By starting his contribution to the education field with the University of Pune and now being Vice Chancellor of Neotia University, Prof. A. S. Kolaskar shares his journey and his in-depth future plans about this university.
Ques 1: Kindly tell us about your experience in the education industry and what makes it the best industry to work in?
Ans. As you know, I was the Vice-Chancellor of University of Pune which is now called Savitribai Phule Pune University from 2001 to 2006. After that, I have worked as the Advisor to the National Knowledge Commission, New Delhi. Then, I have also worked as a Managing Director of an Educational Company and started the animation, video game design, product design and training of five-year duration along with French Institute at Pune. When I worked as the Vice-Chancellor at KIIT University where I organized Indian National Science Congress. After that, I was in the US as their consultant and for last two and half years, I am the Vice Chancellor of Neotia University which is a private state university and was established in 2015 from its exceptional endurance.We have decided to start a completely holistic contemporary education here on the lines similar to what Guru Rabindranath Tagore had said almost 100 years ago. We can do that now in the new atmosphere. So we are providing highly flexible Education, we are providing those courses which will create the human resources for tomorrow’s India and we are giving importance to both the physical well-being as well as mental well-being and its development.
Ques 2: Any of the significant challenges you faced as the Vice Chancellor of Neotia University?
Ans. As I was telling you, we have started contemporary courses such as Robot Manufacturing, Energy Engineering, Cyber Security, Data Analytics, etc. We are also using the new approach which is Flexible Credit System, as well as more weightage is given to the evaluation rather than examination. So many parents and students did not understand this concept. Since they are not the regular courses available in other universities, and us being a new university, there is always a question mark that comes in the mind of the parents more than in the minds of the students that whether there will be a proper job potential or not. The second thing that happens is we are in fact talking very closely with the industries. We have to convince the industries that if you collaborate, you will get good quality and well trained human resources. So convincing them becomes a real issue but I am surely successful in that because we have partnered with Adani Power Ltd in the energy sector, Phi Robotics, Thane in Robots Manufacturing. We also have partnered with IBM India for the Data Analytics and Cyber Security. But the number of students who take admission and come through our admission test is very small. In a private sector when you run a university, it becomes little difficult and challenging because finding the finances also have to be mashed with the input you are putting in. If not short term, at least for the long term basis, so that is how you have to plan. So this becomes a major challenge.
Ques 3: How does your curriculum ensure best practices of the industry?
Ans. What we do is that we bring in at least one company as our partner and we sit along with the experts from the industry and academics together and develop the course content. We also develop the paralogy with them, that is really is delivered in a proper fashion. The students get experience education rather than just classroom based theory. So because of that now my students from even the 2nd and 4th semester go on field work. They do internships in applied psychology, robotics, energy sciences, automatics manufacturing, and marine engineering. Because of this, they prepare mentally and are industry ready. They understand what the industry wants and that’s how they can mold them. In addition to that, the industry experts, they come and teach, either by visiting the university or through the virtual classroom.
Ques 4: What goals do you have in your mind for The Neotia University for the next coming years?
Ans. The goal is to carry out high-quality research and development.Since we have brought industry as a partner in training, we need to also make sure that we provide industry and solve their problems. Then only partnership will grow and will become strong, otherwise, it will be just that you are taking something from the industry.
Therefore, our goal is to give importance to research and development along with teaching. We need to develop a large number of patents, products and also IT so that we can create good Ph.D. students, good teachers and also make sure that the teachers are trained properly and learn how to evaluate the students rather than how to examine the students.
Students also need to assist the teaching so it has to be an outcome based learning.
Ques 5: You seem to in favor of Modern IT technologies like Educational Analytics and Virtual Classrooms as I read this on your University website. Do you think virtual learning can ever replace the traditional methods or there is a need of both? What are your thoughts on this?
Ans. There has to be a balance of both. You cannot have top class teachers in every subject on your campus. You try to get them but you cannot get all of them in that fashion. Now, the technology is going to help you because the students can directly interact with the best people and learn from that. But at the same time, the interaction between the students and teachers should be there. Therefore, hybrid mode is really the best mode.
Ques 6: There are students coming from all sorts of backgrounds and states. How do you build a positive school culture and climate?
Ans. This is where the leadership comes in because one has to help the students that are coming from the rural background and also try and show a path to those who are coming from the city to help them be focused because most of them think that they know everything but they are not focused. So that is what really has to be done judiciously. Here, they teach us how to work more positively and interact with the students. We have to establish a system that any problems the students are facing are solved and that is where the technology really helps because you cannot interact with the all the students as you rightly said before. The technology would allow me to look at what is happening and if any student, let us say, is sliding down, I can look at it. If they are not submitting the assignments continuously for one or two times, the flag will be there and I can call and talk with them, both teacher as well as the student.
Ques 7: Being the Vice Chancellor of the University is never easy. It is one of the most important posts you hold at your University. When it comes to students, you cannot answer their queries individually. How do you tend to establish a relationship with your students?
Ans. There are various ways and levels in which I interact with the students. I also teach at least one three credit course during every semester and also help them in formulating their projects, do work with the teachers and try and see how they are evaluating them.
Ques 8: How do you look at the growth of students through placement opportunities available at Neotia University? How do you wish to push the envelope further?
Ans. We are building many more opportunities for them so that they can grow but there is always a room. For example, in last 2 years I brought in the medical courses and whole courses are available on our server. I allow them to look at the books and learn through them. We make them work on the real time projects. We have good facilities for gymnasium, swimming and those sorts of things to keep them healthy. We have good play grounds. We might not have good coaches but we will slowly bring that in. Similarly, we are building our laboratories, and trying to build the culture where students can do a lot of developmental work through their own hands. For example, our students have now created their own small car which is on the basis of multi-terrain vehicle type of thing. I gave them old Maruti car and asked them to rip open and see how they exactly packed the whole things and how has it really been designed. So that is what we try to do with the students. Initially, some faculty said that we would get someone to open up the car but I said no, they have to rip it open themselves and see how it has been really put and see if they can again put it back together.
Similarly, on the robotics side, we developed a robot kit along with the fire robotics and several experiments have been done including that initially, the robot didn’t have any sensors i.e. camera. Now they have put it in and now they can do a lot more with the same robot. So we try and develop. The programming is done in such a fashion that it truly develops their critical and analytical thinking. The programming is not just writing the statements.
Ques 9: As you mentioned about leadership and since you have a lot of experience in this industry, what is your philosophy on leadership? How would you describe your leadership style?
Ans. Definitely one of the things I would say is I encourage my younger faculty members so that they can do better.
Secondly, bring in the inter-disciplinarily. Thirdly, as I see positive in them, they should try and see positive in the students and in their colleagues as no one is perfect. Therefore, you have to see the positive side rather than the negative side. You strengthen the positive things rather than keep pointing out the negative aspects. But at the same time what we have to really bring in is the culture of work and only hard work can give you results, You are not going to get benefits by interacting with the Vice Chancellor or other top authorities in the University. If this is clear to them, then the things start really changing.
Ques 10: Any suggestions you would like to give to the current youth and the aspiring students?
Ans. To the students, I’ll say that please continue to work hard and don’t try and look for an immediate job. If you don’t work hard, don’t learn basic fundamentals, don’t know how to apply them and don’t learn how to solve the problem, then you’ll not be successful in your life.
Secondly, they should learn proper communication skills.
Thirdly, they must try and keep themselves fit. That’s why all these activities in the playgrounds, in the gym and all these things are assigned because the world is becoming really competitive and if you want to be successful and not physically fit then you cannot compete.
Lastly, the most important is that they have to continuously innovate. Because this world is a knowledge era and only those who innovate are going to survive.This is not the industrial era where the labors can keep working from the orders given. You need to continuously innovate in the society and social structure. The whole thing is about getting innovated and if these things change fastly then you’ll be successful.