Dr. Priyank Narayan is the Founding Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship at Ashoka University, a leading liberal Arts University based in Delhi NCR. As an educator, researcher, eco-system builder and an entrepreneur, he has contributed significantly in building a culture of entrepreneurship in India.
Dr. Narayan started his career with IBM in Bangalore, India. Prior to joining Ashoka, Priyank was an entrepreneur for many years. He is also a visiting faculty at IIT Delhi, IIM Ahmedabad and HEC Paris.
An alumnus of AIM, Manila and IIM Ahmedabad, Priyank has also done executive education programmes at Harvard Business School and Singularity University, USA. He holds a Ph.D from IIT Delhi in Entrepreneurship Management.
Question:What is the concept behind coming up with the Centre for Entrepreneurship at Ashoka University?
The idea is to integrate the ability to create along with the ability to think critically. Given that we are a liberal arts university, critical thinking is a key focus for us in our pedagogy and curriculum. Along with that we also focus on creativity and innovation. We believe that Entrepreneurship is the art of addressing problems. At our Centre, we have created a platform for our students to work on the problems that they have identified- and many of them are social problems, which could get addressed through meaningful social ventures. At Ashoka, our strong focus is on creating social enterprises not just NGOs working on social issues. We believe that when you create a social enterprise, you create a business model to be self-sufficient, rather than being dependent on someone to fund your cause continuously.
Question:As the Indian mindset is very focused towards having a degree in predominated subjects like Engineering, Was it difficult to inculcate the spirit of being an Entrepreneur in students?
Entrepreneurship is more of a mindset and less of a skillset. Rather, in Entrepreneurship the skillset follows the mindset. So once you build the mindset to create something, to be a problem solver, to be an explorer, then things like- how to market , financial feasibility, operational efficiency are skills you learn over time. The focus at Ashoka is to give students enough "Food for Thought", to build a muscle on being a problem solver. Our curriculum is not a management curriculum but an entrepreneurship curriculum based on innovation mindset, creative exploration, problem solving and critical thinking.
Question:How does Ashoka work within the regulatory framework, and how does it set benchmarks for itself ?
We are very much within the legal framework set out by the regulators but within that we give full autonomy to our faculty. We let them decide on the curriculum, the books that they want to teach, and the pedagogy they want to use. While Universities would like more flexibility, there is room for academic freedom even within the existing system, if you are willing to be flexible. Talking about Ashoka, because we are a young University we are able to leverage our agility in quick decision-making and our willingness to experiment with offbeat ideas.
Question:What are the qualities you look for when hiring teachers at Ashoka? What makes the faculty at Ashoka a class apart?
Ashoka Faculty is combination of excellence in research and outstanding teaching delivery. They are committed to the students’ success and would go all out to ensure learning and support to each student individually, as required. Our faculty is constantly innovating inside the classroom to increase the exposure of our students, making the best us of the academic freedom given to them. Many of our faculty members are recognized as experts in their field of research and publish extensively on their subjects. Just this month we have 4 books being released by our faculty members.
Question:Reports suggest that only a small fraction of our graduates are employable, how do you think Universities can improve the employability quotient of their students?
We don’t know what kind of jobs will exist in the next 20-30 years. Universities cannot train its graduates to be with skills that will keep them employable for the rest of their lives, but can teach them to be continuous learners. If you are teaching them how to become a good learner, to think creatively and critically, and to collaborate to grow together, you can make the graduates ‘future ready’. Now, all of this takes a lot of effort to bring in the system- but this is likely to address the larger employability problem. In the short term, universities should continuously engage in Industry-Academia Dialogue, as they upgrade and revise their curriculum to address the needs of the markets.
"We don’t know what kind of jobs will exist in the next 20-30 years. Universities cannot train their graduates to be with skills that will keep them employable for the rest of their lives, but they can surely teach them to be continuous learners. If you are teaching them how to become a good learner, to think creatively and critically, and to collaborate to grow together, you can make the graduates ‘future ready’”, said Dr. Priyank Narayan, Director, Centre for Entrepreneurship, Ashoka University while speaking to Rana Jyoti, Associate Editor, India Education Forum.