Interview by Kritika Gupta
Lt. Gen. VK Sharma, AVSM (Retd) is currently designated as the Vice Chancellor of Amity University. He served for nearly 40 years as a Commissioned Officer in the Corps of Signals of the Indian Army and also participated in Operation ‘Rakshak’ and Operation ‘Vijay’ (Kargil War). His qualifications include - BE (Electronics and Communication Engineering), ME and MMS. For his meritorious service to the nation, General Sharma was awarded the ‘Ati Vishisht Seva Medal’ by the Hon’ble President of India.
In an exclusive interview with collegedunia.com, the eminent academician shares his view on education in India and talks about how his army days experience helps him to deal with the dynamics of the century.
Thoughts on Education Industry
I do not necessarily view education as an industry per se, it is a service. Performing this service to shape the abilities and aspirations of youth is most rewarding; being a part of their learning process and watching them grow from school children to responsible, capable national assets is deeply fulfilling. That, in my opinion, is the best part of being an educationist.
Gen. Sharma's philosophy and style of leadership
I see leadership more as a responsibility than a mere job description. I believe that a leader must lead by consensus and personal example and not always through the use of authority. To be able to do that, the leader must possess qualities of integrity, compassion, the courage of conviction, selflessness, humility and a high level of professional competence. He/ she MUST lead from the front and do so even when no one is watching. Conduct of the leader must be ‘above board’ at all times.
Challenges faced as the Vice Chancellor of Amity University
Being at the helm of affairs of any organization is challenging, more so when that organization is a University full of creatively charged young men and women. Also, I have realized that teaching is an art. A good teacher may not necessarily be a good researcher and vice versa, and finding good teachers and creative researchers, especially in Class-B cities such as Gwalior, is a challenge. However, if there is anything I have learned from my years in the Indian Army, it is that no matter how tough the challenge, a soldier must never give up.
Curriculum of Amity University covers all necessary aspects
Our University has experienced academicians and industry veterans who are entrusted with ensuring that our curriculum is not only academically robust and challenging but also addresses contemporary issues and practices in all the streams. We also believe that industry ready professionals, graduating from Amity, cannot rely on technical skills alone. They require a multitude of soft skills, emotional intelligence, environmental and social consciousness etc. to be successful in their chosen professions. Thus, we ensure that alongside imparting technical knowledge, students are also given opportunities for holistic development through such platforms as student seminars, NSS activities, hobby clubs and societies, sports meets, youth festivals, inter/intra university competitions etc.
We have formalized value addition to their technical education through training on communication & behavioral skills, foreign languages and environmental consciousness by making these a compulsory and graded part of the curriculum.
Further, course syllabus for each program is reviewed once every year by a Board of Studies which comprises experienced academicians and technical experts from the industry. Inputs from industry representatives, as also, the feedback provided by companies during the placement process, are taken into account while revising and approving the new syllabus.
Students also have the opportunity to develop themselves and specialise in areas other than their ‘major’ fields of study by choosing a minor track. For example, students majoring in computer engineering might choose multimedia, fashion design, labour laws, psychology etc. as their minor track and specialize in an area which interests them.
We also organize students’ visits to relevant industry houses. Summer Internship Programs and projects greatly help students pick up the best practices of the industry. Guest lectures by eminent professionals (from both academia and industry) are also a useful source to track best practices.
Changes noticed in the education industry over the past few years
There have been quite a few significant shifts in the realm of Education over the last few decades. One is the very positive shift towards the Liberal Arts. This has, of course, diminished interest in domains such as Engineering and technology.
I feel that universities and institutions of higher learning should further promote the Liberal Arts ‘Tradition’ in other domains such as the Pure Sciences, Engineering, Architecture etc., thereby invoking a love for learning, inculcating a habit of observing, thinking and reflecting while promoting a spirit of inquiry beyond the known realms of human knowledge. In fact, I see this happening already to some extent. The teaching of behavioural science, environmental science, communication, and other soft skills is nothing but a resurgence of the older traditions of (holistic) education, albeit in a more structured manner.
The other significant trend has been the focus on ‘skills based learning’ which in my opinion is a welcome initiative that will generate employment for our teeming millions. But we must watch out that it does not go into an overdrive, i.e. we must be careful that skilling does not come at the cost of ‘education’. We have hardly recovered from the colonial hangover of grooming babus for the sahibs. Let us not sink into another pit of preparing skilled but uneducated artisans that boast of ten years of experience while really, they have had just a year’s experience ten times over. I recall a news item a few years ago which said that about 80% of the engineers produced by our colleges and universities were unemployable. This I feel is a classic case of a well-intended policy initiative gone wrong.
Read about Amity University Placement
Another critical issue is that of the emerging examination patterns. Board Results reflect an increasing tendency of near perfect or even perfect scores. ‘95% syndrome’ has led to a feeling of high self-worth and a sense of entitlement amongst students. Perfect scores are welcome by themselves but it is incumbent upon the nation to introspect if the scores are a reflection of true ability or the result of the pattern of examination. There are agencies these days which take pride in teaching the strategy to ‘crack’ an exam- as if it’s a trick that needs to be mastered. I feel that such overt emphasis on marks has led to a dilution in academic standards. An increasing number of question papers are being set in ways which make it easier for students to obtain more marks. Multiple choices and ‘fill in the blanks’ have done great harm to the capacity for independent thought and critical thinking of our students, as well as feelings of frustration when they realize that they are unemployable.
So far as corporate expectations go, to put it in a nutshell, corporations today seek trainability. A student with basic knowledge of the domain, reasonable comprehension and communication skills with the ability to make presentations, interpret basic data, who has the right attitude and is able to work in a team is deemed trainable. Such a student finds himself placed early as the corporation can then train him according to its needs.
Creating an ideal school culture and environment
As I see it, a University’s purpose is threefold: to impart and create new knowledge, to discipline a student (physically, mentally and emotionally) to enable him/her to cope with the rigours of an established system and finally to discover his/her true potential. The three objectives are non- negotiable. A University that fails on any of the three, fails the society and the nation.
Also, a University needs to be able to put the student at the center of its being and create environments and processes that make it conducive for the student to learn with abandon. At our University, we take pride in being a ragging free campus. There are very strict protocols to ensure that ragging/ harassment of students does not take place. We have also institutionalized welfare and psychological wellbeing of students by creating single window mechanisms for grievance redressal, provisions for academic and psychological counseling (especially during exam time) and round the clock access to a member of faculty who also performs the role of their mentor throughout their tenure at the University.
Check Amity University Faculty
We also ensure that students are kept gainfully engaged at all times. There is always some activity, seminar, conference, workshop, lecture, sports or cultural event being organized at regular intervals during the term which not only keeps the student body busy but also provides academic and creative enrichment.
Achievements and upcoming goals for Amity University in the coming years
Amity University Gwalior is currently in its 9th year of operation and we have already had significant achievements. We have been adjudged the Best Private University in Madhya Pradesh (in 2014 and continuously since 2017) and been names amongst the top 10 private universities of India this year. Our academic and research infrastructure is second to none and our student placements stand testimony to the quality of education we provide at the University.
Nevertheless, in the next few years, I would like to see the University consolidate and build on its learnings and make significant leaps in creating new knowledge through its research efforts. Within the next five years, I would like the University to become a Regional Center of Excellence in the field of engineering & technology and business management, and a Center of Excellence of national importance in these fields in subsequent years.
Suggestions to the youth and aspiring students
The youth must focus on improving their conduct and building confidence. This they must do by acquiring ‘depth of knowledge’, inculcating the habit of hard work, positive attitude and communication skills. The youth should be able to contribute towards national growth by becoming productive, law-abiding, responsible and awakened citizens of this great country.
However, they must also remember that youth is a period of experimentation, of exploration and adventure. I always tell my students to stop focusing so much on the result and instead, learn to enjoy the process of learning. That is not to say that they needn’t be focused or have a goal, but they mustn’t squander away the joys of the journey in pursuit of the destination.