduce the digital marketing spend! Underline the word periodically. When each of the faculty update their online tech journal weekly, the institution will have created the base for an aggressive online branding and marketing base.

With each faculty focusing on a specific subject say, Agriculture and IoT, Information security in Govt. institutions, the Institution stands to gain immensely. Read again. Each faculty or a group of faculty will become a hub of knowledge points. This forms the basis of thrust areas for the department, setting the stage for excellence.

Institutions should note that there is no expenditure to get this initiative working.

Institution managements should also note that getting faculty to participate gives it an additional metric to assess the performance of the faculty.

Lately, hastened by Corona (Covid-19), Institutions need faculty who can conduct online classes. Institutions need Asst., Associate, and Professors who can effectively conduct online classes and not be confined to classroom teaching. Scrutiny and evaluation of quality of teaching becomes intense as the videos are now exposed to the world, as parents and others also can watch the videos. A faculty who maintains a high quality Tech Journal (My Digital Asset) will be better equipped to conduct online classes. Colleges can use this opportunity to lock the digital content.

Managements of engineering colleges have to look at the paradigm shift happening in the education industry, particularly engineering education. Engineering education has all along demand driven. In the last few years, the scale is rapidly tilting to the other end. Traditional managements are finding it hard to cope up.

Students have multiple choices to get an academic degree. This scale will tilt further, with Corona, and the hastening impact of 5G. Students will have more attractive options and spend lesser money, and study for a shorter period to get a degree which will lead to a job.

If managements do not recognise this massive shift happening, they will be left with redundant faculty whose teaching abilities do not match with the current quality standards nor be able to provide subject specific consultancy. Do a majority of faculty not participate in any open meetings and come out with creative ideas, then it is time to wake up your faculty. Do you take feedback in an open meeting from all faculty? No? Think it over.

In the earlier model, physical infrastructure, was of prime importance.

In the emerging engineering education model, digital knowledge infrastructure is of prime importance as compared to physical infrastructure model.

It is well recognised by most colleges in India that tie-ups with foreign universities is of importance for the college. Many colleges have entered into partnerships. How good are the universities which have tied up with Indian colleges is a question to ponder on. This is where faculty quality and subject specialisation comes into play. If you have subject specialist faculty who can demonstrate their knowledge on a subject (thrust area for the college) with a comprehensive online journal, it is much easier to approach and get into partnerships with respectable foreign universities.

A young HOD of an engineering college told me, he received an email response from a Professor in IIT, saying “you do not do any research or consulting, why should I work with you”. It was very generous of the Prof. to say that and leave it at that. This sums up the status of institution partnerships in India. While, the Govt. expects IITs and IISc to let smaller private colleges collaborate with them, the number of such partnerships are far and few. This is because 2 tier and 3 tier colleges do not have the orientation, subject specialisation nor the drive among its faculty to work with IIT and IISc Professors.

The zero investment, “online tech journal” “My Digital Asset” program will set the ball rolling for institutions to orient themselves to work with premier institutions.

The effort to work with premier institutions is of vital importance for a higher NIRF rank and also, demonstrate to AICTE the SOP being followed for sustained growth of the institution.

Let us now look at the challenges institutions will face to undertake this initiative.

The first challenge will be from the senior faculty. Most senior faculty who are looking at planned quiet retirement will not be very enthusiastic to this initiative. Partly because, they are from an earlier generation, and also because, it means new things to learn.

The second challenge will be from managements and board members who are used to the demand driven engineering education. They may not even comprehend the magnitude of the changes happening and the possibility of redundancy of the traditional teachers engineering colleges.

The third challenge may be from the faculty themselves who are not motivated to succeed.

Managements have to become creative and come out with the incentives and recognition to encourage faculty to create their own “online technical journal”.

In short, managements have to sell the idea of “online tech journal” “My Digital Asset” to the faculty. You will have by now seen why I call this initiative “My Digital Asset”. For the faculty it is “My Digital Asset”, for the management it is the “online presence and marketing tool” for the tech world and partners it is the “online tech journal” and for the common man it is the “blog”.

Most colleges forget faculty are the point of interface between the students and the college. If this line is taken as the guiding principle of the institution, in majority of its decisions, it will be able to compete in the rapidly changed education industry and struggle to compete with education startups such as –

The Govt. of India assisted by NITI Ayog, has recognised this and have started interacting with education startups to monitor the shifts happening.

We can also safely assume that College managements have also recognised that something is happening and are looking at alternative to make use of the physical infrastructure and assets they have built up. I expect some of them to convert to hospitals or sell out to foreign universities as soon the Govt. permits privatisation of education industry. Those who are wise and realise that medical startups are also cropping up, will think twice to convert to hospitals.

The obvious question for the management is how and who will drive the “My Digital Asset” “online tech journal” initiative?

The answer would be someone, who is creative, who has online branding exposure, who is good in web English, and importantly one who knows how technology is moving and works.

Managements also will have to note the following:

  • The “My Digital Asset” is not a blog, it is an “online Tech Journal” of each faculty.
  • It is a ready indicator for the managements and principals to see how each of the faculty is engaging himself – and with each post initiate a creative discussion.
  • Encouraging faculty to maintain a “online tech journal” results in lower attrition among the progressive faculty as the college becomes a platform for personal growth.
  • It sets a collaborative competitive environment, among faculty, which is beneficial for the institutions growth.
  • Smart managements can also use a faculty’s “online tech journal” to engage students.
  • In the second stage of the digital initiative colleges can adopt a comprehensive online branding initiative. I will discuss in detail on how to convert ‘online tech journals’ into powerful marketing and branding tools in a forthcoming article. When done methodically, this will become the envy of other institutions. .
  • Managements can also categorize their faculty as “aspirational”, “proven warriors” and “consumers” and create a suitable program to implement the “digital initiative”.
  • Smart managements can position this initiative as the best faculty development programs.

Standard Structure vs Creativity

Creating a ‘online tech journal’ is a creative exercise. It takes time to build it.

It is not something one does as a ritual and voila you have a journal.

It needs to be well thought and each post is a creative exercise.

A faculty was asking whether a standard structure can be followed to build the asset. If you look around you will see all tech online journal are a creative exercise. Hence, it is not possible to have a standard method to write articles so that one can churn out articles.

Faculty and Startups

Without subject specialist faculty, it is that much harder to get high quality startups.

During the first two years of engineering education, students depend on faculty to guide them to become knowledgeable about engineering profession.

A strong faculty with awareness of what is happening in the industry and who himself or herself has an active interface with industry will contribute immensely to creation of meaningful startups. Otherwise, we will have mostly theory based or innocent startups.

So, how should one go about implementing this initiative?

  • The first step to hold two or three rounds of meetings with the faculty.
  • Get faculty warmed up to the idea of ‘online technical journal’ ‘my digital asset’. Faculty, are very responsive and can relate to the idea of ‘my digital asset’.
  • Understand the general feeling and opinion of the faculty. If the interested number are more than 50 for every 100, it is a responsive team.
  • Conduct lectures on how an “online tech journal’ can boost their contribution to students and institution.
  • Those faculty who are beginning their Ph.D quest stand to gain immensely.
  • Those faculty who are subject experts can be the leaders in the initiative as they will be role models for others.
  • Selecting the subject area is a very important step.
  • A subject area has to be liked by the individual faculty and is important for professional growth.
  • A subject area has to be relatable to companies. For example, if a faculty is interested in machine tools as his area of interest, then there should be atleast 10 companies which are in this area and which are above $100 million in annual sales and have an office in the vicinity.
  • Faculty should be guided to select subject areas in which Govt. is also indirectly or directly interested. For instance, the Govt. may not be directly interested in machine tools but they are interested in arresting and reducing the imports of machine tools. Any effort towards reducing the import bill will interest the Govt. Whereas, the Govt. will be directly interested to participate in Smart Cities thrust areas efforts of an institution.
  • Training has to be imparted on wordpress blogs and their general features
  • Classes on URL name.
  • Classes on Title selection.
  • Classes on About Me page.
  • Classes on Selecting topics for writing articles.
  • Classes on writing for the web.
  • Classes on how to create infographics.
  • Classes on Technical Videos.
  • Classes on connecting with Companies.
  • Classes on connecting with Stakeholders in the Subject area.
  • Classes on involving students.

Balancing Academics and My Digital Asset Initiative

Academics are the bedrock of an institution. Students have to attend classes, apply their minds on theory, understand the basics, learn the laws, principles, proofs, situations, conditions.

And, the primary duty of faculty is to effectively do this.

However, over the years the trend has been that students have many means to go to, listen to and understand a subject. Combined with own effort, mastering a subject has become much more interesting and enriching.

Which means dependence on faculty has become lesser over the years.

Given this situation, faculty have to have additional skills and interface points to become effective teachers.

Subject specialisation, interfacing with industry, interfacing with govt. institutions is of utmost importance today.

Where are our faculty?

The focus of this exercise is to bring the subject specialists faculty of the institution to the forefront. And, create interface points to interact with stakeholders through excellent online training resources, professional practise, student outcomes, and peer perception.

Every institution needs to and should want to raise surplus resources to stay competitive.

The question is how should it go about doing it?

The fundamental point and starting point is to appreciate and accept that the world is changing fast. Demand driven admission is no longer a given. An institution has to work hard to get meritorious admissions. For that to happen, impressive physical infrastructure is not the only thing, even though it counts.

More important is the knowledge infrastructure.

Think about it. Physical infrastructure is good, but can it get you placements for students?

Whereas knowledge infrastructure can guarantee placements, in fact, if well executed students should be spoiled for choice.

If an institution wants to compete with other institutions based on knowledge infrastructure, and get a top NIRF rank, then faculty are the resources to be nurtured, developed, and made the interface points.

And, the digital software driven low cost, high return way is the best way.

Imagine 200 engineering faculty of your college putting tech digital step forward.

Pl Note: After implementing this initiative, do contact me – I will help you to implement the branding stage of this initiative.

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