Panjab University (PU) was ranked between 225-250 in the Times Higher Education (THE) World Rankings in 2013-14, the highest rank for any Indian institution, and again emerged at the top along with Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore in 2014-15, though in the 276-300 bracket. Recently, the university earned a new laurel. It was named as a leading research institution in India with the highest citation impact by the noted international Science journal, Nature. Vice-Chancellor (V-C) Arun Kumar Grover spoke to Srishti Choudhary recently in the midst of admission season about how the institution has achieved its research output, and what its plans are to keep this going. Edited excerpts:
How has been your term as a Vice-Chancellor?
It has been a great learning experience. I knew that PU is amongst the good universities of the country. But I had not thought that it could be rated as the premier university of the country, that it was among the top universities, particularly, in science and technology. This I was aware of, that PU is a good traditional university for science and technology.
What do you mean by traditional university?
IISc, Bangalore is a research university, where people are inducted on the basis of their research potential. Nobody looks at whether you have done teaching in the past. TIFR, Mumbai is a deemed university. Once again, the teaching abilities are not taken into consideration. In a traditional university, they will asses you as a teacher first. Research has to happen side by side. But there is no condition imposed on you, that if you do not generate research for 12 months, your probation will not be continued.
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Then how does one explain the citation impact? PU has a citation impact of 1.4, higher than 1.39 of TIFR and 1.11 of IISc, Bangalore.
One must see the citation in the context of PU and of all those universities in which there are some niche departments that are a part of international collaborations. If TIFR is part of the same international collaboration as PU, the citation record of TIFR will be the same as that of PU. Whatever international experiments which TIFR participates in, PU also participates in it. But IISc is not a major partner in them in High Energy Physics.
PU and TIFR participate in experiments at CERN, in Fermilab, USA and experiments at B-factory at Tsukuba, Japan. This is one frontier of High energy physics.
One at CERN is another frontier. Quark-gluon plasma is another frontier. The fourth is the Neutrino experiment. PU is a part of these four. Department of Science and Technology and Department of Atomic Energy have identified PU for opening a centre for High Energy instrumentation and detector development. Once that project gets located at PU, the department will get enriched because it is nurturing high number of High Energy physicists.
Did the four-year period, 2010-2014, counted for the Times ranking include old research papers as well?
Yes. It is not about papers that came out in this period but also the papers in which PU figures and which have a high citation. It is a mix of so many things. God particle came up in 2012. So, all those papers are being cited multiple times. Every theorist is cited. So, PU was already doing well, and discovery of God particle made it even better. When there was a lull and Fermilab was closed down for a while, and they were re-building CERN, PU and TIFR went on and joined the groups in B-factory in Japan.
The thing is that you have a job in the university, you have a job for life, you can decide to sleep, still you will get the salary. These professors at PU, or those at IIT-Guwahati, TIFR people, they are conscious that their productivity should not suffer. They should continuously be valued as a member of these collaborations. So, they keep working. So, when there is a holiday, when [other] people spend time here and there,what do High energy physicists do? Class khatam hoti hai. The next day they take a flight, and go to CERN or Chicago, and there they work hard. You are actually trying to make up for the time you could not do anything because you were doing teaching. That is how international faculty values them also, and they are continuously being included.
How many professors in PU are involved in High Energy Physics?
I cannot give you the numbers. But among the senior people, there is Jasbir Singh, Manjit Kaur, Madam Mohan Aggarwal, Vipin Bhatnagar, and they have recruited, two more new people. They are 7-8 people. There are older people, who continue to work, for example, Professor Suman Beri, Professor Kohli is retired. It is a culture that is alive. You visit the Physics department, Saturday and Sunday, the department is open. There are people sitting in the Physics canteen.
How have these rankings and the mention in Nature journal helped the University?
People who have been running down the university, their mouths are shut (laughs).
How do you plan to encourage students to take up Sciences? More students seek admission in applied sciences than pure sciences?
This is natural. People want a job quickly at the end of their education. People will go into science, only if the science can be done at a competitive level, so that you can participate in the excitement of science. Science done at a mediocre level, is not exciting. Peripheral science is of no satisfaction.
To have small fraction of the good quality people to pursue Science is good. We have to sustain Science at that level, and for that we need resources. University does not have access to those resources. But PGI has resources when it comes to Basic Medical Sciences, because it is a Central Institution. Doctors need back-up in the form of fundamental sciences, but PGI does not have a student workforce. But if our Basic Medical Sciences can work in partnership with doctors, researchers at PGI or scientists at IMTECH to make use of facilities that NIPER has created, then, teachers-researchers of PU can start doing science which is at the frontier. That is why, I tried to put all these institutes together, tried to break these barriers, so that we can attract at least some good students to pursue Sciences, particularly the integrated programmes of the university.
These programmes are good as feeders for the students to the TIFR, IISc and other institutes. But we also need to have good research done here. So we must start integrated Masters and PhD programmes. This is one thing I’m trying to sell to my colleagues. To kick-start that, smaller departments have to come together.
Has the government been generous in terms of giving funds following the international recognition?
The nation has to make a choice, whether PU has to be sustained as a premiere institution or let it go down the tube. The onus is on the Government of India. Because if you freeze our budget, in linkage to inflation, when we have 30 per cent of the positions vacant, how will we fill up those posts? The only onus on PU faculty is that they have to sustain their academic output comparable to the best national output.