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A new pedagogy: Liberal Education & FLAME


One of the most frequent remarks made about students of Pune’s FLAME Business School is that studying here is not what you’d expect from a typical business school. And that would be a highly accurate assessment.


The first thing that stands out is the pedagogy – a high focus on Liberal Education, which basically means a “multi-disciplinary approach to education”. According to the Provost and Faculty of Business Dean Prof D.S. Rao, “Business education is much more than just a “tools and techniques” education, it’s not just teaching finance or HR or marketing. Also, businesses and businessmen are part of a society, and FLAME begins by approaching business as just that.” Hence, the institute’s focus on liberal education as a means to inculcate a variety of knowledge and values to its students.

What is Liberal Education at FLAME?
Liberal education basically involves exposing students to more than one educational discipline. So in the beginning of their course, FLAME students mandatorily have to take a course on psychology and sociology, and other optional courses in the fine and performing arts, like music, dance, painting, sculpture, etc. Sports, too, is required curriculum.

Besides that, students can take any course delivered by the university in open slots, including literature, philosophy, political science, anything taught at FLAME. This approach allows the students to be exposed to much more than their standard degree curriculum.

FLAME University currently consists of four schools: School of Liberal Education, School of Business, School of Communication and School of Fine & Performing Arts, with the School of Business’s programme accredited by the NBA. At the helm of FLAME University is its Vice Chancellor, Prof Devi Singh. With over 20 years of experience in leadership positions, including 5 years as Director at MDI Gurgaon, and 11 years as the Director of IIM Lucknow, Prof Singh has also overseen the setup of IIM Kashipur and Rohtak, and mentored and ran them for a year each. Following is an excerpt from a conversation with Prof Singh.

Q. How did FLAME start?
FLAME has been, in many ways, ahead of its time. It is a purely charitable effort. The institute was started with the thought of providing education of a quality at par with top institutions in India and the US, and at a fraction of the cost.

FLAME believes in a broad-based interdisciplinary liberal form of education. This format gives you the ability to customise your own learning, gives you enough opportunity to explore new areas of knowledge that you might be interested in as a student, all while you’re doing your degree studies.

We want to be really global – in terms of our thought process, linkages, et al. For instance, one of our objectives that is very high on our agenda is to create opportunities for every student to spend one semester abroad during their course at FLAME.

Q. According to you, the faculty of an institute is its most critical component?
I believe that at the end of the day, everything centres around faculty. The biggest challenge facing higher education in India is the dearth of good faculty, and most state universities are suffering due to this. It is critical to get the talent and creating a support structure to retain them.

If I had to boil my thoughts for FLAME down to a one-point agenda, it would be to get the best faculty on board. Period. To that end, we’ve been able to get around 20 of the best faculty in the last year or so, people who
have been trained in US and UK universities, in IIMs and IITs. We’ll be hiring another dozen or such luminaries in the next few months.

Q. According to you, how important are B-school rankings?
As the Vice Chancellor of FLAME, I can tell you B-school rankings don’t really matter to me much. Consider the reputation that IIM Ahmedabad or Calcutta or Lucknow enjoys. Garnering that kind of reputation takes time. And it is difficult to dislodge these top institutes from their ranks. But I also know that if a ranking agency were to visit FLAME, study our pedagogy, talk to the students and faculty, examine our track record and recruiters who come to our campus, they will certainly be impressed. However, no ranking at the moment reflects this, and no two ranking are similar to each other! So I believe this hype over B-school ranking will settle down over time, and we only have to wait it out until then.

But I can assure you that we are roping in the best faculty, and creating an ecosystem for these faculty to teach, work, research and explore, so that when the times comes, these faculty will attract the best student talent as well! Remember, no great institution was built overnight. Even the Ivy League institutions took decades before they became what they are today. So we are on course, it’s only a matter of a few more years.

Q. Unlike other institutes, FLAME is known not to market itself aggressively. Why is that?
It is a conscious decision. And that’s based on something I firmly believe in: Credibility first, visibility later. If you’re credible and doing solid work, the world is bound to notice you!
However, I must say that in the last year or so, people have started talking about us. Moreover, our own students have been telling people about their wonderful experience at FLAME.

Q. Tell us about the Finance and Investment focus at FLAME.
We run a three-day programme on Behavioural Finance. And of course, we have a Masters Programme in the FLAME Investment Lab, run by people like Durgesh Shah, Manish Chokhani, et al. The who’s who of the financial world comes to this programme, from the Jhunjhunwalas to the Agrawals to the Oswals. They spend one full week here at FLAME. The sessions are very intensive, starting at 9 in the morning and sometimes going on till 2 at night!

If I had to sum up, I would say the FLAME Investment Lab believes in the dictum “invest in yourself”, and strives to deliver the concepts and decipher the art of value investing to interested students.

Tell us about the students that FLAME looks for. What is the current profile of the students?
We look for inquisitive students who have an open mind and want to explore and experiment, and have a good world view. We want our students to be well prepared in terms of their domain knowledge, with the capacity to look at problems from all angles and connect the dots.

We also give a lot of emphasis on written articulation, as much and sometimes more than verbal communication. That is because many of us today can’t write at all, when in fact that is a skill we need, but not trained in!

Q. What advice would you give to the budding student talent at B-schools?
I believe in a simple philosophy. You should know what you’re doing, and if you feel that your ideas are right, put in the hard work. You will succeed. Frankly, life is too short to mickey mouse around! So keep it simple, keep it focused.

An MBA programme takes you through a process of transformation. To me, it is a way of life. And here, everything is interconnected, and no problem or issue is in silo. So you need to have the knowledge to tackle such problems. But only knowledge isn’t enough, you should also have the capacity to synthesise all that information and look at the broader picture. Finally, you should have integrity. So an MBA student should use their two years to build themselves in this manner, both at the personal and professional levels.