In this exclusive interview with Mr Allwin Agnel – the Founder and CEO of PaGaLGuY, Dr Subhajyoti Ray, Director, IMT Dubai, talks about his experience in academia, effect of pandemic on education and the prospects in the field.
You started your career with the prestigious RBI. What motivated your shift from the public to the private sector and from finance to education? How would you describe your journey in becoming the Dean of a top B-school?
I joined RBI in the research track. The profile involved data analysis for producing macroeconomic reviews and reports. Many colleagues who were PhDs triggered my interest in exploring the world of education.
A series of fortunate events snowballed into making my career in academics. Once I enrolled in IIM-A, five years as a student with teaching stints in between set me thinking about plunging knee-deep into the education sector as a career option.A welcoming mail from XIMB kindled my interest further into exploring my role in the education sector.
Even though the transition from finance to education did not make monetary sense, I derived much satisfaction from work and my role in academics. I have no regrets about the change what so ever.
You took over as Director at IMT Dubai at a critical time in September 2020 when the COVID crisis was at its peak. What have been your priorities since you took over, and what specific challenges did you?
IMT Dubai is a cohesive group of faculty group and non-academic staff where each member gives their best. It was fairly easy to address the challenges of the pandemic because of the commitment of each and every employee.
To run the institute in a way that does not reduce the quality of student experience we took some initiatives. We invested in a sophisticated LMS to ensure smooth functioning of academic systems.
We took a flexible approach to working, giving priority to safety of all concerned. We continued operations by letting people work from home. We focused on providing compassion and caring for all concerned – whether a student, faculty, or staff.
Next, we got Harvard and AASCSB to train our faculty on delivering in an E-learning platform.
It is not easy for students to maintain interest in a program when they sit in front of the computer all day. Nevertheless, we have kept students both engaged and excited to learn in the virtual classroom.
Keeping people engaged and happy has worked quite well at IMT, Dubai.
I reviewed the semester-wise student feedback to check for significant shifts. The statistics tell the story – things are stable, there has not been any significant shift, and the students are satisfied with our E-learning initiatives.
What are the USPs of your programs at IMT Dubai, and why should one consider you above its competitors?
USP number one is undoubtedly the faculty at IMT Dubai. We have recruited faculty from good universities in Purdue, and Texas, besides IIMs and IITs. That comprises about 90% of the IMT Dubai faculty.
The second USP is the location. I think the DNA of UAE and Dubai is a spirit of exploration, entrepreneurship, and innovation. This DNA has percolated in the way we work.
We do many innovative things, deal with very unorthodox ways, and have not taken the beaten track.
The Dubai Expo will take place a couple of months from now. Here, students get a fantastic opportunity to intern with organizers. Several interns volunteer to run the show, which runs for months.
The third USP is the team, which takes care and works towards the success of the students. The academic staff and the non-academic staff consist of people committed to students’ welfare.
The scenic and compact campus at IMT Dubai helps students to have a good student life here. The student has opportunities to try out many things, play, have fun, and learn from top quality faculty.
The faculty, the flexible and innovative approach without compromising on quality, the support in infrastructure, and other non-academic services add to enhancing the students’ experience at IMT Dubai.
What efforts have you taken to inculcate the entrepreneurship mindset in your students? How do you see them shaping in the future?
Entrepreneurship has been on the card in my seven to eight months journey here. We have tied up with the top venture fund of UAE. The tie-up will our students to think about entrepreneurship in a very real and practical way. They will benefit from easier access to funds and expertise.
What sets your institute apart from your Indian counterparts (IMTs)?
The IMT value alignment is present in all the institutes. However, the context is quite different, and so are the programs. One must view the institutes separately – as the context determines the way things work.
We offer a unique undergraduate program, which other IMT institutes do not have. We also provide an evening MBA program for executives with two years of experience.
While the program is ideal for working executives, it works pretty well for non-working students as well. The students work as interns from morning to 4 PM through the program’s tenure (one year). They take classes in the evening, five days a week.
Our location in a multicultural society, with a diverse faculty mix, exposes students to disparate dialects and accents on the campus. The multi-race blend of students and faculty sets the Dubai campus apart from the rest.
What are the opportunities for someone who takes up a MBA program at IMT Dubai, especially post the ongoing pandemic?
Our MBA program in an evening based program where students work in the day time and attend classes in the evening. This allows students to earn while they are studying, thereby reducing the financial burden significantly. Also students who do not have a full time employment, IMT arranges for paid internship for them so that they too can comfortably afford a high quality education.
The internship generally culminates into a full-time job.
At IMT Dubai, the accommodation and hostel stay comes complimentary to all the students. The tuition fees charged are reasonable, giving the best ROI over other schools.
At IMT Dubai, the career services spend more time doing high-quality internships than the final placement because that is the route. This promptness leads to reduced uncertainty. The student is working with an organization from the beginning of his study duration.
How do you evaluate a candidate’s profile for your institute?
Candidate evaluation at IMT Dubai is not different from other good B schools.
We look at areas of non-academic achievements. To survive in Dubai, you should have a go-getter attitude. You cannot be someone in a meeting room with folded hands. We seek people who want to step out, raise their hands and accept challenges.
We welcome internship experience or corporate experience.
We have an interview which is a detailed process.
The program chair or a faculty member screens shortlisted applicants. The panel views communication skills as essential traits: communication, a go-getter attitude, and a little spark in any area help in candidate selection.
What do you want this generation to learn from the ongoing pandemic?
Not just this generation, it would apply to everyone.
We must all begin to appreciate what we have. When you look at the suffering many people have faced, you feel privileged.
The top 1% of the people in India may not have endured the tragedies of the pandemic. This pandemic has highlighted the stark difference between the haves and have nots. Some migrants have died just walking miles with no money or food. It is essential to appreciate what people have. When people stop and reflect and value, they show some respect and compassion to fellow beings. This understanding is the first important lesson that I would expect everyone to learn.
Secondly, we are all connected today because of this pandemic. We find ourselves relying on some people whom we had never thought we would have interacted with meaningfully in our lives. Some people have suddenly become more important than others in our lives because of this pandemic. Everybody has a role in society, and we must respect that role and respect everyone. We may not need a person today, but he may show us how important he is tomorrow.
This acceptance is the second most important learning from the pandemic.
Human health and the economy is interlinked everywhere. Health is a priority for the future, without a doubt. If you are not healthy, you cannot be productive. Health is wealth. That is the third lesson.
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