Shaheem Rahiman

Interview: Shaheem Rahiman, CEO, Atria University

September 1, 2020
– Sukanya Nandy

Sited in India’s silicon valley, Atria University aims at redefining the country’s existing higher education model. Promoted in 2018 by the Atria Group — a Bangalore-based conglomerate with interests in telecommunications, renewable energy, hospitality and education — the university is the brainchild of Sunder Raju, a pioneer in information technology and renewable energy sectors and promoter of the Atria Group. 

Conceptualised as the first liberal sciences university in India, Atria University offers interdisciplinary specialisations in technology and business domains including Interactive Technologies, Mobility, Sustainable Life Sciences, Energy Sciences, and Digital Transformation. Undergraduate aspirants have the flexibility to design their own degree programme in BBA, B.Des, BSc, or BTech. The curriculum is designed to help students master concepts through a 3-week intense and immersive, sprint style learning instead of long semesters. The university is currently awaiting its State Private University status.

Shaheem Rahiman, CEO, Atria University talks to EducationWorld about Atria University and the National Education Policy 2020. 

Please elaborate on the USPs and pedagogy of Atria University?

Our unconventional approach to higher education finds comparison to the New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET) at MIT, USA. Atria University has boldly redesigned the prevalent higher education model in a way that places the student and their unique potential at the center. 

Liberal sciences and futuristic majors: Atria University is India’s first university that offers an application driven liberal sciences programme. This allows students to explore both STEM and Liberal Arts. And helps students gain interdisciplinary competencies across arts, social sciences, and sciences, which is applicable across industries. 

Craft their own degree: For the first time in Indian higher education, students at Atria University will not be slotted in any one-degree track at the time of enrollment. They have the liberty to craft their own degree by mixing courses between tracks of research (BSc), application (BTech), design (BDes) and business (BBA), as per their unique needs, interest, and aptitude over the course of three or four years.

Sprint style, project-based learning: Six-month long semesters have been replaced by three-weeks, intense and immersive sprints of learning. Each three-week sprint is driven by a real-life project where students dive deep into concepts across disciplines. Students converge that learning to complete the project every three weeks, just like they are expected to deliver in their professional lives.

Faculty from around the world: The unique design of 3-week sprints enables Atria University to bring the very best faculty from around the world for shorter durations to complement the permanent faculty. Members of our academic team are accomplished academicians affiliated to reputed institutions like UPenn, MIT, Stanford, and Oxford.

Partnerships with industry stalwarts: We have partnered with premier organisations leading research, development, and innovation like the Defence Institute Of Advanced Technology (DIAT), Central Manufacturing Technology Institute (CMTI), Defence Institute of Advanced Technology (DIAT), and Society of Automotive Engineers India (SAEINDIA) to name a few. Their extended networks and futuristic vision enable our students to experiment and innovate, pursue pioneering research, and interact with industry leaders. 

Peer-to-peer evaluations: In keeping with industry readiness, students are not only participants but also co-evaluators with their professors of the work done by their peers.

Selection for qualities: Atria University is the first institution in the domain of sciences and engineering to stop using Board or JEE scores to select students. Instead, its unique selection process focuses on identifying qualities like passion, rigor, curiosity and teamwork.

Tell us about the courses offered – the futuristic design of the curriculum.

As mentioned earlier, Atria University offers five futuristic majors that will prepare students to be prepared for the emerging workplace.

Interactive Technologies – The Interactive Technologies program is a distinctive combination of Computer Science, Design Thinking & Research Methodologies, grounded in a foundation of ethics. While pursuing the Interactive Technologies major, students will be able to leverage the best existing technologies in their own creative practice.

Sustainable Life Sciences – The new standard in sciences calls for a close collaboration between disciplines that have traditionally been considered separate. And, modern biological sciences, with its sharp focus on technologies and broad systems thinking, is a key area to expand the possibilities for human health and well-being in the 21st century. While pursuing the Sustainable Life Sciences major, students will learn the fundamentals of modern biological sciences in its full interdisciplinary span. 

Mobility – While pursuing a major in Mobility, students will learn about electric propulsion, hybrid electric vehicles, and autonomous vehicles. Students will also understand the societal and environmental impact of technological developments. And, the economic and financial implications of electric mobility. Students will be exposed to courses from across disciplines – engineering, energy policy, environmental science, and business.

Energy Sciences – The course will first give students a strong foundation in the principles of energy sciences. Followed by a broad overview of the technology applications in renewable energy plants. Through projects and immersive study modules, students will learn from the disciplines of electrical, electronics, and mechanical engineering, with a focus on renewable power systems. They will also design installations, see actual working commercial plants, conduct performance tests, and gain real-world experience in policy and public engagement around renewable energy systems.

Digital Transformation – Digital transformation involves leveraging new technologies  to enhance a business from end-to-end. Right from internal process efficiency to the end user’s experience. This course will enable students to grasp new-age business models, basics of digital business operations and many more. Students will learn to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements.

Could you shed some light on the admission process?

We believe marks are not the true indicators of a student’s overall capability. At a time when most conventional universities consider marks over merit, our selection process is designed to understand the entire student profile. We respect the personal and socio-economic context of the candidate and consider all their pursuits and achievements in that light.  

Our selection process focuses more on a student’s “ability to learn” than their “ability to score well in exams”. Passion, rigor, ability to learn, curiosity, teamwork, communication, general awareness, and perseverance are qualities that we look for in our students. 

Our admissions process is in line with global universities and comprises three phases – a dynamic online application, Student Engagement & Interaction Day (SEID), and a declaration of admissions decisions. During our Students Engagement and Interaction Day, they get to demonstrate their capabilities through LIVE projects.

While selecting students, we evaluate candidates based on certain qualities. We’re mostly looking for:

  • Commitment to social impact driven by science, technology and entrepreneurship
  • Sincere passion and dedication in the domain of interest of the candidate
  • Characteristic traits or evidence of constructive risk-taking
  • Ability to think differently and willingness to appreciate new ideas

What are your thoughts on the Nation Education Policy 2020?

We welcome the introduction of the New Education Policy 2020 as it seeks to bring some much-needed changes in the Indian education system that will positively impact future Indian students. Strong measures to simplify and strengthen the Indian school education system with focus on new-age skills such as coding from an early age. Removal of the over-importance placed on board exams and promise to use digital education to achieve scale will help reach many more Indian students. We are most impressed with the praiseworthy move to increase academic flexibility by pushing a multi-disciplinary approach to college education, a four-year UG program and providing students the option of multiple exit-points in their higher education journeys.

The proposed single regulator, Higher Education Council of India (HECI), is a welcome move. I am particularly excited to see UGC and AICTE merge and be brought together. Liberal education models, giving students the ability to experience Technical and Liberal Arts education together during Undergrad programs will now become a new norm. A single regulatory body should drastically reduce the elapsed time in approval cycles for new Higher Education programs, and Universities. I am certain this will result in private organizations and start-ups looking at higher education as focus areas for growth. We hope that the new policy is implemented strongly and are confident that India will take big strides towards becoming a global education hub with this move.

At Atria University, we believe that students should be empowered to choose their own learning pathways, explore their interests and graduate with the skills and passion to excel in the career of their choice. In line with the NEP 2020, we seek to build a forward-looking University that offers absolute flexibility to students to move between domains and degrees. And forge a holistic education system that does not judge the quality of students on the basis of their marks alone. 

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