Former TATA CEO Talks to Indus Age

Former TATA CEO Talks to Indus Age


“With proper education and inspiration the entire country can change.”- Mahendra Bapna

Recently, Isha Sahni, from the Indus Age team had an exclusive conversation with Mr. Mahendra Bapna. Former CEO of two Tata enterprises and a 2012 Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellow at Harvard University, Mahendra Bapna, has launched a new initiative, University-21, a premier, global consulting firm that helps higher, vocational and professional educational institutions address strategic issues such as performance improvement, operating efficiency, cost reduction, management, growth strategy, organisational effectiveness, branding, joint ventures and funding strategy.

It has been talked the India will be a super power by 2030. How important according to you is the role of education in this?

India cannot become a super power until it starts the 21st century education which is something different from what we have been doing so far. Higher education system should start on innovation, understand the global markets, understanding how to cope up with difficult situations, take untraveled paths, etc. unless we go through this it isn’t possible. An important issue that I would like to raise is the growth of science and technology which helps in the nations to grow and the growth of society particularly like in India, last couple of decades a lot of ‘brain drain’ has happened where all our great brains and intelligent people have gone to abroad and the economy of Europe and USA has been improving and a reverse order has been seen in India as the economy has not been as fast as it should be. We could grow easily at 8-9% but what stops us is not the infrastructure or the investments but the higher education and technical education.

The recent educational program ,University-21, which exclusively focuses on higher education in developing countries, how is it going to help the students and educational institutes in India?

University -21 is an idea born out of compulsions and some of the bright-minded people. The idea was to impact the national economy considering the educational sector, especially the higher education in the engineering, MBA and the vocal guidance, in these three areas if we make an impact that can transform economically in the country. University 21, were we have aspirants from the largest private and state university in the USA and a person who has been a part of the Transformation Agenda in the Arizona University. All of us partner to see what currently the universities or the colleges are facing, mainly being the enrollment issues, the employment issues. One must have read in the newspapers that only 20-25% of students who pass out of colleges are employable and that is because of the quality of education. At the same time all the private institutes have a profit-making agenda. Under the ‘University 21’, no institute can work with the profit making motives. The paradox is, at one side we have a huge market available and the other side we don’t have quality education. The enrollment percentage right now is 17% which  we need to increase at least a minimum of 30% and for that we need more universities to another 800 plus and 36,000 colleges to another 40,000 which is not possible.

It has been talked about that India might open its doors for the International educational institutes soon. Do you think it is necessary for the educational reforms in India to go through a transformation in order to survive?

The discussion have been taken place between the MHRD, education and finance ministry and the talks are likely to on papers post September to see that those 5 universities and colleges who are in the top of the list of 400 and the ones who can invest 25 million dollars, plus can have their campuses in India but need to coordinate with the Section 25 of the Non-Profit organizations.

As stated in the ONE GLOBE 2014, your vision is to transform current MBA education to MBA-entrepreneurial education in India, what exactly does this mean?

We have around 30 odd elite institutions in MBA like IIMs and XLRI, another 180 good institutes and over 800 others. But out of all these institutes, only top 100 or so institutes only produce clerks and managers only.  The aspirants in these institutes want to be either investment bankers or get into consulting jobs. Not even a percent of people want to experiment, innovate and be creative. So there is a dilemma that we have between the demographic population and the educational systems and create a pull. Unless we create employment, there is no point of just training the people. My agenda is to transform people by giving education, entrepreneurship, innovation, diversity, to manage difficult situations, etc.; these are the areas which we need to inculcate in students of MBA. There are three areas which I would like to mention; the technology and science area, entrepreneurial area and the vocational education, these will help in developing the educational system in India.

What inspired you to launch an educational program University 21 in India?

I am born in a less modest family and at the age of 16 I was able to go for higher education in abroad, my family though could not afford such an education but my relatives and friends convinced my father to get me into engineering. Now when I look back I realize that many of my classmates are doing jobs like selling newspapers, working in the agricultural sector, etc. I could see how the education can change the lives of people. I have come from that level and have been very fortunate to get opportunities step by step, thankfully the TATA group allowed me to work with them for so long and even allow me to handle crisis situations which improved my skills. This made me realize if I could do all this, why the others can’t do it. I believe with proper education and inspiration the entire country can change.

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