In recent years, the landscape of educational leadership has witnessed a significant transformation with the emergence of remarkable women leaders. These visionary individuals have shattered stereotypes and paved the way for a more inclusive and equitable educational system. One such exemplary leader is Shalini Bharat, the Director/Vice Chancellor of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). Her exceptional leadership and commitment to advancing social sciences education have set her apart as a trailblazer in the field.
From the Scratch
A Master’s and Doctoral degree holder in Psychology from the University of Allahabad, Shalini Bharat’s strong inclination towards academia stemmed from her fascination with teaching and research, further fueled by the exemplary professors she encountered at the Department of Psychology (AU), who served as her role models. The Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) became a significant catalyst in her academic journey, providing the necessary impetus and support.
Initially focusing on Social Psychology, Shalini gradually transitioned into the realm of public health, particularly delving into the household and community response to individuals with HIV in India. Her groundbreaking study for UNAIDS (Geneva) during the early stages of the HIV pandemic highlighted the prevailing stigma and discrimination associated with the disease, the gender dynamics involved, as well as the psychosocial issues and rights of individuals living with HIV.
She also is known for her extensive research endeavors on reproductive health, especially pertaining to women and young people, and exploration of topics such as research ethics, gender-related psycho-social issues associated with tuberculosis and so on. TISS exposed Shalini to a diverse range of socially relevant and current themes, as well as practical field interventions carried out by her colleagues. These experiences propelled her towards adopting a multidisciplinary approach and employing mixed methods in her research. Thus, her journey as an eclectic social researcher, transcending disciplinary boundaries, can be attributed to her time at TISS.
As the Director/Vice Chancellor
Heading the parade of TISS with confidence and vigor, Shalini Bharat’s primary role is to provide leadership, both academically and administratively, in order to foster the growth of TISS as a global leader in multidisciplinary education and research. She is dedicated to supporting and facilitating the teaching, research, and community engagement efforts of the faculty, ensuring a stable and well-functioning learning ecosystem that enables students to excel in achieving their educational goals. Shalini is committed to providing comprehensive support systems for students, including counseling services, a gender cell, recreational facilities, and scholarships, to ensure their emotional well-being.
Additionally, as the Vice Chancellor, Shalini Bharat represents TISS on national and international platforms, actively works towards developing new partnerships and alliances to secure resources, serves on government task forces and committees, attends conferences and meetings on behalf of TISS, and receives important delegates. She also holds the crucial responsibility of ensuring that students graduate on time and that the institute opens as scheduled for the next batch of students. TISS is well-known for conducting a formal convocation to confer degrees upon graduating students and for commencing the new academic year punctually, both of which fall under Shalini’s purview as Vice Chancellor.
During the campus lockdown imposed by the pandemic, Shalini Bharat prioritized the safety and security of everyone associated with TISS, including students, staff, and faculty. Immediate measures were taken, such as the closure of all campuses and the facilitation of safe travel for hostel students back to their homes. To ensure academic continuity and prevent any loss of the academic year, a swift transition was made to online teaching and exams, especially considering it was the end of the semester. In addition, online counseling services were extended to support the well-being of all individuals.
One notable accomplishment was the rapid development of the TISSONLINE (TISSOL) platform, a digital learning system that played a crucial role in maintaining academic continuity for students and facilitating admissions for the new academic year. TISS was among the few educational institutions in the country to implement such a system promptly. The institute successfully organized virtual convocations for the batches of students from the academic years 2020 and 2021, while the convocation for the batch of 2022 was conducted in person.
To address uncertainties and bridge the digital divide, various steps were taken by TISS. These included providing laptops to students in need, offering fee concessions and flexible payment options, extending assignment submission dates, implementing multi-modal exams, offering remote library reference services and faculty mentoring, and providing online counseling services. Some staff members were also provided with laptops to facilitate their work from home.
Moreover, when we asked Shalini Bharat about some of the challenges faced by TISS and how as an institute they are overcoming them, she shared – “TISS is actively striving to achieve its goal of academic expansion and increasing its student strength in compliance with the NEP 2020 mandate. To reach this goal it is working at expanding its physical and IT infrastructure across all its 4 campuses, and increasing its international footprints and student body”. “It is designing several exciting new age academic programs including digital courses, that will prepare our graduates to work in diverse global settings, particularly in the global South”, she continued. Through the conversation she also spoke about how TISS as a public university with a pan-India student body, has a huge potential to emerge as a global leader for multi-disciplinary education and knowledge creation, despite some limitations of financial nature, which Ms. Shalini is trying to overcome it in various ways.
Knowing Shalini Bharat
Shalini Bharat acknowledges the challenges of achieving a work-life balance, with her professional life currently taking precedence. This leaves limited time for pursuing personal interests. In order to cope with work pressure and create meaningful moments with her family, she makes an effort to dedicate occasional moments for leisure activities. This may include watching a film, going for a drive, or enjoying a dinner outing. Although these opportunities may only arise once a month or every few months, they serve as rejuvenating experiences that fuel her motivation and resilience throughout the remaining time.