In Conversation With Dr Fr K.S. Casimir, Director, XLRI Delhi-NCR Campus

We need to embrace an interdisciplinary approach, embrace technology, and help students leverage it says Dr Fr K.S. Casimir


Q. In a rapidly evolving technological landscape, how can academic institutions adapt their curricula to ensure graduates are equipped with the practical skills and knowledge needed by industries?

Technology is disrupting everything, there is no doubt about it, but the industry adapts fast precisely because they are mercenary in their bottom-line treatment. 

And whereas educational institutions are people-oriented, and people don't change. They grow and evolve over time. So, they're two different bases actually. So, how do we bridge the gap between these two? What are we doing here? First of all, we need to embrace an interdisciplinary approach, embrace technology, and help students leverage it. Start with generative AI, and constantly update our curriculum. And how do we update the curriculum in the thick of technological disruption? So, we are trying to live with the expertise by bringing them on board here so that they interact with the students and teach some courses. Also, we are encouraging faculty to develop courses for executive education.

And that in a sense compels them to stay focused on the disruptive technologies that are unleashing seismic changes in the world in the industry actually. So, these are the various ways in which we are trying to make our students industry-ready. And it is possible only when there is a 360-degree collaboration.

Q. So, the concept of internships, cooperative education and industry collaborations has gained a lot of traction nowadays. How do such partnerships contribute to a better connection between academia and industry? Can you share a noteworthy collaboration that resulted in mutual benefits and valuable experiential learning for these students?

I can just cite one example, TransUnion CIBIL, for example. Now, our students do live projects with them. And when they appreciate the work of our students, they become our recruiters. So, there's mutual benefit. Also, we are working with them to develop courses for our industry profession, for executive education.

And recently we embarked upon a joint research program, where our faculty members are working with their researchers on matters of mutual interest. So, there is a deep connection in that sense. This symbiotic relationship has been built with various stakeholders and various industries.

And in today's world, unless one disrupts oneself, one will be disrupted. So, we need to be very agile and adapt ourselves to the ever-evolving landscape because we are living in industry. 4. 0. As Henrik von Scheel, the father of the 4.0 industry remarked, "Technology is unleashing seismic changes by fusing the virtual, digital, and physical". In other words, cyber, and physical systems are emerging. 

Now we need to rethink and unlearn constantly. So this is a critical skill. That's what we are trying to do at XLRI and the critical component is our faculty. Our faculty being young, they are able to be agile and adapt themselves and, XLRI believes in giving them enormous freedom so that freedom equips them with the necessary cognitive landscape to explore, to innovate, to experiment and try so that they are able to come up with Innovative projects and innovative programs.

So as the industry embraces trends like artificial intelligence, automation, and sustainability, how should academic foundational principles with the need of students to stay updated on the latest industry tools and practices? What strategies can prevent academic programs from becoming outdated? Could you elaborate on that? 

Every institution and every industry is multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary. Unfortunately, academic institutions tend to get ossified, they get siloed. So, one of the attempts that we are making is how to make it really cross-functional, and interdisciplinary, and that requires, a great deal of openness and a sense of inner freedom for them to collaborate with various stakeholders. Before we collaborate with the industry, the faculty should learn to collaborate between themselves. Thus, the key element is collaborative teaching, collaborative research, and collaborative learning. And that's what we are insisting on. Collaboration is the key. That's how the industry is able to disrupt itself. 

Looking ahead to the next decade what emerging trends do you foresee in collaboration between academia and industry? How can academic institutions proactively prepare for these trends to ensure they continue to produce graduates who can drive innovation and address the evolving needs of the job market?

As the industry quickly embraces, technology, data, and design, we also need to embrace. So, in order to know, and do that, more and more faculty should constantly expose themselves to industry experience and industry practices. So, if they are there in the thick of the industry. If they are there, then they'll naturally, by a force of osmosis, they'll be able to absorb all these trends, practices, and experiences.

And I think in the course of time, the industry will also be compelled to collaborate with academia. After all, It is the academia that supplies the finished products in terms of students to the industry. Unless they really come forward and invest in, not really in terms of finances, but also their own expertise.

If they deploy the expertise in the institution, willingly and generously, I think there will be a kind of symbiotic relationship that will help students learn all these three aspects, technology, data, and design. 

Techniques are transient. They are temporary. But the first principles are everlasting. And what we need to, while not sacrificing these fundamental principles, the concepts, we need to also embrace the tools techniques practices, and experience of the industry. the industry will keep disappearing.

Fortune 500 companies, how many will really last into the next, 10 to 20 years, we do not know. Whereas academic institutions last. Academic institutions cannot supply finished products to each specific industry because each specific industry has its own specific needs.

How is it possible for us? So, by design, it will be a little general, but at the same time, we need to ensure that we also impart and influence our curriculum with cutting-edge practices of the industry. Because, there are three types of knowledge, as Aristotle would put it. The only technique is craft knowledge.

Techne to use tools and methods to create things. The other one is episteme, as he himself would say. It is scientific knowledge. How nature works. The third one is, you know phronesis, he would call it. You know, ethical judgment. All these three should combine in order to really build up a society. If we just confine ourselves only to technique, and craft knowledge, without the other two, even if we have technique and epistemic, but without phronesis, where you're invited to make decisions between competing values at play, where you cannot lose sight of your values or who you are in order to get ahead.

If you do that, then we'll stare at crisis, existential crisis, like. climate change. So, we need to integrate all that. Collaboration is the keyword. Multidisciplinary approach is the keyword. Not really within the organization, between the industry and curricula and the government.

There has to be all the stakeholders have to come together. It takes a village to raise a child. A tribe to raise a child. So similarly, if you want to really supply, produce or develop students who will have this multidimensional, holistic, interdisciplinary approach, we need to ensure that not only do they have technique, they have also, there's an episteme, and above all, they need to have phronesis.

That's why we say it is for the greater good. We are not here for ourselves. We are for society out there. To the extent that our students have broadened their view, not merely it is for the sake of a job. It is for them, you need to do well, but also you need to do good. Both are critical. So, keeping in mind we need to all come together.

The silos have to break, the partition walls have to break down. And for that, there has to be trust, openness, and a certain broad-mindedness. Unless we bring these things together. A world at last cannot be really a safe and prosperous place, and that is the direction in which we are heading.

The planet itself, the cliche goes, we do not have a planet B. We have to develop that wisdom and knowledge. And knowledge is knowing more and more about less, and less in isolation which leads to specialisation. Whereas understanding wisdom is gasping the context, the interconnectedness, and the meaningfulness of what we do.

And that's what we seek to give to our students here. They need to understand the context. We live in one planet. Whether I am in India, or in South Africa, or, Alaska, it does not matter. What I do here impinges on the lives of others. So, in other words, we all form the delicate strands of one web of life.

We need to get this concept into our minds. Business cannot be as business as usual. It has to radically pivot and then adopt a completely new approach. So that it becomes meaningful. 

This planet is not going to be a safe place for all of us. Particularly for our children, for posterity. So, we need to collaborate. We have to become multidisciplinary. We need to understand the context and the interconnected meaningfulness. And we have to deeply become conscious of the fact that we are just one delicate strand in the web of life. Every business school has to strive to impart this.

So, technology, literature, and business have to come together. Only then, students start developing that kind of empathy, and humanity which ultimately will prevail. 

So, since you spoke about bridging gaps what are the key challenges currently faced in bridging gaps between industry and academia?

As you know, academia normally tends to move slowly because as I said, it is driven by people. And, when one says we need to impart skill sets to the students, the skill sets for each industry are specific.

So, naturally, our curriculum cannot be that specific. It has to be broad-based. It has to be a little more general. Real-world challenges require interdisciplinary solutions and interdisciplinary approaches. But academic institutions tend to be siloed in a way.

Therefore, we are trying to bring the practitioners to teach and develop the ongoing executive education program which forces or compels our faculty to upgrade themselves. They cannot deliver cutting-edge programs unless they are really at the cutting edge.

It is critical for both the sector and industry, as well as to enhance each other and influence each other by deeply connecting collaboration.

How to realize or actualize this? 

We have to take tentative steps and understand that it is the only way forward. Otherwise, 53% of the graduates are unemployed. It is in the interest of the industry itself to come forward and invest, deploy its personnel, and invest its resources so that they really benefit from the academia.

That's what happens across the world. Whether it is Harvard, Oxford, or Cambridge, all of them because they invest, the entire Silicon Valley is the fruit of Stanford University. Now, can there be such a kind of collaboration, participation, that kind of symbiotic relation between the industry and academia here?

Who will bell the cat? That's why by offering all these various executive programs, both government and private entities, are trying to update our curriculum. and upgrade our faculty. And the other thing is our CTC also has to be on par with that.

So, it is possible if the faculty upgrade themselves, then they draw the benefits, Emoluments will be at a much higher level because the industry pays back when they conduct their MDP program, executive education. So, these are the various thrusts that we are taking to ensure that our faculty are rewarded well enough so that they are able to really engage in deep research in collaboration with the industry.

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