Introduction Any educational institution worth its salt will always be at a particular level of perfection. It can naturally grow to the next levels and take necessary actions in this regard. In the process, it can prepare to benchmark itself against the best in class. Benchmarking is an art that can be perfected so easily with available resources, particularly human resources. All that needs to be done is to start taking the baby steps. In the main, such simple steps will mean a) Do a thorough SWOT analysis and involve everyone in the process b) Motivate the teachers through systematic small initiatives c) Get the basics right in relationships with parents and students d) Do something for the local community e) Have periodic meetings to monitor progress and f) Keep on per atfecting the steps taken.
Do a thorough SWOT analysis and involve everyone in the processThe trick is to do a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis; the obvious starting point of this exercise should be to accurately understand the present strengths in the first place in a very realistic manner. For example, an engineering college situated in a semi-urban area may have good strength in terms of a smooth relationship with the local community. The evidence of this can be found that a large number of students, to the tune of 60% are those who are rooted in the five or ten kilometer radius. However, this might also become a weakness as much as it has not been able to attract the other district students when compared to other competitors. An honest attempt to address this issue will actually become a big opportunity. To give a simple example, in every rural or semi-urban area, the key factor that will determine the overall satisfaction of the students will be the quality of food served in the canteen; the mothers of students are always emotional about this issue. If the college can quickly address this issue and bring about a quantum revolution in terms of quality of canteen food within six months, there is every chance that the word of publicity will have a big say in bringing in more students; once done, with the existing resources, the next step will obviously be to strengthen the inputs from all faculty members; in reality, the deemed universities like SRM and VIT can organize faculty development programs at a reasonable cost to enhance the inputs of faculty members in the B class engineering colleges.
Be that as it may, the emerging threats to any engineering college will be the overall lack of trust in the engineering college itself, among millions of students, pan-India, who seem to have identified new courses that will lead to good careers. For example, commerce and business administration. Doing the SWOT analysis is a delicate exercise and it is but essential that the educational institution involves everyone in the institution, right up to the lowest level of employees.
Motivate the teachers through systematic small initiativesI was invited to inaugurate an association of an engineering college near Salem, some nine years ago. This college is only an upcoming college and does not have a great placement record. But it still has an image that the Management is very sincere in whatever it does. Evidence of this was found when I chanced to see the Principal personally being present in a session where a Faculty Member was made to explain all his learning from an International Conference that he had recently attended at Hyderabad. There was absolutely no criticism; instead, the Principal assigned the task of further exploration of ideas from the internet to groups of six students and three faculty members. The goal was to review the progress after 45 days and everything was put down on paper.
I spent the entire second day interacting with the Principal, who also sought my opinion, as a Corporate Manager, on improving the industry-institute interaction. The college had taken on rent, a good big house with air-conditioning and had also appointed good cooks to take care of every big visitor; the Faculty members were assigned to care for them and engage the visitors in discussions. Every single move made in the aforesaid fashion has now resulted in 82% placement in 2019. The name of the institution is not mentioned, as the Management was against it. This is exactly how the Faculty Members should be motivated to perform. The small baby steps will go a long way in achieving the significant and desirable changes.
Get the basics right in relationships with parents and studentsIn the same college referred to above, I had suggested a rural food festival. This was implemented that same year. The parents were even allowed to charge some amounts for the dishes prepared and the relationship between the college and the parents and students became far better. Contrary to public perception, even illiterate parents can surprisingly come up with better suggestions on a consistent basis. And this can make a big difference.
Do something for the local communityIt not without reason that VIT stands among the best of deemed universities in India today. Its founder actively encourages the local Vellore State Government students to study in it. Several poor students are literally offered free education. There can always be something to learn from such experiences. It is essential that there should be a good deal of such learning in every institution, by understanding the ways of other established institutions. Tree planting, blood donation camps, and so on are welcome; but these will just not be enough. There should be solid evidence of caring and sharing, based on strong evidence, like what is going on at VIT deemed university.
Have periodic meetings to monitor progressOnce the change initiatives are in place, the vital follow-up in terms of small meetings is always called for. It must be remembered that there is always someone competing in the same space. Unless a college does the meaningful catch game seriously, the institution is bound to fail. The leadership of the tallest order is called for. In fact, the residential schools situated in the rural areas are always seen to be recruiting the best quality expert Principals at a huge cost, from the well-established schools. This does make a big difference.
Keep on perfecting the steps takenThis is essential too. What is the significance of any agreed and implemented step, unless it is followed up and all weaknesses are removed? For example, to get a feel about the quality of plus two students, an arts and science college can possibly conduct essay competition in the local area, covering all the plus two Government school students. The competition can be in both English and the local language. This is step number one.
If there are good entries, it does pay for the college principal to visit the campus of the concerned school and personally congratulate the student. Furthermore, a small prize can also be given to other students who did not win any prize. Such small initiatives will be part of the action plan to stay relevant and bring about the X+1 changes. Doing things differently and also doing different things are important. Only then can any educational institution renew itself and become ready to face any challenge in these trying times.
It should be remembered that any institution does not have much of a choice in the given set of circumstances. COVID-19 has already made most educational institutions rework their strategies. When the virus fear is gone in the next twelve months, every educational institution has to perfect many a strategy to make a difference in the changed circumstances.
ConclusionAny educational institution that does not address the needs of the society and benchmark itself against the best in class is likely to be lost in the rat race. Some ideas derived from practical experience, of the steps needed to benchmark the educational institutions against the best in class, have been discussed above. The scope for innovation is also very high and it is hoped that when continuous improvement initiatives are put in place, more encouraging and creative thoughts will emerge to keep the momentum going at a fast and meaningful pace in the years to come.