MYRA School Of Business: Interview with Founder & Chairperson – Dr. Shalini Urs

1.What inspired you to start a B-School?

Primarily for two reasons. First, my belief in the power of education. And second, I had the necessary capabilities. For me, education is a means to an end and an end in itself. Education is an instrument of positive change for personal and societal goals. A truly educated person is empowered to find his/her path to development. Coming from an educated family, I was educated in the broadest sense of the term and the philosophy of development – “teach fishing than feed fish.” Second my expertise, experience, and exposure in the field of education including institution building and management had prepared me to start. Having been in the academia for four decades with global exposure and international linkages, I was equipped and had the competency along with the required depth and breadth to venture into educational entrepreneurship.

MYRA was founded in 2010 by me given my erstwhile experience as Executive Director, International School of Information Management and Prof. D. Shrijay Devaraj Urs, Institute of Development Studies, and former Registrar of the University of Mysore. The core of MYRA’s vision is to prepare students to unravel the hidden markets of world out there with right interplay of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity and to lead decisively in asymmetric scenarios, with an eye on the Triple Bottom Line, so as to create lasting economic, environmental and social value. MYRA stands uniquely apart in two aspects viz., internationally renowned teaching faculty with cutting-edge research and unique immersion-learning model — a winning combination which ensures our students are future ready.  MYRA’s full-time faculty not only has PhDs from institutions such as Stanford, Pennsylvania State University, Rensselaer Polytechnic, IIM (Bangalore, Calcutta, and Kozhikode) but also has a knack of enlivening the classroom. Access to the best teaching minds hailing from Arizona State University; University of Pittsburgh; University of Texas; Cornell University; University of Washington-Bothell; Wharton; London School of Economics & Political Science; University of Cambridge; Católica Lisbon School of Business, Portugal brings academic rigour, original ideas and a penchant for scholarly research. Our cutting edge curriculum offers a solid foundation in Finance and Accounting; Marketing; Supply Chain Management; Strategy; and Analytics and Information Systems. All courses are interwoven with ‘Analytics,’ given the algorithmic times. MYRA currently offers a range of graduate business education programs such as— the two-year AICTE recognized Post Graduate Program in

Management (PGDM), the one year Post Graduate Program for Executives (PGPX) and the Global MBA program in partnership with Dalhousie University, Canada. MYRA also plans to launch its weekend only Executive MBA program in an exclusive association with a leading US business school targeting the senior leadership of corporate India.

2.Having taught in the US as well as India, what is the major difference between the students in India & abroad?

The difference between teaching in India and abroad is significant regarding both mindset and expectations of students and faculty. Students abroad are self-motivated, driven and disciplined. They are in charge of their lives including leveraging their time on the campus. Whereas in India our students are not brought up that way, and usually they expect to be spoon-fed and expect everything to be directed and tutored and come with a sense of entitlement.

Students abroad understand that learning is a two-way process and not just a teacher-driven process. Somehow in India, it is still the old model of passive absorption of information and not an interactive mode. In other countries, students come well prepared for the class infact sometimes better than faculty and they ask tough questions which pushes the teacher to be one step ahead of students. In India, students usually do not come prepared to class and they believe it’s only teachers’ job to be prepared, and because they don’t come prepared the learning is limited.

India has consistently ranked low in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), conducted annually to evaluate education systems worldwide by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) Secretariat. This low rank is reflected in students who come in for higher education. It is evident that,

both generic skills—such as critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, as well as specialized skills such economics skills and engineering skills, which focuses on how students apply concepts to solve real-world problems, and the connections to professional practice are very weak amongst our students despite the high scores in the qualifying examinations.

The overall academic rigor is missing here in India. By the time students enter universities in other parts of the world, they are familiar with the learning processes of reading, and classroom participation. Critical thinking, project work, writing, and such foundational aspects are inculcated by the time they come for post-graduation. Whereas our students, even though are bright and smart, do not have those strong foundations. For example, term papers and such independent academic work starts from high school level in the US, whereas in India students are not used to independent thinking and academic work culture. Just to quote an example, in my experience of 40 years, I have noticed that our students are not even familiar with academic writing formats and citation styles.

The other difference is in the placement process, a business school provides the career services and placement opportunities, and it is for the students to leverage the same to grab the jobs. Whereas in India, students expect the jobs to be offered as against job opportunities being brought to them by the institutions.

3.Concerning the standing of Indian management institutes in the global scenario, what factors can make a management institute in India at par with the best in the world?

I believe we have a long way to go. Two important factors/components that make a great educational institute are the faculty and students. Excellent professors attract great students, and great students sustain exceptional faculty—that is the simple rule.

The issue of lack of preparedness of our students affects the whole eco-system. Indian educational institutes lag behind because of the quality of students. Because our undergrad education is weak in academic rigor, our postgraduate education including research is affected, and the eco-system needs strengthening. Our society is examination oriented, even the top ranking students lack reading habits and do not put on the thinking hats. We need to get them used to ‘question the status quo’ attitude. What they bring to the table is very narrow, and I attribute it to the lack of reading habits and also the underdeveloped ‘thinking’ trait. I guess we need to introduce logic, discourse and philosophy courses in the undergraduate education. Whether management education or any other professional or academic disciplines, the purpose

of higher education is broader – to inculcate the traits of observation, the spirit of questioning, the methods of investigation, the process of planning and execution, the art of argument, and the ability to solve problems.

I guess our students are to be inculcated the axiom of French philosopher Descartes: “I Think Therefore I Am.”

The other factor that can help India get closer to top management schools in the world is the quality of faculty. It is important for us to focus on the high calibre of our faculty. Faculty in higher educational institutes bring that unique blend of top class teaching and research to the classrooms.

The ability to articulate, deliver and execute world class research which stands the test of time regarding its ‘originality’ and ‘uniqueness’ will ensure the growing reputation of Indian management institutes. We are already seeing this change given the increasing interest of doctoral students at the ISB and the IIMs. As a business school, we respect this trend, and we even have instituted a Ph.D. program which is offered in association with the University of Mysore.

4.What are the three most significant challenges you see in your role today?

I call the three challenges as – the “lemons problem”; the “escape velocity” problem, and the “continuity in change” problem.

  • The lemons problem – proposed and popularized by Nobel Prize winning economist George Akerlof. In a 1970 paper, entitled ‘The Market for “Lemons”: Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism’ Akerlof describes how the existence of goods of many grades poses interesting and relevant problems for the theory of markets. Given the quality uncertainties in the education scenario, people inevitably end up mistrusting your intent and passion. It’s hard to believe that sincere educationists would invest their hard earned money in an educational institution to make a difference. We could overcome this problem through dedication, commitment, and transparency and do our best to convince that we are in this NOT for short-term gains or profits but long term vision delivery. And I guess my exemplary record of academic service helped and will continue to help.
  • The escape velocity problem– ‘escape velocity’ is a fancy way of saying in certain circumstances, an entity—a person, organization, or economy can be held back by certain downward pressures. Though a concept from physics, the term ‘escape velocity’ is used in a variety of contexts including poverty alleviation as in this much-cited paper by Harvard Professor of Economics Lawrence F Katz titled, “Achieving Escape Velocity: Neighbourhood and School Interventions to Reduce Persistent Inequality.” In essence, it means that there is a need for one to grow at a sufficiently fast rate to escape downward pulls. A new entrant faces the challenges of growing at a rate fast enough to overcome escape velocity problem. We at MYRA believe that fast and steady growth will help reach escape velocity. Our model of growth is not in huge numbers of students but the diversity of programs. We add one new program every year—for example, we have added our global MBA program in association with Rowe School of Business, Dalhousie University in Canada this year. Our steadfast commitment to excellence is one thing that differentiates and helps.
  • The ‘continuity in change’ problem – pervade all aspects of life including the millennia-old educational institutions. In an ever changing dynamic world of business and society, every system needs to embrace change and be innovative but at the same time ensure old things are continued. The challenge is to introduce new subjects, curriculum, and pedagogy but maintain continuity. This challenge naturally results in the problem of not only balancing tradition and modernity but optimality. We at MYRA are innovative without losing track of enduring components of the curricula and pedagogy of business education. These are things that you build over time – given the tireless service my team is charged and expected to do i.e. deliver top of the line management education in service to the nation. Second, business schooling is serious business given the multiple stakeholders you are accountable for. Given the capacity expansion that MYRA has rolled out in terms of its soft and hard infrastructure reflects that we are in the business of building lasting institutions. Needless to add building institutions that outlive individuals also require an ability to predict the future. MYRA is perfectly poised to do that given the global pool of advisors and educationists who also act as our ‘clairvoyant.’ In fact, our student outreach now has been re-positioned as Master class where we expose our biggest strengths i.e. our globally benchmarked faculty team and avant-garde themes like ‘Big Data, IoT, AI and the futuristic MBA.’

5.Will you be mentoring any research/start-up idea of your students?

Surely that is the agenda going ahead. We have established two Centres of Excellence. One is the CESBI (Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Business Innovation), the second one is CEDABI (Centre of Excellence in Data Analytics and Business Insights). These centres are the harbingers of such start-ups. We have one mandatory course on “Entrepreneurship” taught by Dr. Shailendra Vyakaram, Director of the Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship at Cranfield University, UK. We would want our students to be creators, not mere consumers. We pride on the fact that MYRA alums have gone ahead and are now conducting research at ISB, scaling up their family businesses and also incubated successful start-ups. Mentoring our students to such challenging career decision is an instituted actionable in our unique pedagogy and curriculum.

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