The director of Thapar University, Prof. Prakash Gopalan strongly feels that the regulatory inspection teams before noding the institutions should assess their quality of faculty and infrastructure.
Q. Tell us about the unique curriculum at Thapar University?
A. We follow an interdisciplinary approach to education to meet the emerging needs of the job industry. For instance, we have introduced a course in mechatronics, which is a blend of mechanical and electronic engineering. We had set up the Department of Biotechnology and Environmental Sciences in 2002 with the mission of establishing a new discipline by fusing biotechnology with environmental engineering. The department conducts BTech, MTech, BSc and MSc courses in this emerging field. The LM Thapar School of Management, the business school of Thapar University, has also taken the lead in introducing interdisciplinary and innovative courses like software engineering in management. This year, the LM Thapar School of Management will become the first institution in India to offer a rigorous BE in Software Engineering and Management in collaboration with the faculty of engineering of Thapar University. This unique course will provide significant managerial competencies to engineering students and give them an edge over plain engineering graduates who have little understanding of management concepts.
We follow a comprehensive evaluation process to assess the performance of our students based on assignments, tutorials and quizzes. We have well-qualified faculty members who follow innovative teaching practices based on the latest IT aids. Students are given research-based projects to keep them abreast of the latest advancements in the field of technology.Q. Do you maintain any unique learning methodology, labs/ equipments?
A. We have an elaborate research infrastructure to support their efforts. We have set up a state-of-the-art laboratory for the instrumental analysis of materials. It includes equipment like Fourier Transform Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectrometer (FTNMR-400 MHz), Scanning electron microscope (SEM) with EDS facility, X-ray diffractometer (powder method), atomic force microscope (AFM), gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GCMS), etc. A continuous ambient air quality monitoring station has also been set up with the support of the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences at a cost of more than Rs 1 crore. This lab constantly provides data on 11 parameters of ambient air quality of Patiala to the central pool of data at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune.
Q. So which department is doing exceptionally well? Why?
A. All our departments and schools, including new ones like the Department of Biotechnology and Environmental Sciences, are doing quite well. The credit for this goes to our competent faculty, our focus on quality education catering to the requirements of the industry and our thrust on research.
Q. Which problem areas in higher education in India, do you consider are most daunting for students and faculty? Where do you think immediate thrust should be to steer educational reforms?
A. Lack of research infrastructure and research facilities are the biggest challenges before the faculty and students alike. The immediate thrust to steer educational reforms should be on job-oriented education in terms of curricula, practical exposure and teaching methodology, competent faculty and quality infrastructure.
Q. What is your view on the current regulatory regime as far as India’s education system is concerned?
A. The norms for granting approval to institutions of higher learning and the various courses run by them should be made more stringent. Inspection teams should assess the quality of faculty and infrastructure at these institutions before giving them the go-ahead.
Q. Owing to the fact that India is emerging as a knowledge-economy, where do you think it has considerable advantage?
A. Quality technical manpower is our biggest strength and we must capitalise on it. What our technical graduates really require is more practical exposure and a thorough understanding of the processes and requirements of the industry.
Q. In what ways can India make a mark in the area of research publications? How many research publications Thapar University has produced so far?
A. The intellectual property of any university can be assessed by its publications in SCI journals. Many Indians have made an impact globally through their path-breaking works published in international journals of repute. They have developed several innovative products and prototypes. We are already making a mark in the area of research publications. But we can improve further by providing more research facilities and financial support to researchers. Thapar University is engaged in quality research and consultancy activities. More than 2,000 research papers of our faculty have been published in peer-reviewed impact factor SCI journals in the last five years. The number for last year alone was 444. These papers have been cited worldwide and are comparable with the research work conducted by the world’s top universities. Our faculty members have filed 12 patents in the recent past. The university has 119 ongoing research projects with a sanctioned grant of Rs 25.72 crore. Our faculty also undertakes various research projects sponsored by the industry. We have awarded more than 130 PhDs in the last five years.
Q. What are your future research initiatives?
A. Our future research initiatives will revolve around creating centres of excellence in various interdisciplinary fields like material characterisation, cyber security, sensors, biotechnology, environmental engineering and other emerging disciplines. We plan to procure the latest research equipment to attract the best faculty and students in the country. We will provide ample financial support to research students as per international standards. We will continue to encourage our faculty to file patents and publish novel works in journals of extremely high standards.
Q. What are the challenges you face as the director of a promising University? Where do you think there is a scope for improvement?
A. I want to make the most of the quality of our faculty and students to make Thapar University a world-class university and a global name to reckon with. I want to bring Thapar University on a par with the best technical institutions across the globe. Though we have entered into tie-ups with several international universities like University of Waterloo, Canada, New Jersey Institute of Technology, USA, Trinity College, University of Dublin, University of Missouri-Kansas City and Brown University, USA, we are exploring more opportunities for signing MoUs with foreign universities in the areas of faculty exchange, student exchange and research. While both reputed Indian and foreign companies like Intel, Microsoft, Wipro and Central Scientific Instruments Organisation, Chandigarh are associated with Thapar University, we want to further build on our strong interface with the industry. We want our placements to be the best in the country despite the economic slowdown. Improvement in teaching and research standards is an ongoing process for us.
Q. What’s your vision for your university?
A. I want to leverage the high research potential of Thapar University to gain greater traction. One of the great strengths of Thapar University is research, and we will further leverage it to develop our scientific and R&D capabilities and take this institution to the next level. A firm believer in industry-academia linkages, I want Thapar University students to gain more corporate exposure. This will help us in forging stronger bonds with Indian and global corporate houses.
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