Deep faith in education and the process of its acquisition has been an ancient practice in India, for that is the only way to happiness and prosperity. As a prime centre of learning in India, JNU has in the last year taken significant steps to maintain symphony with the vision of the Indian government to become an enviable institution.
As the Union government introduced various schemes, especially under the Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya Mission on Teachers and Training, JNU launched several programmes to contribute towards this vision of India. Through its Office of Research and Development, JNU encouraged and incentivised its various schools and special centres to participate in research and teaching and apply for projects, also of an interdisciplinary nature. Many teachers have successfully acquired such projects from funding agencies both in the government and non-government sectors. To facilitate interdisciplinary research, JNU has opened at least six major schools and special centres, which will accelerate the pace of research as well as provide the necessary infrastructure for training the youth.
The School of Engineering, with its unique programme of five-year dual-degree courses, will augment the newly-established Atal Bihari Vajpayee School of Management and Entrepreneurship. These two new schools along with other schools of sciences will benefit directly from the Atal Incubation Centre (AIC), which was recently established at JNU with the support of Niti Aayog. The AIC aims to become the leader as an incubation centre in the country, facilitating research and startups.
In its mission of self-reliance, which has been driving its policies for several years but celebrated recently under the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centre has been encouraging many indigenous programmes in the country’s health and security infrastructure through the Ayush ministry. Recognising the potential in these areas, JNU has opened three new special centres and a degree programme. The five-year BSC-MSc integrated programme in Ayurveda biology will explore and exploit research in India’s traditional knowledge of medicine and wellness. This programme will become uniquely attractive because scholars and teachers from biological sciences, humanities and social sciences will be part of it. Experts from the newly established School of Sanskrit and Indic Studies will read and interpret medical knowledge and practices available in ancient texts. It will not only be an exciting combination of the old and the new, but it will prepare the youth to become medical workers and future researchers.
The Special Centre for North East Studies will fulfil the ambition of the central government to integrate the north-eastern regions of India with the rest of the country and to use the unique knowledge and skills of its people in various fields of research.
Two new special centres — studies in disaster research and national security — have already begun their work in collaboration with the home ministry and its nodal centre, the National Institute Disaster Management, to provide platforms for policy, research and training in India’s disaster management programmes and security analysis.
For thousands of years, India has believed that “wisdom alleviates misery”. Work towards India’s economic and scientific growth cannot be a luxury for any academic leader, it must be the dharma for us who have been tasked to impart training in the field of education and scientific research. When I took over as JNU’s vice-chancellor four years ago, I had set myself the goal of intensifying academic and research activities. Every vice-chancellor or director of an institute faces impediments in fulfilling their mission — we are a challenging, diverse society. But I have also learnt that if one is committed to serving the nation, success will come. The programmes that I have tried to bring to JNU required both administrative and financial support – and both the UGC and the MHRD provided assistance when needed.
When COVID-19 struck our nation, JNU quickly scrambled with the assistance of its various academic administrators, deans, chairpersons, indeed of all its teachers, to keep every member of the university safe and to continue with our academic activities with as little disturbance as possible. A COVID-19 Task Force was constituted in the university which regularly advises the administration on how to adjust to the pandemic. Following every advisory and guideline issued by the Centre and the state government, the university facilitated the safe evacuation of students from the campus and arranged safe accommodation for those students who could not move out. JNU arranged training programmes, where required, for teachers to move to online instruction. Soon, I was happy to note, all the schools and centres began engaging students through various online platforms.
We are in constant discussion with JNU’s academic administrators to find solutions to any new problems that may present themselves. JNU had already introduced paperless movement of administrative files, and during the pandemic, each member of the university has found it extremely easy to reach out to the administration through the e-Office.
The initiatives taken over the past year and more are aimed not only to facilitate high-level teaching and research but also to empower and skill our country’s youth to become a self-reliant, self-employed and self-sustaining human resource of our country. These initiatives chime in with Atma Nirbhar Bharat, the latest clarion call by the Prime Minister.
This article first appeared in the print edition on June 17, 2020, under the title “University and Nation”. The writer is vice-chancellor of JNU