Dr. Venkat, Amrita Univ VC: “Have Faith in private universities”
April 8, 2014
Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amrita University
What makes ecstatic Dr. P. Venkat Rangan VC of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham is being part of privately owned university. Focusing on autonomous character, he emphasises, “We have freedom to innovate fast.” His expression sinks when he compares Indian context with West. He shares, “Unfortunately, the Government looks at private institutions with lot of doubts. If you look at US, 7 out of the top 10 universities are private players like MIT, Stanford. There is exceptional talent pouring in some private universities. The government should try to leverage from it.” He admits public private partnership is crucial.
Q. How can we inspire Indian youth to stand at par with western counterparts?
A. India has a great potential as we have enormous amount of youth power. People are naturally intelligent, talented and extremely versatile. If you channelize their energy, you will see fast learners with creative spark. From the beginning of the college you must enable them to feel the pulse of the society. They need an experience to touch the society. So eventually their own problems will become insignificant. Youth energies should be utilised to solve developmental issues. This will reduce brain drain from our country. We must try to create a culture within the university.
Q. What ails India’s research? At what extent we can learn from world class universities?
A. We cannot simply replicate or duplicate the western system. We should learn from that and then give a more practical focus to our research. We cannot afford to invest billions and billions dollars on open sky research. Even western universities feel that they have to change their approach, especially to focus on real world problems (energy, water, environment, waste management). Western style of research is largely directed by funding and the funding agency can quite bit influence direction of research. Funding is very essential but at the same time, but you cannot overlook what benefits society. The research fraternity must bring in pragmatic impact factor, as opposed to paper and intellectual impact factor.
Q. Your thoughts on public-private partnership in education. What are the strengths and drawback of being a private player?
A. The advantage is that we are autonomous. Since we have quick decision making power, we have freedom to bring innovation fast. In the Indian context today, private universities have a lot of disadvantage, because education is a public sector dominated field. Unfortunately, the Government looks at private institutions with lot of doubts. If you look at US, 7 out of the top 10 universities are private universities (MIT, Stanford). There is exceptional talent pouring in some private universities. The Govt. should try to leverage from it. Some private universities have a lot of good accountability. On the other side, government universities are a big ocean today, so you cannot have a very strict focus on excellence and quality. Whereas in private sector a lot of good investment is going in and there is accountability from the faculty, from the administrator to show results. It is exactly like a private industry Vs public industry. In next 10-15 years, I think the best universities will be from private zone. The government should be the share holder in it.
Yes, definitely the private, public partnership is crucial. Let’s take one example from west, during second world war it was Lincoln labs part of private university which deployed biggest technology. Their government had lot of faith on these universities. Government should have faith and confidence, and become share holder. As a nation we can become one of the best. Internally we can merge our differences and can work as a team, so that the whole nation benefits.
Q. There is over explosion of private institutes in our country, some seriously lack practical pedagogical skills. What’s in store at Amrita?
A. We give a lot of importance to experiential research. We have also the programmes like the living labs, where students can choose to spend some months in a rural setting to understand the problems faced by the society. They work on projects relevant to direct applicability of the problems that the Indian population faces. Our parent organization Mata Amritanandamayi Math has adopted more than 100 villages all over India. So our students and faculty spend time in each village, and they get credit for it.
Q. Any rare programme which needs worth a mention.
A. We have a very strong Nano bio engineering programme both in MTech and Ph, and apparently it is housed in our medical school campus. For these courses half the students are from the engineering and half the number of students from medicine who on the nano-material. We put quite a bit of effort to convince the regulatory body to approve it because they could not understand how an engineering course could operate in medical school.
Q. Which area needs utmost attention today?
A. There is an immense challenge ahead in life sciences and medical sciences area, but a good application requires support of technology, engineering, computer science and material science. Intersection of these areas is a most fertile ground today. E-learning is an area where we are investing heavily. The acute shortage of faculty can be replaced by having effective E-learning system.