The Neotia University (TNU) is a private university aiming to provide holistic education based on industry exposure. A.S. Kolaskar, Vice Chancellor, The Neotia University, spoke to BE’s Saptarshi Deb regarding the status of higher education in India and on the academic principles guiding TNU.
Q) What values should be prioritised by an institution?
A) Our higher education today is devoid of inculcating any values in the younger generations. We expect that students will learn about ethics and society in school but that is not being done. We need to bring that back and make sure that these values are also reflected in our higher education system.
Students must participate in cultural activities and they should get credit points for such participation and that is what we are doing in our university. Students must participate in sports and be given certain credits. Students should also go to the gym and keep themselves fit. Students should take part in yoga and in debates. They should carry out projects as a team so they understand team functioning.
Second, we also need to develop leadership skills among youngsters. That may not necessarily be through unions. I believe that is not the way to inculcate leadership skills. It has to be done in a calibrated fashion. As the Vice Chancellor of the Pune University, I had actually banned students’ union elections. Instead we made the academic toppers the class representatives. The model worked well and the students were groomed for their responsibilities. Students also need to develop ownership feelings for their institutions. It is only then that they will perform their duties diligently.
Q) What kind of teaching works best in enhancing the analytical and communicative skills?
A) See, we first need to understand that each student is different and we can’t have a one-sized fit for all of them. Today, unfortunately in this country, we think that everyone should get exactly the same training and be evaluated uniformly through similarly designed examinations. We are actually creating semi-robots. For holistic learning, we have to use various technologies as well as classroom teaching. We have to emphasise on providing more hands on experiences and for that, the labs have to be developed properly. And we must have teachers who will encourage students to build their communicative skills. Students should be asked to present small seminars.
We would also have to be cautious about the use of technology. For example, there is lot of information on the internet. But which of those are of good quality? For them to qualify as educational inputs they would have to be first evaluated by subject experts and then the same has to be evaluated by educationists.
Talking about enhancing the analytical skills in higher education, we often select teachers only on the basis of their subject knowledge. We do not see whether they have teaching abilities or not. For school teaching, we still have a B.Ed. programme but there is no such programme for teacher recruitment in higher education. Many teachers in higher education either try to show off their knowledge to the students or just superficially run through their courses. Additionally, communication skills are very important. The majority of our teachers as well as students lack in communication skills. There needs to be an emphasis on how to communicate. India needs more toast-masters clubs which would allow one to learn how to debate, how to talk publicly and how to interact well. We also need to re-inculcate reading habits among the younger generations to enhance their analytical capabilities. In our university, in the very first semester, we ask our students to prepare a script and enact it. That serves to break the ice and students get better in communicating with their peers and teachers.
Q) What are the specific things that are lacking in the Indian education system that make deserving students opt for international education?
A) First and foremost, it is our examination system because we are really trying to examine the students and not evaluate them. So we need to first change from examination to evaluation. Second, we have too much of theory being taught and information cramping is done and that needs to reduce. Third, lot more hands on training in the labs and in the field need to be incorporated. And fourth, projects need to be given to students in groups which will have relevant possibility of developing their innovativeness.
If we look broadly at the Indian education system, we have around four categories of students. First, there are those who are economically marginalised but academically bright. This section can hardly make it to higher education. Second, there are the students who are not so bright but their parents have somewhat good income and that allows the students to go to the rural state universities (mostly) where they get a degree which is of no use and they eventually end up being frustrated. Then there is a third category of students who try to go to the so-called top institutions of the country. Yet, many of them remain dissatisfied as their expectations are not always fulfilled. Then there is the fourth class that tries to go to these so-called private universities. Again, there are two types of private universities. Those handful universities who are sincerely trying to do something different and the majority of them, which are mostly into giving professional training and trying to create human resources. Parents think of sending their children abroad only when they understand that their children cannot fit into any of these educational structures.
Q) How can we make the education system more competitive globally to attract international students?
A) As the Vice Chancellor of Pune University, I was successful in attracting a large number of foreign students and had recorded students from 84 different countries. We used to have around 2000 international students each year. The university’s income from the international students was more than Rs. 20 crore as we used to charge them more than their Indian colleagues.
First and foremost, we need to understand that we need to make the international students feel at home. Second, we also need to create the right atmosphere where they can get food and other things as per their tastes. Third, we have to assure them decent accommodation and provide them with a local guardian. Fourth, we must keep them as insulated from the Indian bureaucracy as possible. I saw how much trouble my students had to undergo to renew their visas. Eventually, the university had to intervene and simplify the process for the international students.
Q) What should government policies be when it comes to standardisation of higher education to ensure its quality?
A) There should not be too much of standardisation because standardisation was required when we wanted to create industry workers. But in a knowledge society, where we need knowledge-workers, the worker has to be innovative and innovation comes only if you create a complete eco system. Now if you start standardisation and giving everyone the same thing, then you are trying to create semi-robots. We have to ensure that our higher education system gives students the scope to grow and be innovative. We are still, somehow, following the British education structure. There is need for more localised and regionally relevant content. Too much of standardisation reduces the much needed flexibility of the education system.
Q) What sort of people should be employed as faculties and should there be any government policies apart from those that are there to ensure better faculties in our universities?
A) Here, I have to mention the ‘National Knowledge Commission Report’ and reiterate that we need keep the government at an arm’s length in higher education. But yes, we require every institute to have certain set standards pertaining faculty recruitment and that has to be based on the type of students that go to that particular institute. The institute must transparently come out with the list of its teachers as it is based on this list, that students will join the institute.
Coming back to the faculty recruitment, more innovativeness is required. All teachers may not be paid in the same scale. Teachers associated with rare subjects like Robot Engineering may need to be paid substantially more by the institute to retain their services as compared to other subjects. This system is functional in the US and helps to retain faculty who draw large number of students to their courses.
Q) How does your university assure employability of its students? What are the new courses that you have started?
A) First, we do not start a course without having collaboration with at least one company related to that subject. We highly emphasise on industry collaboration. We involve industry experts in formulating the course curriculum and the pedagogy as well. Thirdly, we encourage students go to the field and we also try to give them projects. We follow a highly flexible choice-based credit system and students are encouraged to learn communication skills. As a consequence of their varied exposure, they are industry-ready by the time they graduate. We have started B.Sc Agriculture this year. We have also started BBA LLB (Hons), BA LLB (Hons), M.Sc in Applied Microbiology (Integrated) and M.Sc in Bio Informatics.