Interview by Yash Panchal

Shoolini University

P.K. Khosla is currently the Vice Chancellor of Shoolini University. He has worked on plant biodiversity and chromosomal polymorphism of Himalayan trees, which earned him his Ph.D. degree in 1968 from Panjab University and post doctoral program at Oxford University. His educational qualifications also include B.Sc Hons and M.Sc Hons in Biology.

Dr. Khosla boasts of a stellar work experience. Prior to Shoolini, he was senior scientific advisor biotechnology to HP Govt, Govt. of Biotechnology, Shimla. He was also the Vice Chancellor of HP Agricultural University. He has worked as Director Extention Education and Professor of Forestry at University of Horticulture & Forestry. He has 150 published research papers and 12 edited books to his credit.

Prof. Khosla on his educational journey

I joined the Botany Department in Panjab University, Chandigarh after graduation for higher education in Plant Sciences.  All my University teachers at Panjab University were Ph.Ds and Post Docs and I looked at them with great reverence.  So, I thought to follow their footprints by attaining Doctorate and Post Doctorate degrees. Though my performance in B.Sc. was not worthy of any record but the performance of a girl student in Zoology inspired me to pursue my studies vigorously so as to show her down by excelling my performance in all subjects. That was the turning point in my life and my academic career paved the way for me to become a topper in later degrees.   

Prof. Khosla’s experience in the fields in terms of work, environment, remuneration and job satisfaction

Right from my childhood, I looked at the School teachers with great respect and thought of becoming a School Teacher after my graduation. I liked the teaching profession because I was highly impressed with my teachers, of them some were outstanding in the strictest sense.   On my joining the P.G. programme in Botany Department of Panjab University Chandigarh, I started dreaming to become one like my teachers. My parents also inspired me to become a school teacher but destiny made me the university teacher.

I changed my academic career from a Botanist into a forestry scientist after having gone through two years of Post Doc in Forestry from Oxford University.  The subject being new in the Indian University did not embody many trained teachers in forest science while the scenario of the faculty was dominated either by forest professionals or teachers from related subjects - basic and social sciences and engineering sciences.  With my training in Forest Science from Oxford and zeal to promote Forest Science, I soon became a sought-after scientist in forestry. In 1990, my name figured in the panel of three persons for the post of Director General, Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE).

Enjoying the roles of teaching the students as well as managing the college

I enjoyed teaching the students as well as managing the college.   While working as a Scientific Advisor to the Government of Himachal Pradesh, I used to pass my time by drafting policies for the State Government Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India, and cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants, etc.  In my current position as the sponsor and the Vice Chancellor of a private university, I got the chance to guide friends and acquaintances or those who by chance contacted me for discussing the career path for their wards. 

Perception of an ideal teacher-student relationship and an ideal learning environment on campus

It is very important to have a cordial teacher-student relationship.  To be an ideal teacher, one should invariably go to the class fully prepared.  Before starting the class, the teacher should ask questions from the lesson which was taught the previous day so that the students also come to the class after revising the lesson which was taught the previous day.  It is also important to crack jokes in between so that the students become attentive. At the end of the class, the teacher should also summarize the lesson that has been taught.

Challenges faced by Prof. Khosla to reach to his current position and how he overcame them

Challenges are always part and parcel of one’s life. Everything that is achieved with struggle renders satisfaction.  While working as a Professor in the College of Forestry at the University of Horticulture and Forestry, Solan, I had to face stiff opposition from my colleagues from the Forest Department who were sent to the University on deputation by the Government of Himachal. My animosity with Forest Officers increased on the issue of forestry education.  The forest officers were not willing to accept forestry as a Science.  Neither they accepted me nor was I willing to change the interests of Indian Forestry Research and Education.

Despite my opposition with the Forest Officers, I continued to push forestry in the Agriculture Universities.  For the first time M.Sc. forestry education was introduced in the Agriculture Complex of the H.P. University in 1976.  I being an Associate Professor, was invited by the Vice Chancellor to defend the introduction of M.Sc. Forestry programme in the Academic Council meeting which opened the gates of forestry as a subject of higher education and a distinct entity from professional forestry.   Its importance further grew when the nation started advocating Social Forestry and Farm Forestry for plantation of trees to meet the domestic needs of the farmers and late Dr. Y.S.Parmar, the then Chief Minister was a strong supporter of ‘Three Dimensional Forestry’.  He even changed the name of the State Forest Department to the Department of Forest Farming and Conservation.

Prof. Khosla on how he manages to take out time for research

Publication of research papers and books is a part of the academic career.   In the university system of education besides teaching, almost every teacher is required to publish papers.  A teacher works 24 hours a day.  Before sleep and after getting up in the morning, he is busy preparing his lecture for delivering it in the class and research papers/books to be published, etc.  Thus teaching, research and writing research papers is very much part and parcel of one’s duty.  Thus, I was able to publish research papers and books which gave me academic satisfaction.

The significance of research and encouraging students to opt for research courses

The purpose of research is to investigate and to prove a theory contributing knowledge towards unexplored fields so that the concept gets contextualized with scientific data.  Hence, the research should be of high quality for its applicability and commercialization.  Shoolini University is a research-based university and the students are encouraged right from the undergraduate level to publish research papers.  In Shoolini, the students are suitably rewarded for publishing research papers in high impact journals.

Due to my research publications, I got a pat on my back from Dr. Y.S.Parmar, the then Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh during my visit with him to the United States. During our visit to Berkley Campus of California University, I saw a newly published book of 1976 on Forest Genetics by Academic Press, New York lying on the table of our host there. I picked it, hurriedly browsed the chapter on ‘Chromosomal systems of Forest Trees’.  The author, who was my examiner for evaluation of Ph.D. thesis had cited a host of tables from my dissertation submitted to the Panjab University, Chandigarh.  I showed the cited references of Khosla (1968) to Dr. Parmar.  He patted my shoulder and remarked, “I have chosen you after seeking a gleam in your eyes when we first met at Oak Over.  You will befittingly serve the State whatever position you hold”.  That is the reward which a research scholar gets for publishing research papers.

Belief in the statement – “A great teacher produces great students”

Undoubtedly, great teachers produce great students because the students are the replica of their teachers. Every teacher should go to the class fully prepared.  As already stated, before starting the class, the teacher should invariably ask questions on the topic which was taught the previous day.  In the end, the topic under discussion must be summarized so that the students are able to remember the topic that has been taught by the teachers.  Prof Prem Nath Mehra was my favorite teacher to whom I copied.

Study tips for aspiring students

Do not go to the class unprepared. The topic taught by the teacher must invariably be gone through at home.

Fulfilling the vision of being a Top 200 Global University by the year 2022

I believe in one thing that nothing is impossible if you have a will to do.  We have already surpassed ten best Indian Universities in research indicators – citation impact, percentage international collaboration land in top one and 10 percent most cited documents.    In addition, we are among the highest patent filers in the country today.  Thus, I am confident that we will achieve our target to be a top 200 global university by the year 2022.

Of the two global ranking systems, we intend to follow The Times Higher Education (THE), in which research allocation extends over 60 percent allocation.  So, Shoolini concentrated on research and it proved to have outclassed the Indian top ten NIRF ranked Universities in citational data.  It intends to match with global universities in the next three years. It shall also be filling the gap on parameters enshrined for teaching, international funding, international students and teachers.  It will also work to improve its perception amongst the Indian and Foreign Universities.