SPECIALIZATION IS THE WAY TO GO


janaka wijenayake
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Q:

You were once an undergraduate student of the Department of Industrial Management. You then chose to join the same department to pursue your academic career. What was your reasoning for this decision?

A:

I joined the department as a student in 1987 and graduated only in 1992, because of the university closures during that period. My passion was to pursue a career in academia. The question was which department I wished to join. What swayed me to choose the Department of Industrial Management, was the culture where each person was equally recognized and heard irrespective of their position, the professional setup and the excellent relationship we maintained with the students.

Q:

There are degree programs related to management, offered by Faculties of Management in the university system. In our department, all students are from a Science background. Is there any uniqueness in offering a Management course to Science students?

A:

The initial objective of starting the Department of Industrial Management in 1967 was to offer Management subjects to students at the Faculty of Science. If you look at what is happening in employment, you can see that those who have done various different degree programs finally end up in management position. When you move up in your career, ultimately you end up being a manager. When you become a manager it is very important to have very good analytical skills and manage your resources effectively and efficiently. Only then you can analyze different solutions for problems and come up with a better solution. So mathematical background of the science students will really help them in whatever the job they will be doing. So I think analytical skills with managerial knowledge is an added advantage.

Q:

As a student, did you notice any significant differences in the culture at the Department of Industrial Management and other departments in even other universities?

A:

Yes, since I had classmates and friends in even other universities, I had the opportunity of comparing their experiences with my experience at DIM. We had a very good relationship with the staff members and were treated as one IM family. The staff was approachable anytime, whenever we had any issue, academic or even otherwise. They were not only knowledgeable but also brought in their professional experience, since most of them were working closely with private and public sector companies. This network was also leveraged by the department to bring in professionals, reputed alumni into the classroom and also was useful in opening up job placements for the students.

Q:

Can you describe the evolution of the department over the last 30 years?

A:

When I joined in 1987, the academic team at the department was very small. The Faculty of Science offered only two-degree programs, which were Physical Science and Bio Science and each programme consisted of three subjects. Our department provided a single subject, Industrial Management for 25 students following the physical science stream. We have come a long way since. Though, we had brought in Information Technology into the curriculum in the early 1980s, in 1995 we realized that IT will revolutionize how businesses operate and therefore, introduced a new subject, titled Operational Research and Information Technology (ORIT). All students who joined the programme subsequently, now enrolled for two subjects from the department, together with mathematics as the additional subject. Until 2002, we offered Industrial Management as a subject for students studying at the Faculty of Science. However, in 1986 we commenced offering specialization in Industrial Management to selected students who followed Industrial Management as a subject. As part of this evolvement, in 2003, we amalgamated the subject areas in Management and in Information Technology and offered our very own degree programme, the Bachelor of Science in Management and Information Technology (MIT). This was the very first time a single department was offering a degree programme in the Faculty of Science. By that time, there were other universities like University of Colombo and Moratuwa offering degree programs solely in computer science. We foresaw the need for an integrative programme with both management and information technology. The unique nature of the programme also enabled us to differentiate our product from other programmes offered by local and international programmes. In 2012, the programme was once again enhanced to include four specializations, namely Information Technology, Business Systems Engineering, Operations and Supply Chain Management and Information Systems.

Q:

Was there any demand for bridging both Management and IT together at that time or was it based on a prediction that this kind of a demand will arise in the future?

A:

Actually, the whole idea of Industrial Engineering and Management is to manage the business processes in organizations. For an example, it can be a production line or any other service operation. Earlier industrial managers and industrial engineers studied the operation process, identified their weaknesses and came up with streamlined processes to improve operations. However, with the advancement of Information Technology they started to introduce IT to improve business processes. So then, it became important for industrial managers and industrial engineers to have knowledge on IT. That is why we thought it is better to combine Industrial Management with Information Technology.

Q:

By the time University of Kelaniya started the MIT degree program, were there any other degree programs offering both IT and Management?

A:

No. Definitely, there were no such degree programs in Sri Lanka by 2001. Even overseas, while there weren’t exactly a similar programme, in the USA, they had degree programs in Industrial Systems Engineering (ISE) and Management of Information Systems (MIS). The content of MIT and these programme while not exactly the same has some similarities.

Q:

What is the current perspective in the education sector and the corporate world regarding the Department of Industrial Management?

A:

The MIT degree programme from its inception has been acclaimed by all our stakeholders, students, leading corporates, funding agencies like World Bank, Asian Development Bank, UNIDO and even our competitors as an innovative programme which caters to the needs of industry and the nation. Our placement rates and the average starting salaries can be compared with the top programmes in the country. However, one of our secrets to our success has been our ability to constantly innovate and refine our offering keeping to current trends in the local and inter national markets. Our most recent innovation of offering four specializations now enable our students to compete. I believe that with the specializations, our students has the skill set and therefore a comparative edge to compete and succeed in the job market. While we are proud of the achievements of our students, we do not want to relax and bask in our glory. We understand the need to constantly innovate and be current, and we invest in resources in order for this process to continue.

Q:

As someone who has exposure to the international universities, how do you see our department when compared to them?

A:

The department has word class facilities and could compete with some of the renowned universities across the globe. Our teaching and learning activities are also on par with internationally reputed universities. Our syllabuses are up to date. Our teaching techniques are up to date. We use technology productively for teaching and learning activities. So I believe that in these aspects we are on par with international universities. However, one area that the department has lagged behind is in the area of research. When it comes to university education, we have to balance out teaching with research. We have actually started to address this anomaly in our new initiatives and we are sure that we will be able to reach our desired goals in the next few years.

Q:

Do you have any suggestions to improve this aspect of research, which is lacking in our department?

A:

Yes. We as a department need to focus more on research projects and develop research areas. We have to encourage research not only among the staff, but also among our students as well. Our students do research, but only a minority take it seriously. Students and even some corporates have not really understood the importance of doing research. Therefore, I think we have to have some programs within the department to promote research activities among students. Most of the international universities have fulltime postgraduate courses, either Masters or PhDs. In Sri Lanka such program are very rare, especially due to limited financial resources. We do not offer financial assistance in form of scholarships for students to do fulltime research. Therefore, it is very difficult to attract good students to do fulltime research. In contrast, what international universities do is they offer scholarships and attract good students from all over the world for their postgraduate programs and get them to do research. They bring the recognition to the university in terms of the research output. In one way, lack of support for research is not our fault. It is the lack of funding for research projects which is inhibiting this growth in the university system. We should have a dialogue with all stakeholders and see how we can raise our research output.

Q:

The corporate world is undergoing rapid changes. What are the plans of our department to face the dynamic requirements of the industry?

A:

As the first step, we will be offering Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Information Technology degree program. From year 2020/2021 onwards, those who join MIT program will be able to obtain BSc (Hon) in IT. The next step would be to offer a degree program in Industrial Systems Engineering, which has already been developed and in the process of getting approval from relevant authorities. In the future, those who join MIT program would be able to get a degree either in Information Technology or Industrial Systems Engineering. We are planning to continue our current MIT program as well. I believe combination of new degree programs together with the current program would cater to the future industrial needs. Specialization is the way forward. For example, when we joined the university about 30 years back, we did not have any IT or Computer Science degree programs. We studied some concepts in Computing under Industrial Management subject. Things have changed over the years and industry needs specialized skills. Unless we offer specialized degree programs, I do not think our students will be able to compete in the job market. That is why we have started introducing specializations. A vast variety of short-term programs are also conducted by the department to develop soft skills of our students. They are very helpful when our students start interacting with the industry. The internship of the MIT degree program also provides our students good industry exposure before commencing their careers.

Exposition Magazine Issue 15

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