Interview by Sakshi Aggarwal
Currently serving in The Neotia University as the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. A.S Kolaskar is the Former Vice Chancellor of the University of Pune. He is also the Former Vice-Chancellor of KIIT University, Bhubaneswar and Former Advisor, National Knowledge Commission of New Delhi. He was an elected fellow at Indian National Science Academy and National Academy of Sciences, Allahabad as well as the former Member of the Board of Governors, IIM Bangalore. His career of over 31 years has been marked by numerous accomplishments in bioinformatics research, teaching, mentoring, higher education reforms, and managing large institutions with outstanding success. He headed the Department of Biotechnology at the University of Pune for four years and Department of Zoology at the University of Pune.
As the director of the Division of Bioinformatics at the American Type Culture Collection in Virginia, Prof. Kolaskar secured major grants for research in metabolic pathway engineering, biocomplexity, and poxvirus information system. Besides being a highly cited research scientist and academician, he has worked in many other capacities with various state and central governments and received many awards and honours including Honorary Cauza doctorate degrees from different universities in West Bengal and other states.
Prof. Kolaskar shares thoughts on how our higher education system can be changed and made more relevant in order to help India become a developed nation
India has made tremendous progress in every field including in higher education. This progress is mainly because of the education that we provide through a large network of school, colleges, universities and institutes in the country. There is today, more than 820 Universities and 150 specialized degree giving institutes. Out of which, nearly 285 Universities are private state universities.
Private Universities is a misnomer as Private Universities in this country are controlled almost to the same level and in some states more than the State Universities. Therefore, it should be termed as “self-financed universities”. The concept of private universities is not new to India. Universities such as – The Neotia University (TNU), BITS Pilani or Azim Premji University contribute immensely as they provide contemporary higher education.
In India, along with the mass education in classrooms, we have to make use of the technology and other resources to provide personalized mass education. This means that we should follow highly flexible system and not ‘one size fits all’ type of education to every student. We should provide experiential education and attempt to make our young generation physically fit. TNU is therefore making efforts to provide holistic education to students where students get credits for working out regularly in gymnasium, attending yoga classes and practicing it, attending courses on ethics and values, taking courses which not directly relevant to their subject but will help the growth of left as well as right part of the brain, both analytical and creative abilities. Students who take part in cultural activities – dance, drama, debate, sports also get credits. This helps in overall growth of the student. Thus, at TNU, we are essentially trying the Gurudev Rabindra Nath’s model of education in 21st Century.
Prof. A S Kolaskar share thorough insights on what is Choice Based Credit System (CBCS)
Currently, most of the traditional universities follow annual examination pattern and admit students to a particular course such as B.Sc. in Chemistry or B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering. They have to study these subjects once admitted, get that degree, can do post-graduation only in the subject they have completed graduation. They will be eligible for job based on degrees in particular subject. Thus, he will have to continue more often with the choice he made almost at his 11th grade. Because of this, we have very few persons who have achieved excellence in their chosen path. To change this in our university, we follow Choice Based Credit System (CBCS). The University Grants Commission, the highest regulatory authority in the country is also imposing that universities must follow CBCS. CBCS demands that students must earn pre-fixed minimum number of credits instead of fixing strictly the number of years. For instance, AICTE which regulates engineering education in this country, has recently come out with a circular that the students can get B.Tech. degree if they earn 164 credits. Students can earn these number of credits either in 7 semesters, 8 semesters, 9 semesters or 10 semesters. So four years of duration for B.Tech is not fixed.
Secondly, out of these 164 credits, if the student wants to be a Mechanical Engineer, then there has to be a minimum certain number of credits that the student must have earned by taking course in the college or university in subjects related to Mechanical Engineering. Remaining credits he can earn by taking other courses such as Mathematics, Economics, Psychology, Computer Science, English, music, etc. Thus, during the course if the student feels that he is more interested in the particular subject, then he can take more credits in that subject. For instance, a student joins the university for B.Sc. Applied Economics degree. She/he finds that at the end of the first year likes Applied Psychology subject based on courses taken during first two semester than course in Applied Economics from 3rd semester onwards student can opt for more courses in Psychology than in Economics. At the end of the 6th semester, let’s say that the student has completed minimum required, say 70 credits in Psychology out of total 105 credits, then she will be eligible for B.Sc. in Applied Psychology rather than B.Sc. in Applied Economics. Such a student who has earned 35-40 credits in Applied Economics may like to continue for one more year and earn 70 credits in Applied Economics, also then he or she will also get the degree B.Sc. in Applied Economics at the end of 4th year as she has now minimum required credits in Economics which means she has knowledge in Applied Economics equivalent to a graduate in Economics. Similarly, she also has the required knowledge of Applied Psychology equivalent to any degree students in that subject. So, at the end of the four years, student can earn both the degrees, B.Sc. in Applied Psychology as well as B.Sc. in Applied Economics. This means that there is no fixed course that the student has to take in each semester but if there is a requirement of pre-knowledge, then that course student must complete it before registering or taking higher level course. Example being, one cannot learn advance C language programming without learning basic C language programming course. However, some students can take this course in the first semester when he is studying, while other students may opt for basic C language course in the 3rd semester as long as it does not affect the learning of other subjects.
This is the essence of CBCS. It allows the students to learn at his/her speed, learn subjects of his/her choice and allow the growth of both parts of the brain, to make the person think more logically and analyse the problem analytically and at the same time, continue to remain innovative and not bog down. This is the requirement of our 21st Century knowledge workers. This necessarily means that we need to also move from our normal examination system to evaluation system. In fact, in TNU, I tell students that we do not examine the students but we evaluate the students.
Prof. Kolaskar explains how and why we should move from examination system to evaluation
Today, we have annual examination in our schools and in many universities and colleges. Few universities follow semester system. If we carefully look at the question papers of SSC or HSC as well as the university, one will find that not only certain questions are repeated. The questions are mostly such that, one can provide the memorized answers without understanding the subject. This was sufficient if we have to produce clerks or labourers in the industry.
However, in today’s knowledge society, we require knowledge workers. The knowledge workers must be necessary, innovative, must have logical and analytical ability, must be able to communicate, analyse problems and must work hard till they get the answers to the problem. For this reason, continuous evaluation needs to be brought in rather than giving high weightage to semester end examination. We at TNU follow continuous evaluation system where students are given large number of assignments, monthly tests, mini projects and maxi projects etc. In fact, semester end examination gets weightage around 30%. The assignment and tests are designed specifically to evaluate students’ abilities mentioned above such as innovativeness, problem-solving ability, logical thinking, hand-brain coordination etc. We also follow, therefore, open book, open notes or give students time of few hours to complete the test by even searching data on the internet, etc. We believe that present set of students are living in an interconnected world and have the access to technology, to information from any part of the world almost as it is happening and therefore, they need to only know how to get proper information, analyse it, apply it timely and innovate. We evaluate and grade these qualities. We follow UGC’s 10-point letter grade system as many other universities.
Prof. Kolaskar comments about the subjects that are taught today in the degree programmes and to postgraduate students
The world as you know is changing very fast. Several technologies have become part of our daily lives and some gadgets like cell phone have also become part of our body. This aspect one will have to take into consideration when one provides higher education in this country. It does not mean that the fundamentals should not be taught to the students or it should be weak for the students. For example, Engineering students must have knowledge in depth of Mathematics, Physics, and Material Science. However, these subjects need to be taught using examples from specific applications. But for students of automobile engineering, we do not have to spend too much time on internal combustion machines because most of the automobiles are becoming electrical machines. Even those which use internal combustion engines have more than 60% component of electronics and thus, knowledge of electronics has become essential today to these engineers. Further, from the recent report of CII and NASCOM, one can see that more than 50% jobs in coming 10-15 years will be completely different and they will be new than those exist today. Therefore, we need to prepare our young generation to take up those new type of jobs and to become the leaders in their chosen area. We will have to start subjects relevant in this century such as Robotics Engineering, Energy Engineering, Cyber Security, Data Analytics, Cloud Computing, Auto Manufacturing, Internet of Things (IoT), Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), etc.
We will also have to introduce courses in liberal arts and human-machine interactions. These courses cannot be given only by academicians but we will have to involve industry persons and thus, the interaction between industry and academia will be an essential component of teaching at university and college level. We are seeing the paradigm shift namely that the knowledge is not generated only in academic and research institutions but the almost equal amount of knowledge is being generated in the industry and other sectors of the society. One of the main job of the university in coming years will be to collate this knowledge, package it properly and then redistributing it.
Prof. A S kolaskar on how we can have better industry-academic interactions
It is true that most universities expect that their students will be employed by the industry and industry comes to the university faculty members to find out solutions to their problems at the lowest cost. There are no sustained interactions between academic persons and industry persons in most cases. We have, therefore, at TNU, decided that we will start any teaching programme, short term or long term, only after we establish the partnership with at least one company. After we establish the partnership, we bring the industry person to work with academician and develop the course content or syllabus as well as the pedagogy. Industry person also participate in teaching whenever required. Students get the field training in the industry and their projects are evaluated by industry experts. Such interactions are helping our undergraduate students and they will be industry ready.
We have also initiated few joint research programmes. We work closely with upcoming companies. For example, Phi Robotics, a robot manufacturing company in Thane works with us closely to develop the syllabus, laboratory, pedagogy and even in training. Our faculty members are trying to formulate few research projects with them which we hope will be funded by DST and other large companies. Similarly, for Energy Engineering programme, we work closely with Adani Power Limited, Ahmedabad. For English, we have signed MoU with Sage Publications, New Delhi, and Cactus Communications Private Limited, Mumbai. Thus, for the course on ‘online academic editing’, we work with Cactus Communications Private Limited. On the other hand, editing of books and related aspects of editing matters including IPR issues etc., are taught by experts from Sage Publications. I am giving you examples of how we work with the industry even in a subject like English. We strongly believe that industry-academia interactions are essential for better field training to our students. Joint research projects will help our university to become truly, “a university with a difference”. I am sure other universities can follow this model.