Professor Raj Kumar, Vice Chancellor of Panjab University, in conversation with Pallavi Singhal, talks about the New Education Policy, and future plans for the varsity.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a management professor. I belong to a very small village of Uttar Pradesh– Suriyawan. I was always good in studies and in every class I topped or got some position. I did my graduation from Banaras Hindu University (BHU). My post graduation as well as PhD are also from there itself, after which I pursued my D Litt from the University of Lucknow. I worked for quite sometime at the insurance and capital market and almost ten years ago, switched over to start-ups like building incubation chambers. I have been the director at the Institute of Management studies at BHU.
I also played a very important role in the establishment of the Atal incubation centre at BHU.
I then came over here as the VC at Panjab University. Here I have made innovative research my first and foremost priority and bagged us the RUSA grant. Of the RUSA grant I worked on establishing the incubation centre– currently under construction.
How do you see NEP affecting universities?
All segments of education will be affected with the introduction of this policy. Reason being, it has touched each and every component– be it primary education or university education. Every university has now to think over on the implementation of the policy. One must chalk out a short term as well as a long term strategy for the same.
The Panjab University, has already started everything on the lines of NEP. Each department has also been organising at least two-three webinars on the strategy and roadmaps for the implementation of this policy. Our academicians too are thinking about how they can go for researches and credit transfers ,and restructuring courses.
My university has thus already started working towards the implementation of the policy. Many renounced academicians have been invited virtually to speak on it and our webinars have been successful. We have also been lucky to have almost four governors from different states sharing their views with us on the same. We certainly hope that taking lead will benefit us.
Do you have any plans to improve faculty citations?
This is also a very important facet. With my motivation in the past two years, scientists of our university have dramatically raised their citations in significant projects. One can easily observe the drastic change in the number of projects sanctioned by different funding agencies, the way researchers know their subject.
We were even ranked number two in the state universities system on basis of innovation among other things.
PU does not attract faculty from different parts of India, let alone globally. How do you plan to improve that?
We must not think like that. When we think about visiting faculty, certainly the resource and infrastructure is a hurdle. But we do have a good number of faculty from different institutes of India. There is also a ‘gyaan‘ platform through which we attract a lot of foreign faculty.
A French delegation recently visited the varsity as well. What is the update on that end?
We have been thinking of several tie-ups. But this is a crucial point for us. We are looking not just for student exchange programmes, but collaborative courses and projects.
This has been my dream.
In name of foreign collaboration, student exchange programmes are generally the beginning as well as the end. But I am focusing on much more.
Exchange is only the beginning. Collaborative certificate programs, projects, diploma programmes and degrees are what we aim to do. My dream is to establish physical labs which will be the only way to lead to the success of such projects.
Fortunately, the French delegation has given us a very positive response, all thanks to NEP. The credit system will be a huge help since our university had a very structured marking format.
How soon can these plans be implemented? Is there a timeline you have drawn?
We are making both short as well as long term plans. Short term plans like re-structuring of courses, and starting new courses will begin as soon as the next batch arrives.
We have also already started working towards collaborative projects. We are going to write letters to all foreign universities we are in touch with, stating that in light of the NEP we are making some changes and will be available for tie-ups.
The university has faced a financial crunch time and again. Are there any plans for the varsity to move towards being financially self-sufficient?
I have put efforts into that direction as we have started many courses.
There are a lot of limitations though. When you are in the space to expand, you certainly need money for better infrastructure, upgradation of labs and establishing new verticals.
It comes as a surprise, that the PU has no other grants other than a fixed amount of ‘Partial salary grant’ of a mere Rs 208 crore, with a six per cent increase annually Meanwhile, my budget is approximately Rs 560 crore.
There is a huge deficit which we have to meet on our own through endeavours, including researches, examination fees, general fees among other things. It is all money raised by the students from which we pay the salaries and invest in the infrastructure.
I am working on a plan to meet this deficit. Collaborations, plans and projects along with introduction of new courses is all under the same light. But the impact will be only be seen long-term.
You had made an announcement regarding involving the alumni in the university in a big way. Have any step been taken for that?
We are soon planning an international alumni meet. Dean alumni is in regular touch with the alumnus and I believe we will get good results from that. But I must say anything that has remained completely dormant.
I had revived the association last year through organising an international alumni meet. Things had been set in motion then, but the pandemic brought upon us in March has left the mid six months futile. We will now conduct a virtual meet in December.
All institutes are known for one excelled department. Which department would you want PU to be known for?
We do not have just one but atleast a dozen excellent departments. The department of Pharmaceutical sciences, management, physics, chemistry, botany, dental sciences, zoology, legal studies among others are departments who have earned us name and fame.
What have you to say about the pending senate elections?
I would not like to comment on it. I do not have the permission.
A group of senate members had also written to the UT administration, saying that it has no say in the conduct of elections while also citing the success of PUTA elections. Do you have any comments on that?
I will not be able to say anything on this. A better person to talk to regarding this would be the registrar.
A number of contractual class four employees were recently let go of. Why is that?
They were not our employees. It was mostly a controversy created by the media. We had only hired them under contracts of two-three years which expired. If we do not need you, how can we take you on? Our own employees were coming at a 50 per cent capacity. Then how and why do we call you? How can you demand it if your contract is over?
Also, we have saved more than Rs 70-80 lakh per month after letting them go. It has been five months to that almost. Imagine the amount we have saved.
Although the move was criticised widely, it was important.
Since the centre has permitted research scholars to join back, going forward, how will the hostels and libraries be opened?
We will do everything phase-wise and will go ahead strictly following the SOPs. We were told to open labs et al for PhD students and we did that. There were no specific instructions regarding the hostels and thus we have not opened them as yet.
Students are our first and foremost priority. We have to firstly think of their safety before anything else.
How do you plan on improving the output of university’s researches?
I have already decided a thrust area in all departments and researchers are working on it.
We have 78 departments. The kind of focus our students have is unimaginable, they do new things every day. We have several wonderful social initiatives as well.
We are far better than any IITs and IIMs, I can positively say. The only thing we lack is that kind of fame.
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