Atul Chauhan, Amity University: “Commercialize research”

“India is moving into academic revolution,” euphorically says Atul Chauhan, Chancellor of first privately led Amity University in India. From Atul’s palpable thoughts, one witnesses how India is embracing the private system of education, especially when parents choose fancy private schools over aging Kendriya Vidyala’s. He is confident that the day is not far when people will prefer quality private universities over public with all open arms. Being perturbed by how some universities in India operate as colleges, he expresses, “College is for teaching and the university should be the place where knowledge is generated.” 

Q. You are the first to trigger private education in the country. How tough was to emerge as first private university in the country?    
In the initial days, there were lots of reservations about giving recognition to degrees offered by private university. The regulatory bodies wondered how private universities could operate. We sat with parents, students and council for confidence building. Traditional government universities were offering engineering, BCom, BA etc. We wanted to emerge differently, so we were the first to introduce BBA in the country, it came as alien course for everyone. We had to counsel everyone to know the difference between BBA and BCom. Today no one questions, a variety of universities offer BBA degrees. We faced a lot of hurdles, but we proudly feel that we have set standards for private universities in the country.  

Q. How will you see current standing of private players in the market? Are they accepted with open arms?   
A. I think everyone is learning. Years ago private higher education was new, regulatory bodies didn’t know how to handle it. Slowly India is moving into new academic revolution. Every revolution is both painful and joyful, because some people are losing power and others gaining power. There is always friction in such things. If you see India three generation ago, government institutions used to be the top choice for everyone. At school level, everyone preferred Kendriya Vidhyalas (KVs), today parents favor private schools over public. Likewise, over a period of time people will move out from public to private universities.

Q. You began from Noida, 20 kms away from metropolitan Delhi. Private universities seem to fill gaps where state universities run poorly. What’s Amity’s reach?   
A. At the moment we have universities in 5 states in India. Our distance learning programmes have the centers across country where the students from every nook and corner get educational accessibility. People often argue that to improve quality you have to be in one location, but we think differently. Along with quality the whole system can be integrated if you have campuses across the country. The prime reason is that good faculty is just not located at one place. For instance, we have good faculty who are in Gujarat, who are not eager to come down to Delhi campus. With our campus in Ahmadabad, we have not lost the rich class of faculty.  So, our experiment of opening up campuses across the country in different locations is very successful. We are able to attract students and faculty. We recently got land in Nagaland, so very soon we will expand accessibility to education in the entire north-eastern states. 

Q. Many universities are losing grip from its proper governance and functioning. Your thoughts.  
A. The problem with Indian universities today is that most universities function as colleges. The difference between the university and the college is that college is for teaching and the university should be the place where knowledge is generated. In the last three years, our faculty has founded over 500 patents. Even all the IITs put together have not filed so many patents. In addition, we have written about 700 case studies which is bought by world’s top universities, like Harvard, Yale, Oxford University to name a few.  Around 100 organizations have bought it. It spreads the names of Indian faculty members across the world. Faculties should come out from comfort zones, if faculties are simply reading out from books then how can they call themselves as subject experts? A student benefits if faculty generate knowledge, do good research and engages in consultancies. Research is a very expensive venture which does not have immediate returns. Amity strictly focuses on commercialization of research. Our faculty gets royalty out of it.

Q. What it takes to move up the ladder in global scenario? 
A. If you benchmark university globally, the teaching methodology has to be very different. Teachers and faculty in India do not look out learning out comes, whereas globally it is very important that everything is measured by learning out comes. In India, I would say 95 percent of the faculty does not even know what is learning out comes? You have to rigorously train faculties. At Amity we have a very good staff training college where we regularly update. Best senior professors from external universities help and guide our faculty on how to be at International level.

Q. Often private set-ups are ridiculed for commercialization of education. How do you safeguard your brand in the market?      
A. Amity is purely philanthropic. Amity is right from day one known for not taking donations. It is because of the demand and supply gap many privately-led institutes misusing public money. At Amity, every student and parent when they accept admission has to sign an affidavit saying that you not given money to anyone. I do not think any other university makes this type of affidavit. We focus on two things: imbibing professionalism and values among students. We have very strong behavioral science component in the university. Every semester, student has to study behavioral science. We have separate 30 member team of psychologists who are teaching behavioral science to all students.

Q. How do you visualize India to be on top globally? 
A. Everyone envisions foreign universities to come down to India; I will rather deviate from the debate. Why can’t we open our universities outside India and prove its quality worldwide? I feel happy that Amity is showing the powers to many other universities by reaching out globally. At present, Amity campuses are operational in 8 countries. In each of the campus, we have at least 14 Indian nationalities studying there. The Indian students and parents experience comfort with our Amity brand. The sense of “We” among other Indian students helps in shaping their confidence in the alien country. In India, my dream is to have Amity campus in every state.  


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