Prof. P. B. Sharma is the President of Association of Indian Universities, AIU the apex body that has all IITs, IISc, NITs, IIITs, IISERs, all Central States, Deemed Universities and self -financed private universities as its members. He is currently designated as the Vice Chancellor of Amity University, Gurugram. A Gold medallist Mechanical Engineering (ME) graduate from SATI Vidisha, Doctorate from University of Birmingham (1978), he during his professional career spanning over 47 years has made a distinguished contribution to the advancement of frontiers of knowledge in the areas of Aero Engineering Technology, Power Plant Engineering, New and Renewable Energy Resources and Knowledge and Innovation Management.
Earlier, as a reputed academician, he had been the founder Vice-Chancellor of Delhi Technological University and former Principal/Director of Delhi College of Engineering (now Delhi Technological University). With this, Prof. Sharma is a former Professor of IIT Delhi, founder Vice-Chancellor of Rajiv Gandhi Technology University, former President of Engineering Science Division of Indian Science Congress, former Chairman of Indian Society of Mechanical Engineers and Vice-Chairman of World Confederation of Productivity Sciences, India Section.
Recipient of many awards and recognitions, Prof. Sharma has been conferred with the Honorary Degree of “Doctor of Engineering” and has been awarded the Scroll of Honor and Eminent Engineer’s Award 2008 and Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a fellow of World Academy of Productivity Sciences, Fellow of Institution of Engineers (India) and a fellow of Aeronautical Society of India.
In an exclusive interview with the collegedunia.com, the academician talks about his journey and experience in the education industry and at Amity University Gurgaon.
Experience in the education sector and reasons for its greatness
Precisely it is 47 years now. Way back in July 1969, I joined the teaching fraternity as a lecturer in the college from where I graduated myself with a gold medal in ME. I was genuinely delighted that I was offered the position of a lecturer with two advance increments, without making a formal application by my Principal Prof VV Natu, who saw a teacher in me. So, I joined the noble profession of teaching right away after graduation and grew as a teacher cum researcher and an educational leader during my long innings at the University of Birmingham, IIT Delhi, Delhi College of Engineering, RGTU, DTU and now at Amity University Gurugram. As I look back, I feel highly satisfied belonging to one of the noblest profession that gives us a “privilege to serve and privilege to excel.” Education is not an industry, but it is a service to the society for raising an individual to the level of high academic and professional eminence and also a great service to the nation and the humanity at large.
The purpose of education, in my opinion, was not merely to impart knowledge, but also to create capabilities, by which we could serve the interest of the society and Mother Nature with distinction, with humility, with commitment, with interest, with dedication, and with a high level of integrity and humility. It is for this reason; education should impart knowledge, imbibe human values, and prepare an army of capable people who have both the capabilities and character akin to a civilized human society. Unfortunately, as we look back we find that while the dimension of knowledge has been well served in most of the universities and institutions, the emphasis on man making, thrust on character building, mentoring to creating the behavioral pattern where you have a positive attitude and inspiration to serve, somehow or rather has been put on the back burner assuming that “you would learn as you trade and transact” after leaving the institution.
Today, we all know that it is not enough to be knowledgeable, but it is essential to be capable. Even more important is to have an attitude to give something to the organization, to the society, to the nation, to the global community, by your deeds and actions including your innovative thoughts and creativity. Therefore, the whole purpose of education, in my opinion, now is to be revisited.
We need to recast our educational strategy to integrate education with the capabilities and values. Today, in the connected global economy, this is precisely the purpose. Let me also say that over the last 70 years or so of our independence we pay less attention to the cause of knowledge creation, entrepreneurship and surely germination of the startups and technology incubation within the one university, and we paid the price for this. We were heavily depended upon the import of technology for a very long time we cannot afford it any further as we are one of the largest economies of the world and therefore it is expected from us to charter further trajectories of the growth and development on the strength of the technological know-how which is readily available within the country. Therefore, university’s campuses of today and surely that of tomorrow have to pay much higher attention to the call of the creation of knowledge, technology incubation, ideation, taking ideas right up to the level of design, development of new products and improved processes and in turn give rise to startups in plenty. Entrepreneurship, start-ups and knowledge creation has to be now embedded alongside with education which was earlier addressing the damnation of the knowledge only. This is the context till the agenda for the University of today and that of tomorrow.
Views on education quality provided in India and abroad
It is a very important point that you have raised. I was educated in India and as you know, and I graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Samrat Ashok Technological Institute, Madhya Pradesh. I was selected by the GoI as the national scholar for higher studies abroad at the University of Birmingham. Once I reached there I found that while the Post-Graduate education in England lays great emphasis on, not only knowledge but, on its connection to the world of industries and the world of work. I was really excited to see that education is not merely the transfer of knowledge from the books to the notes of the students, but it is to inspire the students to apply and use that knowledge for solving the problems of the industry and society. This is one difference I noticed in education at the University. I thought that it was an important difference, especially at the level of Post-Graduation where you are inspired to apply the knowledge for solving the problems at hand.
In our laboratories also, we were surprised to see that the experiments were not merely to demonstrate the process or phenomenon but to instill a sense of inquiry for further investigation. They had an element of the inquiry, an element of research inbuilt into those experiments at the PG level. So, when we conducted the experiments in the laboratory, not only the clarity of concepts became a reality, but it has inspired us to probe the phenomena and the processes further. That was another good thing which I noticed. Of course, I took a lot of interest in my studies and for my master’s thesis. I discovered a lot of value out of it and could even work out that I can now move further for my doctorate degree. The phenomena on which I carried out experimentation at postgraduate level enabled me to go deeper into the root cause of the phenomena which were responsible for instability in aero-compressors at that time. I took that as my project for my Ph.D. level research and I was very happy that the university funded me with a fellowship for this purpose which was supported by a research grant from Rolls Royce. I could come out with flying colors with a doctorate degree aligned towards the needs of the industry. So, this is where I think education abroad really matters.
When I returned back to Birmingham, after about a year and a half, for some consulting assignment, I was very happy to see that up gradation of a lot of experiments and equipment had taken place in the laboratory I had worked earlier. I was also very happy to see that at the University of Birmingham, even in the late 70s, there was a strong partnership with the industry. British Leyland was present in my department for a lot of testing and development work for the automobile systems and components, for the industry. So was the case with Jaguar and also all other industries around. We had a lot of industries in and around Birmingham. I was very happy that many of them were directly connected to the university.
Therefore, the industry-university partnership was a very strong feature of the University of Birmingham and that inspired me to think that education, especially in engineering and technology, must be imparted in close cooperation and collaboration with the industries in the neighborhood, so that on one hand, the students and teachers see the relevance of their knowledge on the other, the industry could draw the benefits from our research and development for improving their product designs, modernizing their manufacturing systems and also draw a lot of support from the academics in the university for developing new products and new services. This has become all the more important today, because today, we can’t afford the luxury of working in isolation. Industry and academia relationships, collaboration, cooperation, partnership have become highly important both for the university as well as industry.
Embedding foreign education style into the Indian system
When I returned from Birmingham, I joined IIT Delhi and there I was quite conscious that industry-academia partnership holds an important agenda, both for assuring high quality of education as well as to foster research and development. Therefore, we built up a strong partnership with the industry in IITs in those days, starting from 1978 and as we moved into the 80s and 90s, this grew up as a strong phenomenon in the IITs. In fact, today we find that this is perhaps the best way to cause, what I called in those days, the relevance of educations as well as the relevance of research. It becomes far more meaningful to align your education and research towards the needs of the industry. You then begin to see the benefit of your research; your interest in research increases and you become more and more keen to carry out high-quality research and draw a tremendous amount of satisfaction from your engagement in R&D. This is something we did in IITs. In universities also, this will work as has been the case in the advanced countries.
When I became the founder Vice-Chancellor of Rajiv Gandhi Technological University, in 1999, I carried forward this legacy of industry-academia partnership in developing this new state technological university at Bhopal that was responsible for the whole of Madhya Pradesh which at that time included the Chhattisgarh of today. A whole lot of research and development work which we carried out at RGTU and its colleges of engineering provided a sound basis to nurture quality, excellence and relevance, the tripod of education and research in 21st Century.
At Delhi College of Engineering as well as Delhi Technological University, we built strong partnerships with the industry and that is why we could roll out a good number of innovations and new product developments at DCE, DTU, and RGTU. At Amity University Gurugram where currently I am the Vice-Chancellor, this strong partnership with the industry is the hallmark of our research and development and innovation strategy and thus “relevance driven excellence” is the mantra for success and glory.
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Prof. Sharma’s Leadership style and philosophy
That is an interesting question! I am known to be a person who practices an innovative leadership style. I do not toe along with conventional systems nor along with the conventional strategies as they have become almost redundant today. My philosophy is very simple, that I exist here for my students as well for my teachers. Thus, I am of the view that their primary quest for academic and research excellence, for the development of innovations, incubation of new ideas, new products and their preparedness for the world of industry and new age enterprises should be supported at any cost by the top management.
At the Delhi College of Engineering, which was purely a government institution, it would be hard for people to imagine, the kind of support we could provide to our student's community for their innovations. That is why they could develop the first hybrid car of India in 2005. That is why they could take their hybrid car to America and participate in the green car competition and get the first prize in the student category way. That is precisely the reason that we succeeded in the development of first UAV for India, way back in 2006, and we took that UAV all the way to Georgia to participate in AUVSI International competition, and we what more we bagged the “Most Innovative Design Award” for the UAV for our Delhi College of Engineering. These were the not ordinary achievements and could not have happened if the style of the leadership was confined to traditional institutional leadership!
When I look back, I really feel amazed as to how I could do so under the banner of a government institution. Some of these innovations in those days could not happen in the IITs. Supporting student community so heavily, banking on their ideas, supporting them from the top and holding their hands all the way till they succeed and thereafter celebrating their success that makes institutions function like factories of innovation. It requires innovative leadership and a strong connect with the industries that deliver the promise of world quality education, research and innovation and that is what exactly I did at DCE and later at DTU when DCE became DTU. We were able to design and develop the first solar passenger car of India, at DTU, that was flagged off by honorable President of India in September 2012 from the Rashtrapati Bhawan. We could also design and develop an unmanned aircraft system, UAS, at DTU in 2012 in partnership with the world-renowned Lockheed Martin. We could do it in record time and that too to the entire satisfaction of the Lockheed Martin team in respect of design as well as in respect of making this UAS, unmanned aircraft system airworthy. All this was done on the strength of the highly innovative and brilliant minds of the undergraduate students.
So, I personally believe that leaders of the university who are occupying positions like Directors of institutions and Vice Chancellors of universities must have their heart for the students. They should keep their eyes searching for talent from within their university and should be supporting the talent and innovative minds even beyond their means if it comes to. This is how it happens.
Story: I narrate to you a story, a young student, Bhishma of the first year at DTU takes courage to come to the office of the Vice Chancellor in the year 2009. He wanted to design a DHOBHI. I said, “What do you mean by DHOBHI?” He said, “I want to design a washing machine, which is pedal operated and is innovatively designed so that I can give that machine to my friends in the hostel to wash their clothes and also do exercise. I said to him it is a great idea. I asked him what he wanted the Vice Chancellor to do, to which he replied that “I want your support. I need three thousand rupees.” I gave him 3,000 rupees from my own pocket. After a few months when I met him, he told me that his innovation is complete. I have made the machine and I have received the invitation from the CII to participate in the national innovation competition at Pragati Maidan”. He showed me the photographs of the machine which he has built up and it was looking elegant. I asked what he wanted me to do now. “Sir, I want 2,000 rupees as I want to take this machine to Pragati Maidan in a tempo.” I gave him another 2,000 rupees for the transport and also 1,000 rupees more for his refreshments as it was a two-day competition. At the CII competition, he got the best innovation award for his Dhobi. Now, this is precisely what a Vice Chancellor must be doing. He must support innovators, encourage them so that they bring pride to their institution. Bhishma is today a highly successful entrepreneur in Silicon Valley in the US. There are several other successful innovators like him who got the magic touch of my innovative leadership. For instance, Jayant Ratti, who designed the first UAV for India and received the most innovative design award for his innovation at Georgia in 2006, went to Georgia Tech for his doctorate. Today Jayant is one of the most successful UAV designer and entrepreneur in the US, having his manufacturing also in India. Likewise, the student team members of the first hybrid car became very successful and so was the person who designed the first solar passenger car, Dheeraj Mishra. Dheeraj today is a highly successful entrepreneur and he runs the business of solar power plants. What I really want to say is that the Vice Chancellors of the universities in India must pay greater attention to nurture innovations and support the innovative minds of their students to ensure that those who are innovative, must ultimately turn out to be highly successful entrepreneurs. This is what I have done in DCE, DTU, RGTU and at Amity where I am seriously engaged, for the last three years, in supporting young and brilliant minds of Amity University Gurugram.
Placement opportunities offered at Amity University
The partnership with the corporates as well as industries holds a very important agenda at Amity University. Here, we invite the experts to first come and interact with our students so that they are aware to the good work which we are doing, they are also in a position to access our students by their interactions. Then, of course, our CRC which is the Corporate Research Center approaches them for the placements and the placement activity goes on around the year. We believe that placement is an important indicator of any university or institution. Placements create the attraction for which the talent students rush towards the institution and that would also assure them a bright future.
We have two parts of this, the first part is the centralized placement system operating from Amity University, Uttar Pradesh at Noida where our students also participate in the mega placement drives for the large industries. But we also attract a large number of industries to come to our own university campus here and carry out the placements of our students. As we grow further, there would be more and more of this activity in-house on our campus. Even last year, around 100 industries were attracted to come to our university. So, this is something that is growing and I think the placement is a very important indicator and we are happy, that we pay full attention to this aspect.
What makes Amity University stand out!
Amity is a class apart because it is driven by the vision of our founder President Dr. Ashok K Chauhan for whom Amity is not just a mission but a “mission pursued with a passion” for research and innovations. Therefore, the quality of education, research and fostering innovations in plenty is a firm resolve and a commitment that we pursue with utmost sincerity. That is the reason why within a short time, as many as 841 patents have been filed by Amity University. Many of these patents and technologies which Amity developed are also being commercialized.
We have a large number of research and development projects now. In all the campuses, the focus is on research and innovation as Amity University is “research and innovation-driven university”. We have created a seamless environment for education and research and have a strong focus on interdisciplinary and trans-departmental aspects of education and research. We are thus creating capabilities that are required for knowledge-intensive, technology-driven industries of today and that of tomorrow. This is something which makes Amity a class apart. Our ratings and rankings internationally are also outstanding.
I am also happy to say that Amity campuses are paying great attention to the cause of sustainability. My own campus here in Gurgaon has been certified with Leed certification in Platinum Certification category, the highest in Green Building Design, Operation and Maintenance standards by the US Green Council. This is something we are truly proud of as we are the first one in the whole country and second in South-East Asia to have achieved this highest level of green certification.
For example, all our water which we use is reprocessed and reutilized, partly for agriculture but partly also for use in the flushes in our toilets, etc. We also have an extensive water harvesting in place on the campus and our green campus also cuts down the evaporation losses for groundwater. In fact, we are not drawing a single liter of the water from outside. All our water needs are met from within our water resources on the campus. We are also establishing almost one megawatt of solar power in each of our campuses. Noida campus has already got one and here also we are installing solar panels on our rooftop. These are some of the things which will inspire the current and future generations of the students to imbibe the concepts of sustainability so that in their work life, they become more conscious about environmental protection and serve the cause of sustainability for the coming generations.
Ideal environment of any educational organisation
There are three major components of the University which create a vital ambiance. The first one is of course infrastructure, the second important one is the quality of faculty and the third undoubtedly is the quality of students which you have at the university. Amity is fortunate that on all the three counts, we have come out with great success. As far as infrastructure is concerned, surely as you say, we compare next to none in the world. Much of our infrastructure looks like as if it is designed for the future on the most-modern concepts of green engineering for institutional planning. On top of that, we have paid great attention to the quality of faculty at Amity University. We are recruiting faculty, which is research driven, which has interest in teaching, which understands the value and worth of fostering innovations, also a faculty which is committed to patenting of the ideas and know-how and faculty which understands the value and worth of commercialization of intellectual property.
It is this focus on the quality of faculty that creates “Advantage Amity”. As far as students quality is concerned, I am also very happy that the quality of students in the University is ever improving and today we can say with pride that we attract the best minds of our country in our university, maybe next to the IITs, and who knows tomorrow, even better than some of the IITs, as Amity has emerged as a major hub for research and innovation a number of new and emerging technologies.
Message to the youngsters thinking of enrolling in Amity
Amity offers to the students not just the knowledge, but education with values and drive the agenda of entrepreneurship, innovations and enterprise development as a composite strategy. Therefore, students joining Amity University will be in a position of great advantage compared to many other universities and institutions. Here, we shape them as professionals of the new age. We inspire them to go beyond the limits of knowledge as sketched out in the books of knowledge or available on the web.
The academic environment at Amity University inspires them to innovate and excel. We shape them as the responsible citizens of the global world and nurture in them the radiance of success. I am sure this is the reason why students aspire in great numbers towards Amity University with great interest and with great commitment.
Highlights from Prof. Sharma’s book “Path to Excellence”!
My book, “Path to Excellence”, in fact, is my memoir of last 46 years of my professional life, spent partly in Birmingham in the UK, at IIT Delhi, Delhi College of Engineering, Delhi Technological university, in between Rajiv Gandhi Technology University and, now at Amity University. I have purposely titled this book as “Path to Excellence” because I personally believe that there are two paths on which we could walk in your academic and professional life. One is “path to excellence” and another is “path of excellence”. I chose to walk on “path to excellence” rather than the path of excellence. To give you an idea what is the difference between the two, just imagine that you want to go to Taj Mahal at Agra from Delhi. There are two paths to reach there. One is Yamuna Expressway, where you could cruise in your vehicle and reach Taj Mahal, maybe in about two and a half hours as the beautiful hassle free expressway is laid out already for you. There are no obstacles on the way except one or two toll gates. All you need is a good quality car, money in the pocket to pay the toll and you reach comfortably to see the excellence of the Taj Mahal. Going by this path you stand before the magnificent Taj and admire its magnificence and beauty. The other way, of course, is the old Mathura road. You take your car and go to Agra to see the Taj Mahal via the Mathura road. You would be required to pass through crowded localities of Faridabad, Hodal, Palwal, Koshikala, and while passing through the road badly crowded with trucks and vehicles of all kind and on top of taking care of buffalos and bicycles cris-crossing the narrow roads of Mathura and other localities, you will get a lesion of your life.
Your journey to Agra on this road will invigorate your soul, enrich your experience, inspire you to think about life problems of the society, create a sense of urgency to respond to the call of solving these live problems such as traffic chaos, civic sense, improving road technologies, reduce waterlogging, etc. This will transform you into a person of immense inspiration and courage to engage seriously to fix these problems and commit yourself to create a better tomorrow. As such, by the time you reach Agra, not only you will admire the magnificence and excellence of the Taj Mahal, you will also say to yourself that I, from here onwards devote my life to making the life of my people better. Also, as you have seen the whole of India on the way you would be better prepared to give your very best to the service of your country and your people.
The “Path to Excellence” is exactly a narration of how I have walked on this path during my 46 years of professional life. Some of the exciting moments of joy and happiness as well of anguish and anger which I have gathered during my stay in the institutions here in India as well as abroad are presented in the book published by Nirala Publications, Delhi. I have shared my experience of nurturing talent, fostering innovations and building institutions of eminence. There is a chapter in the book on “Science and Spirituality” where I have tried to connect education with the human values of the kind that are nurtured on the strength of the integration of science and spirituality. I have also included a chapter on war with evil as I believe in what the famous Scientist Albert Einstein has said that “The world is in danger not because of those who are evil, but because of those who do nothing about it”. It is here in this chapter you will discover the price one has to pay for being good and for waging a war against evil.
Those who have seen me in action know that I am not a person who will turn his eyes away from evil, rather shall wage a war against evil to eradicate evil for the betterment of my community of students and teachers. This is precisely what I did at IIT Delhi, Delhi College of Engineering and also at Delhi Technological university, when some misguided minds who initially succeeded in emotional fooling of students and almost created a havoc by telling the students community that change of name DCE to DTU will destroy the repute, wipe out placements, will make graduates least competitive in winning admissions in reputed foreign universities and so on. I said at that time that just the opposite will happen. DCE as DTU, shall win better grounds for academic innovations, foster world quality research, accelerate innovations, enhance employability and on top of that create an environment of “autonomy as the freedom to excel”.
I along with a handful of inspired students and faculty had to fight a war against those evil minds who were fooling the emotions of my students and faculty. We succeeded in defeating the evil forces because of our conviction to pursue truth and firm resolve to foster excellence and because of the faith the Government authorities had in us. We innovated the curriculum, accelerated R&D and innovations, increased our intake and introduced a good number of new programs at UG and PG levels in emerging areas of science and technology and thus benefitted the students and parents of Delhi and also of outside Delhi by our quest for growth with quality. We built DTU to great esteem where employability was always over 100 %, research and innovation eminence touched a new high and DTU became a brand even superior to its earlier avatar as DCE. The placements in DTU were phenomenally better than what they were at a time of DCE. The placements of students in higher studies in institutions of great repute in India and in world-class universities abroad were far better than they were at the time of Delhi College of Engineering, and also our connection with the industry and the world of corporates became more strong as DTU was a university.
Let me also say that I have included a chapter on the “hope for a better tomorrow” in my book, Path to Excellence. My hope lies in the current and future generations of scientists and technologists that, through their scientific discoveries they will serve the cause of growth and development without causing the tears of environmental pollution and the kind of miseries it brought due to unlimited exploitation of the natural resources during the 20th century. My hope is that tomorrow’s science and technology would not only protect the interest of man but will also protect the interest of nature. Therefore, I personally believe that we should be able to assure a high level of prosperity alongside with high levels of happiness, as against the high level of prosperity and plenty of unhappiness which we have created because of a mismatch between the interest of man and interest of nature. I have high hope from the spiritualists of today and that of tomorrow that they would be able to work with a mindset to connect science and spirituality together and succeed in building a society where truthfulness, compliance to law and protection of natural environment becomes a reality and they by their inspirational leadership should be able to elevate man to the level of Godhead and enable us to witness the summit of life with divine in our lifetime.
I also have high hope from the politicians also that they would understand that being in politics and power gives them a great privilege to serve their countrymen and they should do it with a sense of service to their people and with a sense of service to the Nation. I also have high hopes from the media and also people like you in College Dunia, as you have a great connection with young India so that we ensure that we leave no scope what so ever for the spread of the evil of misguide and misinformation. As we all know that the virus of misguide and misinformation today could take a much bigger toll because the strength of the social media is much bigger today as compared to what it was when only the print media and radio were there earlier.
And therefore, I have every hope that tomorrow’s society, within India, would be truthful to the age-old concepts of strict adherence to truth, integrity, harmony, caring concern for nature and respect for life and surely shall stand firm to the cause of peace for which are the founding fathers of our great civilization stood far. The path to excellence is an invitation to walk along such a pathway by every individual who comes to the domain of education in the schools, colleges, and the universities in India and also abroad because the appeal in this book is universal. I leave you to drink deep into the fountains of wisdom multifold in the book and then march forward on the Path to Excellence.