Education should focus at making students “future ready”: Executive Dean, La Trobe University
Updated on Oct 12, 2013 - 4:25 p.m. IST by Sudipta Mishra
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With a dynamic world economy and changing student preferences, educational institutions today need to have a shift in their focus as well as pedagogy. Today it is not just a process of gaining knowledge but a phenomenon that prepares a student to be “future ready”. Professor Leigh Drake, Executive Dean, Faculty of Business, Economics and Law at La Trobe University, Australia, gets candid on the changing face of education, how La Trobe University has coped up with it and its associations with India.

How do you think the changing economy across the world has affected the study abroad decision of students?
There hasn’t been much of an effect of the current economic situation on students’ decision to study abroad. As compared to last year, there has been an increase in the number of international students’ admission in La Trobe. Particularly in programmes in the field of financial management, Information Technology and engineering, the enrolment of students have risen in good number.

Have you noticed any change in the way students studying abroad short-list universities?
With a changing education paradigm, students are making a much more focused decision today. For students planning to study abroad, their decision and choice of the institution is mainly guided by its quality of education, academic offers, research orientation and innovativeness of the curriculum in the programmes offered. Also the reputation of the institution, familial opinions and employment opportunities offered by the institution affect the student’s choice. Students are not only looking for an institution where they can gain knowledge but also that can make them ‘future ready’.

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Which study disciplines in your university do you see that the student applications are larger?
Marketing management, financial management, engineering and Information Technology are the most popular study areas for international students. As a result, La Trobe is planning to offer joint degrees where cross faculty mix can be done to introduce programmes like Engineering Management, IT Management or Biotech Management.

So, don’t you think that today education has become more commercialized in the way that it has turned into a road leading to a job rather than a source of knowledge?
Yes, but I take it as a positive shift that has resulted from the evolution of education. Today education is a mix of knowledge as well as employment orientation. Institutions and universities are offering programmes which not only provide core knowledge for students but also for companies. By developing problem solving skills, entrepreneurship and the spirit of innovation, education is helping to make students more ready for their future; not only if they are thinking of initiating their own start-ups but also if they join established organisations.

The role of a university is to largely create and disseminate knowledge and ideas. Do you think the role has changed particularly when, in light of the run for patenting or advertising a research or academic paper, there is much focus on capitalization of knowledge?
Capitalization of knowledge is necessary. Especially when we are talking of a research, knowledge should not be only for academics and restricted to academic journals. It should be such that it has a wider reach by affecting the society as whole. Education and research should aim for the betterment of people and society. So commercialisation of education is needed to make a research or an idea or in that case any knowledge impactful. For example, La Trobe has been associated with Prof Rajiv Khosla whose work has not only helped students gain knowledge, but also have applications in building healthy communities, treating diseases like Alzheimer, business enterprises, etc.

What are the unique academic practices and future initiatives which La Trobe follows?
La Trobe has a strong research background in the areas of molecular science and biological science, particularly in the domain of agri-bio research. La Trobe has research oriented association with several companies and organisations as well. E.g., with Mahindra Reva and HCL for environment based research, NEC Japan for research on emotional robots. La Trobe has also been working towards research in the field of sustainability and sports management on how sports can have an impact on the societal harmony and global friendship.

Also in order to keep pace with the changing education system and to equip students with a better understanding and engaging capability with the global issues of today, La Trobe has come out with a new strategic plan named ‘Future Ready’. It will make the students more ‘work ready’, ‘world ready’ and ‘future ready’ by not only an enriched curriculum but also inculcating into them spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, leadership qualities and sustainability thinking.

Given that La Trobe is a Government funded university and that Government has considerably cut grants for higher education, will you be considering a raise in tuition fees, particularly from international students, to increase your revenue stream?
No, we won’t be increasing fees. To offset cuts, we have increased the number of domestic seats in UG and PG programmes, we have introduced new faculties so as to have a rise in student intake and have come out with novel study opportunities, mainly for professionals. E.g., our new Executive MBA course or the plan on introducing crosses faculty joint degrees.

According to a recent survey by HSBC, Australia is the most expensive study abroad destination. Could you share your views on that?
Yes, Australia is one of the most expensive places to study. But, it is because of the superior quality of education, that the cost is higher. And I think, across the world, good educational institutions providing world –class education also are equally priced.

So, how important is India for you, or Australia as a whole, with reference to the international students’ pool?
In terms of the number of international students in Australia, India comes second, just after China. Apart from that, for La Trobe, we have always had a strong association with India. In 1968, Indira Gandhi had opened a library at La Trobe. We are 1 of the only 2 universities in Australia who have academic programmes in Hindi. We were the sponsorer of the Melbourne Indian Film Festival. Recently Agora Cinema in our campus in Bandura has been renamed as Yash Chopra Cinema.

We have articulation programmes with number of Indian educational institutions like Lady Shri Ram College Delhi, IIT Chennai, Delhi Technological University, SRM Chennai, Presidency College Bangalore and MIT Pune. We also have signed research-based MoUs with Mahindra Reva and HCL India. Renowned research scientist Dr. Rajiv Khosla is also a part of La Trobe.

What are your views on the setting up of campuses in India by foreign universities?
We might plan for international campuses in future, but nothing now. Currently we have associations with educational institutions in India. We have 1+2 model programmes with them, where students study their 1st year in India at our partner college and the 2nd and 3rd years at La Trobe and qualify with a La Trobe degree.

Owing to the fact that India is emerging as a knowledge economy, where do you think it has considerable advantage?
India’s strength is its pool of young people in her economy. Having successfully kept up with the changing face of education, educational institutions in India have been successful in inculcating the spirit of entrepreneurship an innovation in them which is much needed today.  Also India’s strength in the fields of Information Technology and Engineering has added towards making it a successfully emerging knowledge economy.

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