NEP 2020 offers many opportunities - TISS to offer new multi-disciplinary UG Program in Applied Social Science; We welcome IIMs, B-schools entering Social Sciences: Dr PK Shajahan, Dean, Academic Affairs, TISS Mumbai - Interview

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Updated on February 9, 2022 interviewed Dr PK Shajahan, Dean, Academic Affairs at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, a prominent institution in Social Sciences discipline, to understand the NEP Impact since NEP 2020 was called a Game-changer by virtually all Policy Makers and Academic Leaders. Associated with TISS for more than two decades, Dr Shajahan has held and helmed many responsibilities and is of the view that NEP offers many opportunities. Read below the Edited excerpts from the interview

NEP 2020 was called a Game-changer by virtually all Policy Makers and Academic Leaders. Now, as Government gets ready with a blueprint for its implementation, question is how will NEP reshape India’s Higher Education landscape? How will institutions like IITs, IIMs, Universities and Standalone B-schools evolve under this new policy regime? For instance, many IIMs and B-schools are deliberating to offer Social Sciences programs to become multi-diciplinary institutions, a key thrust of NEP.

To understand the NEP Impact on a leading University, that is also a prominent institution in Social Sciences discipline, interviewed Dr PK Shajahan, Dean, Academic Affairs at Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) was established in 1936 as the Sir Dorabji Tata Graduate School of Social Work. In 1944, it was renamed as the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. In 1964 TISS was declared a Deemed to be University by UGC. Today TISS has four campuses and more than 20 programs. It’s School of Management and Labour Studies in Mumbai Campus offers one of the most sought after PG programs in HR and Labour Relations in India.

Associated with TISS for more than two decades, Dr Shajahan has held and helmed many responsibilities including Dean, Social Protection, Dean Students' Affairs, Chairperson, Centre for Community Organisation and Development Practice and Chairperson of South Asia Centre for Studies in Conflicts Peace and Human Security. He has been a visiting faculty at leading global universities including University of Chicago, USA.

Edited excerpts from the interview follow:

Q: Vision of TISS is be an institution of excellence that continually responds to changing social realities through research and application of knowledge. How has this core vision evolved since the beginning in early 1930s to present times?
A: TISS was started with a particular social and political context when the entire world was going through a great depression. There was a need for dealing with issues of marginalities particularly the working class. Health was a serious concern in the urban places like Mumbai. Keeping this background in mind and with the visionary leadership of Tatas it was possible to start this institution and train professional social workers in collaboration with University of Chicago. Since then, the idea of this Institute has been to continuously respond to the social realities. One can trace back its engagement during Partition where the faculty members and students responded to the human crisis in Kurukshetra. And since then, various natural calamities and natural disasters which struck the country, TISS has been responding through direct interventions. TISS has been engaging with social policies and responding to the changing social realities while closely working in collaboration with the government.

The core vision of TISS of continually responding to changing social realities that has been intact and even today it continues to be one of the guiding principles for many of the programs of TISS.

Q: Aligned with your Vision, what Initiatives have been created to create Societal Value and Impact? Please share specific examples...
Well, there are quite a lot of examples to talk about this. One of the interesting initiatives started by this Institute as a Field Action Project which later became Childline. This was considered as a very innovative idea of reaching out to children in distress. That became a national policy and now become an international process where Childline is a Helpline for children in distress. Similarly, our engagement with Prisons to initiate Prison Reforms and providing necessary rehabilitation support to the people who are under criminal justice system.This is done by another Field action project called Prayaas.

TISS actively works closely with communities particularly the marginalized communities to make a greater impact through innovative experiments. In addition to this, supporting various government schemes and policies and social audit such as, contribution to significant National policies like the Forest Rights Act and The Right to Information Act etc., TISS has played significant, and pivotal role in making policies work at the ground level as well.

Q: TISS today has 20+ Schools spread over 4 Cities? What led to this expansion? Leading International Universities like Oxford, Harvard and Stanford rarely expand goegraphically…
One must differentiate between premier institutions of the world like Oxford, Harvard, Stanford and all these Ivy league Universities with TISS. Because these universities have been central to provide high quality education of relevance, in a global context. At the same time TISS is located in a completely different milieu. The milieu of social differentiation. The milieu of extremely unequal access to education and seriously impacted communities in terms of geographic locations and economic conditions.

TISS continued to be a single campus University from 1936 to 1986 for almost 50 years. Then, it was felt that there was a need to face the rural realities of the country. An experimental campus was initiated in Tuljapur in rural Maharashtra. TISS got a completely barren land which was converted into a campus. There were many experiments initiated, particularly in the agriculture sector. Tuljapur was a testing point for TISS to look at what are the possibilities to do beyond urban centres. Later a request came from the Department of North Eastern Region (DONER) and Assam Government to set up a Campus in Guwahati. The entire Northeast did not have quality education particularly in the social sciences education. So, with the help of the Assam Government, we opened the Guwahati campus. Similarly in the case of TISS Hyderabad campus, we understood that a large number of students used to come from the Southern states. Many of the students from the tribal communities would get admissions to TISS but could not afford the costs of travelling to Mumbai and live in this city. But it was the commitment to diversity and marginalities of people that led us to expand to other regions of the country.

Q: NEP 2020 has put a lot of emphasis on Liberal and Multi-Disciplinary education. As India’s leading Social Sciences University, how does TISS view the thrust of NEP?
NEP provides an interesting opportunity for expanding and reformulating the scope of Higher Education particularly with the heavy focus on the undergraduate studies which have not been the focus of TISS. TISS continues to be a postgraduate Institution. In that sense NEP provides a whole lot of opportunities. First is to start interesting multi-disciplinary undergraduate program in a variety of areas of Applied Social Science. That will be one direction in which TISS will be moving ahead and taking the lead from the opportunities of NEP. 

Second direction is to restructure the entire Masters program keeping in mind the 4 + 1 structure as suggested by NEP. A lot of programs which are currently two years’ programs, could be converted into one year Masters programs that will be specialised cutting edge programs which could cater to higher order of learning and application.

The third focus of NEP for us would be to initiate programs in management development programs and professional development program which will lead to building capacities of the working professional and people who are functionaries in the development sector. And, finally the ultimate aim of TISS will be to become a global leader in Applied Social Science education in the South.

Q: In anticipation of NEP’s implementation, many IIMs and B-schools are planning to offer programs in Social Sciences area? Will this increase competition…
In fact, it is a welcome move that the technology and business schools are thinking about integrating social sciences into their programs. However, the idea which TISS has been working right from its inception is that of not to offer social science programs in its pure form. It is Applied Social Sciences that responds to the social realities.

For example, TISS is the first university in the country to offer a program in Disaster Management which is a truly multi-disciplinary program. Technology, Social Sciences, Governance all of those things are merged together in the form of a program on disaster management. Similarly, there are a lot of programs which we offer like Water policy and Governance. This is a program which no other university in the country would be offering. Therefore, a lot of such programs which we are doing, is not pure social science program.

In that sense the educational institutions like IIMs and B-schools will have their focus on bringing Social Sciences merging with Technology and Management, but TISS will have its own niche area of engaging in applied social sciences making it multi-disciplinary, inter disciplinary, trans disciplinary learning in social sciences.

Q: You have a Centre of Lifelong Learning. What are the objectives and why is it necessary in our country when we are struggling for increasing even our basic GER?
Centre of life long learning is a unit which we are having for more than a decade now. It provides opportunities for people who are not able to come to the mainstream university based structured academic programs. People who are working in the field who look for upgrading their skills, want to upgrade their knowledge in specific domains needed to be provided an opportunity for learning. And lifelong learning has been a Global Concept for several decades now. However in India lifelong learning has not taken shape in a very good form. So, the objectives continued to be providing opportunities for higher learning, for people who are working in a particular the sector and for people who want to get into sectoral practices. The current focus of NEP in providing management development programme and professional Development programmes, is following the same path. Several of the universities with rankings consider such programs as very important in the higher education space. If you look at our programmes in hospital management, human resource management, organisational development, counselling, Diploma in water sanitation and hygiene are strong cutting-edge programs which provide specific skills and knowledge. In the days to come these programs will play a very significant role

Q: COVID Pandemic has led to wider acceptance of Education Technology. How has education at TISS evolved in last 24 months? What are the learnings and long-term impact?
In fact the COVID pandemic like in many institutions, TISS too was affected in many ways. But we were quickly able to switch to the requirement of the time. In March 2020 in the lockdown we at TISS also went into lockdown but none of the academic activities stopped. We were able to start classes for the next semester in July 2020 without any break and converted the entire teaching in online platform. We already had a learning platform which we customised for teaching by integrating with online video streaming programs and this program we named as TISSOL. We also conducted personal interviews with a very robust marking mechanism where the teacher sitting in different parts of the country and students coming from all over the country could attend the interviews and complete the admissions process. All the problems were resolved by highly skilled and equipped IT team of TISS by providing solutions for online learning, teaching and admissions.We also completed our virtual convocation process without any difficulties and student got their degrees on time.

Physical classroom and field based education is going to stay in the long term at TISS. However, after understanding the potential of technology during lockdown, we will be offering certain distant learning program as well.

Q: Coming to Admissions,TISS holds TISSNET exam is held every year. What qualities and skills does this exam looks for?
TISSNET is a combined test for all programs in the institute. It is aimed at shortlisting candidates for Stage 2 of the admission process. Stage 2 will have various component such as written tests, online personal interviews etc. In order to shortlist the candidates for all the 50 masters programs we conduct this test. In this test we look at the basic mathematical and reasoning abilities, logical abilities and general awareness of developmental issues. We are trying to understand whether the candidate is aware of the socio political developmental issue, whether he has good understanding of basic English language. We basically want to understand their preparedness for undertaking this social science program.

Q: Shortlisted Candidates applying for MA in HRM and ODCL of Mumbai Campus have to take additional Management Aptitude Test -- TISS-MAT. What is the purpose?
Essentially, management compared to other programs need special aptitude.  There is a lot of competitions in these programs. Almost all other management schools are also conducting some kind of aptitude tests. HRM and ODCL are programmes that need to have requirements of the industry and should match with the objectives of the programmes. Students should keep in mind that completing these programs they will be enriched with knowledge about the industry as well.

Q: School of Management and Labour Studies offers 5 M.A./M.Sc programmes in HR & LR, Labour Studies, Social Entrepreneurship, OD, Leadership, and Analytics. Please tell us about the importance of this School and its program for current times?
This school has diversified from its previous form. Earlier it used to be Personnel Management and Industrial Relations. That has changed to Human Resource management. Then we also realised that there is a need for Social Entrepreneurship that will be an evolving paradigm by merging the management practices and social marginalities to ensure better opportunities for people to lead a better life.

Over the years TISS is focussing on labour and labour issues as well. In the changing global environment, the labour has been undergoing significant changes. So there is a need to develop skills in the trained graduates to understand the complexities and problems of labour sector. That is how we started this program on Globalisation and Labour which is highly sought after program. Later this was converted to Labour Studies and Practices to include a broader perspective of issues related to labour sector. OCDL was evolved from Human resource management program as there was a need for developing leaders for organisations. So organisation Development, change and leadership was identified as very important program. All these things were coming from research and continuous engagement that faculty members are having with the industry and the business.

Q: Recently Master of Arts/Master of Science in Analytics area was launched. Since TISS focusses on Social Sciences, what is the rationale for launching this quantitative focussed program?
M.A. Analytics came in from the large data sets and analysing those large data sets while working with the industry, with the Government and Development sector. Analytics has become a very important process where major policy decisions are made. In order to explore this facility, the labour market facility at TISS started this program which will bring interesting dimensions to formulate development and labour policies. 

Infact, Social sciences is about understanding people lives, how to study, understand and engage with people. For tracking of data for the Government or the Industry or any International organisations. Analytics is going to be playing a very important process. For this proper understanding of large data, analysis of the same and making policy recommendation are necessary. It is more focussed way of connecting with social realities and Social policies. Without understanding analytics of data, any policy study will be incomplete.

Q: Finally, what is your message to students who are planning to apply to TISS? What can they expect…
Candidates who apply to TISS come with a clear understanding of what TISS offers. It offers a Pedagogical approach blending with strong theoretical foundations, well placed community industry linkages where real issues of society in health sectors, policy governance, social entrepreneurship, social work linked to social realities. Students coming to TISS can be assured of the fact that they are going to get extremely engaging programs. They will be directly engaged with Social realities with the help of highly qualified faculty members linked to the community, industry and business sector. The students will be getting a cutting edge training at TISS which is based on the principles of Social justice, Equity and responding to social realities.