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An interview with Vice-Chancellor

JNU News had a free ranging discussion with the Vice Chancellor on his thoughts after completion of a year as the head of the university. He highlighted both achievements and areas of concern. The interview

JNU News: You have completed more than a year as Vice Chancellor – has it lived up to your expectations?
VC: Expectations – one is expectation from self and from others. After visiting all the schools and the feedback that I got, I developed plans that I wanted to execute. I laid my road map and hence initially I had expectations from myself not from others. We wanted to reform our administrative system in small ways but those that would lead to bigger gains in future. However I realized that we have to move gradually since we needed to activate the system of governance and delivery. A few targets we have been able to achieve.

We were able to fill many positions in the administration – Registrar, Finance Officer, Deputy Registrars, Librarian, Assistant Librarians, Assistant Registrars, SO's and some more – many of which had been vacant for a very long time. We have also implemented promotion policies for the administrative staff. We have now initiated training of the staff to increase their competence – in-house training to begin with; workshops on administrative matters. We have also started online computer training.

We were able to complete the promotion of all those Faculty (around 20) whose promotion was due upto 2008. For all others the process is on and we will take up all these cases of promotions very shortly.

The other reform that we could initiate is the online admission and registration of students. This has by far been successful, however needs further refinement and is a very satisfying experience since many were apprehensive about it.

I am also happy that today we are able to issue final certificates to the students within 4-6 weeks after his/her having completed a program. At the time I joined I was signing degrees of students who had passed out in 2008. Foreign students are especially happy that they get their degree before they leave the country. We are now developing e-tracking theses system so that one is able to get the reports etc on time .Work on this is already on.

I must also mention that last year we were able to put up our accounts and activity report to the Parliament on time; probably this has been done for the first time in many years. Finance is currently following file tracking on biweekly basis. At present this is a manual system but we should be able to develop a system to e-track the files!

There are some problem areas which need more attention – projects cell for example. We have now got all the information on the new projects, about 110 or so, computerised. We send online reports to all PIs every two months, so that they can check the records. While there will be every attempt to help the faculty in purchase etc, and clear their papers on time, one has to realize that an Institute has to have some financial discipline. We have also now appointed a committee to suggest ways and means for the governance of the project cell. I meet all officers regularly. We follow on the tasks assigned to each one of us and report in the next meeting. It is not easy to get people to do what they are supposed to do but I'm hoping that by the end of this year more rigour will set in.

We have been able to stream line some regulations in the Estate branch. Lot of information on the collection of dues etc was missing. This has now been computerized and the bank accounts are reconciled regularly. This had not been done for over 6-7 years. Due to this reform our internal receipts have increased. We have also put everything under rate contracts, so one doesn't need to get quotations etc for buying regular store items. The Engineering section still needs lot of improvement and we are trying to make it more efficient and responsive. We are also developing an electronic way of filing complains. The e-complaint software is ready and will be launched soon. This will also help the officers to have an overview of the number of complaints and the action taken.

JNU News: In effect you are moving towards e-governance.
VC: Yes. Each section will be e-governed first and then the whole University. The problem with establishing a robust e-governance system earlier was lack of data. We did not even had concrete information regarding the number of students or the research projects etc. So, first we started by working on that and that's where we are slowly moving ahead.

JNU News: I'm glad you talked about administrative reforms because that was one thing you had mentioned was your priority and there seems to have been a lot you have accomplished and some areas you are working on.
VC: Yes, a lot needs to be done yet. We have constituted a committee headed by the Rector which will further look into the ways and means to improve our functioning. We have already delegated powers. The financial power of Deans etc has been also increased so that the time spent on taking decisions and the movement of files is decreased.

JNU News: A year ago we had talked about that in the interview where you had said that you wanted elections and a student's body as a medium of dialogue with the students. Now we have a union and you are happy about it but do you think things will improve now?

VC: I am happy that student elections were held and we have a student body functioning. I am in touch with them or they keep coming and let me know the problems of the students in general or of a particular student. As far as possible I try my best to help. One thing we have to understand is that the VC doesn't has all the power to do anything or everything. There are a lot of constraints under which one works and within these constraints we try and resolve as many issues as possible. A few days back there was an interaction session of students with the librarian to discuss and find answers to the matters related to library. We hope more such sessions are organized. These are helpful as we come to know about what we need to do.

JNU News: Again a year ago you said you had an academic vision for JNU. There it was more a matter of convincing people, changing the mindset. Do you think you have been able to get people on your page?

VC: Not absolutely. What I have done is I have visited all the Schools and a lot of Centres. I interacted with the faculty as well as the students. One concern is to increase the quality of output and research. We have to compete with ourselves and the idea has to be that I have to do better than myself. Also we need to introspect and find out if we are better academically than what we were two decades back! I came to know through these meetings what research is being done in different centres. With this information we have been able to organise an interdisciplinary seminar series where the Social Sciences seminars are held in Science schools on topics that are of interest to both and vice versa so that the students get better exposure to other areas as well. We were also able to convince students to start their own intellectual series. We are also planning to start trans-disciplinary research clusters. Recently faculty members from different science schools put up a joint project to the DBT and it has already sanctioned to the tune of about 17 crores. A few faculty members have also floated a group on cognitive science .They are holding seminars and should be able to submit a joint project for funding soon. A few faculty have signed an MOU in Climate Biology and Glaciology and here the School of International Studies and Social Sciences along with three other universities, Jammu University, Kashmir University and Sikkim University are going to submit a mega project. On three programmes, public health, education and climate change we are connecting ourselves to the Meta University concept.

JNU News: This Meta University is the proposed one in Delhi with Delhi University, IIT, JNU, Jamia etc. So, have admissions and other modalities been worked out?
VC:  It is clear that in future education is going to move out of the boundaries of the campus. The urge of the student or for that matter the faculty is sometimes more than we can provide at one place. Knowledge is growing and the pool of knowledge is so huge that interaction is necessary and required.

The model and modalities of functioning of Meta University is not very clear. We had some discussion about this in Deans' committee meeting. A committee is being formed to look into this. Once it is clear it will be discussed in various bodies and in the Academic Council.

I should also mention that today higher education in India is also an issue about quality, accessibility besides numbers. That is where places like JNU are so important because we provide education even to students who cannot otherwise afford it. Places like JNU are needed for innovation and quality education with social relevance.

JNU News: But what are we doing in places like JNU? Our USP has been the teacher student ratio which has gone out of the window in the past few years and it can't improve even after all the recruitment because the demand to take more students will always be there. In a sense our university has already lost its edge of having every teacher in a centre know every student. A lot of things used to get done with this close interaction between the two. Now we are turning into any other university with lectures and so on as the new method.
VC: That is a problem and unless interaction is there between the teacher and the student that edge would not be there. While this is true for teaching Masters students I still feel at the M.Phil./Ph.D level this cannot be an excuse. Nevertheless I am hopeful within next year if we are able to do recruitments as planned, we hope to achieve an overall ratio of 1:10 which is what I am looking to achieve as of now.

JNU News: This brings us to the question most teachers and students are asking, what is happening with the recruitment?
VC: As you know the recruitment process was with held for want of clarification and adoption of UGC norms. Through a number of meetings we have now crossed this barrier. I must thank all the faculty for their understanding and help in this process. We have also now received a letter of approval from MHRD to our modified statutes.  The recruitment process is on way.

JNU News: Tell us a little about the role of the IQAC. What kind of benchmarks are they going to establish?
VC: We had to get ourselves NAAC accreditation first, as we were losing out on grants, equipments etc. The NAAC report, a huge document, was made ready and sent to the NAAC office. This was a major task..The idea of the IQAC is to see that the quality norms for recruitment and promotions are adhered to. IQAC will also analyse our publications and research and also teaching to constantly monitor the progress and standard of the university. Basically it is a quality management cell.

Due to the ranking systems, everybody talks about where JNU stands in world ranking! I have my own views on this. However IQAC is also doing some research to develop our own ranking system.

JNU News: When we had talked to you the last time you had a set of priorities. Now one year into the job, do you have a different set of priorities or maybe areas that need immediate attention?
VC: The broad priorities are the same – academic excellence, increased output, provide better facilities and responsive administration. In order to move in all the directions, during this tenure we had four Academic Council meetings, four Executive Council meeting, financial meetings, two court meetings and we could take some concrete decisions. We have moved ahead on all fronts and I am confident that the effect of some of the initiatives we have taken will be felt in the years to come.

JNU News: So there is a sense of achievement in terms of administrative matters. What do you think are the specific incidents you would remember from the first year a few years down the line?
VC: I think it would be, our effort to move towards e-governance, bringing the faculty from different schools to hold joint seminars, develop trans-disciplinary thinking, holding Deans' meeting in Schools rather than in Administration,  starting language empowerment cell, initiating training programs in AIRF, and other training workshops conducted through  EOO office  and of course the student elections. And another would be the hunger strikes – which also gave me and Rector, who would handle these issues very well, a different kind of experience.  My greatest satisfaction is my meeting with the students on the open day as also on other days. With them I could talk about their academics and also they would let me know their problems with respect to teaching, research and living. On individual basis I could take up their problems and find solutions. Many who left or those around communicate their views, their satisfaction or otherwise, personally as also through emails. I enjoy meeting and talking to students.

JNU News: What have been your greatest disappointments?
VC: One cause of concern is the speed at which we work. Despite working for long hours I am unable to meet my targets. Even some of my own commitments I could not fulfil. In our governance system one is dependent on others. For example we wanted to create better facilities, like cafeteria for faculty, in our Guest House, improve Faculty club and ISA office and others. This did not mature. Another disappointment has been the lack of timely response from the Schools, Centres and from the faculty. For example, we had requested all the faculty to fill up a form, for which a format was provided (one page only) describing their background, interest and academic output. So far only about 200 faculty have responded!

This year I wish to spend more time attending to the issues and problems of IHA and Library. The DSW and the Librarian have taken new initiatives and I am hopeful that we will start seeing some positive changes. I am meeting all the concerned to see that the annexe building are completed on time. For this we have now been able to get necessary grant from UGC. We are also working towards making this campus barrier free. For this we were able to get grants from the Ministry of Social Welfare. Other smaller initiatives on providing more ATMs, improving roads, repair work in hostels and old transit houses, etc have been taken. For this we were able to get some grants from UGC. We have also got grant for providing fire safety in the Library as also in some science schools. SBI has given some grant for making a good Children Park!

I only hope I can come upto my own and others' expectations. I have so far received lot of support from everyone and hope this will continue.

JNU News: Thank you very much Vice Chancellor for the interview.


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