14 Jan 2016 19:43 IST

‘We have the appetite for risk and experimentation’

Welingkar director Uday Salunkhe explains the importance of industry-academia interaction

In the field of education, very few players address the challenges or pain-points that exist in the marketplace, says Uday Salunkhe, Group Director, Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research.

He adds that the institution has an appetite for risk and experimentation, which has worked in their favour time and again, especially when it came to solving issues in marketplace. Welingkar recently won the AICTE-CII award for best industry-linked management institute. Salunkhe spoke to BLonCampus about the relevance of the award and how the institute stands apart from other business schools.

Welingkar recently won the AICTE-CII award for best industry-linked management institute. How important is this recognition?

When a forum such as the AICTE-CII acknowledges something as important as academia-industry interaction, it encourages other institutions to take on new challenges and experiences. And when you share this news with industry players, they too develop the confidence that their contribution is being acknowledged and appreciated. Otherwise, there is no recognition given to such institutions, especially when it comes to self-financed ones.

It reaffirms our belief that ‘we’ is the new ‘I’ because you cannot achieve much alone. It’s not just placements we think of when we talk about industry interaction. It can include projects, research, designing the curriculum and making classrooms contemporary.

How has Welingkar changed to become a contemporary brand among B-schools?

Branding is a consequence of the things you do and, in our case, we have been quite an experiment-driven institution.

Even if you go back 15 years, we were the first ones to launch an e-business management programme in 2001. In 2002, we started India’s first programme in retail and management. In fact, Kishore Biyani and others partnered with us in 2005. Similarly, our design and innovation programme, that began back in 2006, is being spoken about widely now.

So, you can see that we have an appetite for risk and experimentation, which we take forward with the help of our faculty and partner institutions across the world. It has proven right for us time and again. In education, you will rarely find people who take on the challenges or pain-points in the market place.

After the global financial crisis, we saw that students were not being made to realise that their private actions — as an institution, a company or an individual — will have public consequences. So, in Welingkar, post the crisis, we started focusing on knowledge acquisition. Not in the classroom alone, but in the marketplace as well. We changed the learning setting to sea, nature, forests and theatre. We re-defined the ways teaching and learning can happen in a classroom.

The second aspect we concentrated on was application of knowledge.

Now, the knowledge application is linked closely with the employability issue. For us, education is what you remember after you have forgotten what you have memorised. Typically, there’s retention only because there is application. And we bring that aspect to the table quite a bit. We also give students enough time for self-study because they need to understand topics on their own terms, with adequate introspection.

The third aspect we focus on, after acquisition and application of knowledge, is assimilation.

The way we see it, governance and ethics are extremely important in the marketplace but are missing. If you look at the reasons for the global financial crisis, one important factor was lack of trust — trust in one another and maybe even among different stakeholders.

It is a very challenging and uphill task, but we started focusing on that as well. And that’s why we recently started a programme with excellence enablers on the governance side.

With this, we are trying to sensitise students to these concepts. Our initiative, called Global Citizen Leader (started four years ago), states that, apart from working in a corporate environment, the students need to think as a citizen leader as well. They need to understand that it’s not just the top and bottom line, but lifeline of the people along with you that is important.

Is there a good mix of geographical and gender diversity among your students?

Students come to us from across the country. Only, the number of applications is fewer from the Eastern part of India — about 10-15 per cent — which we are trying to increase. Otherwise, we get students from all over the country.

Coming to gender diversity, in Welingkar, the percentage of women students is about 50-52. If we look at the staff, the percentage of women is around 65-70 per cent. In the students’ council, it is compulsory to have a mix of both at the top level — if the GSec is a man, the Deputy GSec has to be a woman, and vice-versa. So, we try to keep a balance, especially when it comes to leadership.

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