20 Apr 2021 17:50 IST

At BMU, we have a strong focus on experiential, interdisciplinary learning

Akshay Munjal, President, BML Munjal University

Akshay Munjal of the Hero group on what makes the young university founded by the group unique

Akshay Munjal is the President, BML Munjal University. An MBA from Pepperdine University, USA and a graduate in BSc (Hon) in Management from the University of Bradford, UK, Akshay Munjal joined the Hero Group in 2006. As a member of the Hero group family, he is the driving force behind this higher education initiative.

Prior to his MBA, Munjal worked at Hero MindMine and Easy Bill Ltd., both Hero Group companies. He has also worked with companies such as Accenture, Nestle and American Honda Motors. In this interview, Munjal talks about what makes BMU unique, the courses it offers and also about his new venture, Hero Vired to offer training to youth in the new age courses and skills that industry requires. Excerpts from an interview:

There are several universities around the NCR region. What makes BML Munjal University stand apart? How are you different from the other universities?

We are a large, comprehensive university, where along the lines of medical universities, a student can pick up credits from any school. So currently, we have management, engineering, law, liberal arts, and a large percentage of our students end up taking 25 per cent of the credits from different schools.

Second, we have a strong focus on experiential and interdisciplinary learning. In BMU, we believe the best form of learning happens when people work with their hands. Now, that was a bit of a challenge with Covid happening. So that's something we invested heavily to create online labs and online simulation that will replicate what somebody would have done physically.

What is your new Venture Vired about?

Hero Vired is essentially the combination of two words: Virtual and Education. We want to really reimagine education. Unfortunately for India, the bulk of our students are sitting in tier three or four institutions. That's the problem we want to tackle and provide people with a real alternative. And the second thing we want to do is provide working professionals with the skills required to help them get into new careers or progress. So we are looking at really how to blur the boundaries. On the one hand, we have traditional universities and on the other, we have online players. I think the future has to be picking the best of both.

What we did two years ago was we started mapping out what the skill gaps in the industry are. What does the industry want today? And what the industry sees as key gaps three to five years down the line. We took that as a base, we did a lot of primary research. And we reached a set of skills that the industry is desperately looking for today.

The industry-relevant launch offerings of Hero Vired will range from certificate programmes in finance-related technologies, integrated programmes in data science, machine learning artificial intelligence, full-stack development, game design, and entrepreneurial thinking and innovation. Future programmes will cut across domains such as design, electronics, leadership, health management and emerging technologies.

Will the skills be industry-specific or across various industries?

It will cut across FMCG and BFSI, manufacturing, healthcare, pharma. We looked at the employment scenario and what the industry wants. What are they willing to pay a premium for? So, we identified a set of skills and we looked globally and said who is the best in these five? And so we partnered with MIT, Singularity University and Codecademy to bring in the content and faculty from these institutions and not just Indian faculty. The online space gives us the ability to bring in the best faculty wherever they are, irrespective of geographies and then teach it in an Indian context.

In BMU you have tied up with Imperial College and the University of Warwick, Canada. So what do these tie-ups bring to the table for you?

I think they bring a lot. Imperial has been a real anchor for us. They partnered with us two years before the university started in August 2014. They helped define a curriculum from scratch, what we teach how we teach, who teaches it. The Warwick programme allows people to make their own degrees. It is really modular and scalable. Our students can go there to do three courses, they get recognition, they do six, they get a certificate, they do nine, they get a diploma, they do twelve they get a degree from there, and they can do this over five years. And they can pick and choose any of these courses.

Given the fact that the NCR region has become a huge magnet for education, are you getting the right quality of students to study at BMU?

We were surprised that 50 per cent of our students in BMU were not from the north. We have a large number of students coming from the west and south of India. And learning outcomes, if I look at our placement data, every year we've been building on that. Last year, our School of Management was ranked number 37 by NIRF and we're going to be joint 10th in private schools in India, equal to IMT Ghaziabad. And we are keeping our fingers crossed that hopefully, this year will be even better than that. That's just a bit of testimony of what we have been able to achieve. We were the youngest entrant there. We started in 2014 and in 2020 we were ranked.

What about placements? How have you fared?

This year placements have been very interesting. While we've seen engineering placement really shoot up, because of a big demand for coding, management placements have sort of plateaued. Otherwise, our management placements or average was sitting at upwards of ₹ 8.5 lakh annual package. Today, our BTech is at ₹6-6.5 lakh as a starting compensation package which we are quite pleased with as it is higher than a lot of the newer IITs.

What are the new, unique courses on offer at BMU?

At BMU, especially for our engineering, we are offering what is called dual degrees besides offering multiple specialisations. So right from AI to autonomous vehicles, there’s a whole list of new-age courses. Similarly, for MBA, there's innovation, entrepreneurship, family business; we have to be in sync with what industry wants today and what industry will also need after five years. So every year we keep tweaking programmes.

What are the industry connections that you have?

We have 250 tie-ups in BMU. And we follow the concept of Practice School, which is a really supervised internship. But what we did was we took it a step forward; we have three practice schools for BTech. By the end of the first year, you go to and work in the industry for two weeks, where students are just shown a range of industries. At the end of the second year, they go for eight weeks, and between the sixth or seventh semester, they go for a complete semester for 16 weeks. So these are supervised. The industry and a faculty member grades the students on their internship.

Are you able to get good faculty for your courses?

I think faculty challenges exist across the world. I keep telling people, the best profession today is to be a faculty member. Private universities are a young phenomenon. Before that, you had to be deemed-to-be or you took affiliation. There's a lot of mismatch between demand-supply for faculty. Earlier, most people who went on to become faculty members were the ones who didn't succeed in the industry. It was a fraction of the people who were passionate about teaching. Because the resources and money were just not there. But today we are seeing that rapidly change and we’re lucky to have some top-notch faculty.

The funding for BMU is entirely by the Hero group?

It's a not-for-profit university and is named after my grandfather. So we take that very seriously. We want to truly run it as a not-for-profit in the true sense. Any surplus generated goes back into the university.

So are you generating surpluses?

No. And I don't think we will generate surplus for many, many more years. I think the model of higher education — if you want to do high-quality research, and you want to boost learning outcomes — it's a very, very long term, slow process. That's why you have large endowments.

A broader question about legacies. There have been been a spate of private universities where the universities are given the names of the founders like you have; then there’s Jindal, Azim Premji, Singhania, Shiv Nadar or Thapar. So, is it a new trend that you're seeing of industrialists wanting to leave behind a legacy in education?

I think there are many ways of leaving a legacy. Most people who have been fortunate find that is a way of nation-building. You can leave a legacy by setting up a hospital; you can do many things to leave a legacy. I don't know about others, but I can talk about my grandfather and our family's thinking. My grandfather came as a refugee from Pakistan during the partition. So he had a very strong desire that we have to build India. Hero Cycles was set up in 1956, but the first charitable initiative they did was in the early 1960s when Hero Cycles was barely standing on its feet, they set up a medical college, which today is one of North India's largest hospital and medical colleges. And they continue this trend. And my grandfather used to strongly believe that if you want to make a difference to the nation, you got to train and educate the young generation. And then there is no better investment one can make than which is in the future of a young generation.