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When industry experts are called into academics to share their knowledge the gesture is widely applauded by all concerned. Not all experts, however, are able to transfer the knowledge to students

Ever since the modern concept of the ‘practical component’ of learning has crept into the higher education system, institutes have been widely advertising their interaction with the industry, experienced members of which lend themselves to classes from time to time. Developing these corporate linkages has become quite crucial for the students’ progress. With these corporate linkages come opportunities to conduct research, which is one of the two pillars of higher education, the other being teaching. Teaching is, no doubt, the basic activity, but research provides a certain depth to the work done in any particular field, and opens doors to new possibilities and learning. For over a decade now, the need for developing essential links between industry and academia has been felt, to add the so-called practical aspect to classroom activity.

For this purpose, what is known as ‘sandwich courses’ were introduced in many programmes,  where students use a whole semester to learn at a local workplace, get on-the job experience of real-life situations. In turn, those from the other side – the corporate sector – get a drift of the prevalent practices in colleges and the products that they are churning out. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of students helps the industry experts to analyse newer requirements. The main focus of any academician is a situation that leads to a stimulating intellectual predicament. Initiatives which lead to better analyses and understanding of a concept become of primary interest. This provides the multidimensionality in research where several options are explored to arrive at a particular solution. Of course, the process takes time, which is not favourable in churning out students year after year, especially students who can get to work from day one, with bare minimum induction at the work place. It is this process of having graduates ‘industry ready’ from day one that has prompted many institutes to work hard to get those with industry experience on their faculty. One assumption that is made, however, is that everyone who has the industry experience has the ability to teach. Simple?

Well, not quite. “Many times, heads of institutions believe that that the years of knowledge gained by someone working in his respective field will automatically benefit the students,” says Pathik Shah, a finance expert who is a visiting faculty for management students. “Since they have the single most important feature required – experience in the real world, no one even thinks of administering ‘test classes’ to checking their ability to transfer knowledge,” he says, giving the example of a very senior human resources professional who was hired by a reputed college to teach management students. “He had 31 years of experience, nothing else mattered. As far as the institute was concerned, he was a goldmine of knowledge,” says Shah. Somewhere in the middle of the semester, when students no longer keep quiet, complaints started to pour in. A majority of them was not able to get a grasp of what this person taught, and if they did, they thought the information was outdated. “In such a situation, the institute thought it best to discontinue his lectures. This led to the problem that such faculty members cannot be made accountable in an empirical way,” says Shah.

There also exists a problem of looking for such personnel who have the experience and also do not mind lending themselves to the colleges for providing industry insights. “Very often, the course coordinators are in a hapless situation, since they cannot fill in the gaps where faculty members are concerned. Thus, they employ anyone who is willing. This policy does not quite help the cause of ‘sifting the best’,” says chartered accountant Manoj Mehta, who teaches accounts in a degree college in suburban Mumbai. He explains that according to the rules of the University of Mumbai, only a professionally qualified and working chartered accountant can be employed by a degree college to teach accounts to the third-year commerce students. Now the colleges are at a loss, since professionally working chartered accountants cannot devote so much time to teach. So the universities have to make do with such teachers whose teaching skills are highly limited. “In fact, if they relieve this rule, I believe that there are many qualified students who have completed their Master’s in Commerce who are equally qualified and could do a better job. At least the colleges would be able to cast their nets wider,” says Mehta.

A journalism student has a thought provoking example. “A very senior media executive was teaching journalism students. He’s a wonderful writer, but in class, he sat on the chair and lectured for two and a half hours straight, in a dull and monotonous tone,” says a student. He did not establish eye contact. It seemed that he was just lecturing to some make-believe people midair, judging by the way his eyes were focussed. In another institute, a person with several years in human resources, run his class with military precision treating the students as his employees. “I couldn’t figure out whether he drew most pleasure out of making rules; or from monotonously taking attendance at the start and end of every lecture, so that he could catch all those who slipped out in the break. I don’t think we learnt much. We only remember his military ways in which he threatened us with giving memos!” says a student. There are many instances, but the hands of the institutes are tied. It’s not easy to find experts to devote time. On the other hand, many such self-confessed experts have made guest lectures another way to make a fast buck. The ideal situation lies somewhere in between.

A senior media person was teaching feature writing to journalism students. This person sat on the chair and lectured for two and a half hours straight. No breaks, no interaction, just pure lecturing!

Volume 1 Issue 9

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