|ET: You have led a rich life and have received accolades galore for your academic excellence as a student, professor and for significant public service. Please tell us why you characterise your life story as 'An Accidental Scholar'?
I characterize my life story as an “Accidental Scholar” because I was supposed to be a shopkeeper in a family business and due to coincidences in life, I ended up as a scholar. Of course, according to the Hindu philosophy, nothing is accidental: everything is pre-destined based on your Karma and Dharma. It is just that you don’t know where your life will end up at a point in time. In any case, it is the best thing that ever happened. There is no other profession as noble as an educator.
ET: You have mentioned that senior professors in the academic world have three aspects in their job: knowledge disseminator as a Teacher, generating new knowledge as a Researcher, and raising funds for their institution as a Lead Fundraiser. In which aspect do Indian educators lack most and why?
JS: Indian educators are excellent knowledge disseminators. They teach with passion mostly from textbooks (mostly from localized editions of foreign textbooks).
Indian educators, however, do generate new knowledge by writing Indian cases or conducting surveys of companies operating in India. What is needed, however, is generating scientific knowledge and publishing in top tier academic, peer reviewed journals, especially in foreign countries.
Finally, Indian educators do significant public service but it is limited to their own academic institutions. These include recruiting students, organizing student clubs and acting as faculty advisors to student competitions across management institutes on a regional or national level. It also includes hosting conferences in different disciplines of management at their own institutions. For example, IIM Ahmedabad hosts an international conference on marketing for emerging markets every two years. Similarly, legendary Professor Anil Gupta leads grass root innovations on a national level.
Fund raising for their own research or for the institution is at a nascent stage. It is presumed to be the responsibility of the office of the Director and not individual faculty members. This is the reality at management institutes. However, in engineering, science and medicine institutions, the faculty competes for external research grants and therefore, is actively engaged in funded research.
I think Indian educators must get actively involved in academic societies outside India.
ET: What are the disruptive trends you see in the field of Education? How can the corporate world prepare for and accommodate these disruptions?
JS: There are three biggest disruptive trends in education in general and management education in particular. First, how digital technology will make education more affordable and accessible. The recent growth of MOOCS (Massive Online Open Courses) such as Coursera is changing the paradigm of traditional classroom teaching which are location and time centric. Furthermore, it is not scalable. It is amazing to see how an excellent professor in music can reach from 15 to 20 students per semester in the classroom to thousands of students on a worldwide basis on Coursera.
The second major disruptor is the regulatory policy with respect to education. The traditional bodies such as University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) are increasingly replaced by accreditation bodies, such as AACSB International and Equis for management education.
The third major disruptor is non-traditional competition and specifically from corporate universities. For example, Manipal ICICI Institute has already trained more than 40,000 managers in one decade and are likely to scale up to 10,000 new manager students per year. Their curriculum is more skill based (how to) and context based (financial services and risk management) as compared to theory based (why) across all industries.
I think academic institutions have not fully realized the scale with which corporate universities are likely to grow.
The employability gap of graduate students is a critical issue and it will be more likely filled by industry and not the academic institutions. For example, WIPRO trains 10,000 college teachers every year in IT skills so that they can train their students and make them more employable. Similarly, Infosys has the world’s largest learning center in Mysore which is far better equipped than most universities and colleges in the areas of technical and leadership training.
ET: As a futurist and commentator one of your submissions is that China and India should collaborate better both for mutual gain and also for international stability. However, China's militaristic ambitions have unnerved its neighbouring states. What makes you confident that the Chinese Dragon and the Indian Elephant can coexist?
JS: I think the Chinese Dragon and the Indian Elephant have no choice but to cooperate and mutually engage with each other in economic, diplomatic and security areas. It is unthinkable for China to go to war with India and vice versa. At the same time, it is in the self-interest of Chinese enterprises, most of which are State owned, to trade and/or invest in India, to become truly global enterprises and compete with Japanese, Korean, German or American multinationals.
India is too big a market to ignore especially in cell phones, appliances, motorcycles, automobiles, steel, cement, airlines or anything else.
The same is true for Indian multinationals. They need to participate in the Chinese economy. This includes Mahindra & Mahindra in the tractor business or Aditya Birla Group in the carbon black or aluminium business and the Tata Group in tea, steel, telecom to IT services businesses.
Mutual interdependence between China and India is also the reality in global issues such as climate, health care and economic development. I am also of the opinion that India and China must learn to co-exist militarily. While there are border disputes and unresolved boundaries, it does not negate the need to cooperate with each other militarily. This is today’s reality of NATO nations with Russia.
Trade and investment between China and India is a more realistic antidote to military confrontation. In fact, today’s diplomats have to increasingly become trade ambassadors between the two nations.
ET: Your career has covered not just geographies (US, Europe, Singapore, India, etc.) but also multiple fields (Strategy, Marketing, Consumer behaviour, Accounting, etc.), apart from philanthropy (Sheth Foundation, etc.). What are the unfulfilled tasks in your rich life?
JS: Learning is a lifelong, never ending journey. There is no destination in learning which says I have arrived at that place. And the Indian tradition even advocates that learning transcends mortality; and that it takes multiple avatars (birth and rebirth) to attain external truth. Therefore, all you can do is to have milestones of life’s journey in creating new knowledge to attain wisdom and understanding.
In all honesty, I have not thought of any specific unfulfilled tasks both in my personal and professional life. To that extent, my life will continue to be an Accidental Development.
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