Dr. Viswanathan, Chancellor of VIT Univ: "Learn with Joy"

Vellore Institute of Technology University, popularly known as VIT University began 30 ago as affiliated college, today it has pushed its frontiers to work on research projects with MIT, Boston and Havard University. Dr. G. Viswanathan, Chancellor of VIT University is appalled by 30,000 pending cases related to education in our country. Ask him the root cause, he expresses, “We go to courts if government fails to pay heed to our challenges. Institutes don’t have administrative and financial autonomy. The government should not clamp down our throats. It should be more of a consultative process.” Unlike business and industry, Viswanathan is upset why fire of liberalization not reached education sector.      

Q. How will you distinguish VIT’s diffusion of knowledge from others?    
A. In India the education system is very rigid. VIT has taken departure from it by introducing flexibility to the higher education system. We have something unique called fully flexible credit system. Here students choose their subjects, professors, class timings. We offer option so that it’s easy for the student to customize their programme. Another important change we have made is the option to change the branch of study after completing first year. In India there are lot of issues raised if a student wants to change from one branch to another. Authorities feel it is practically impossible to shift from one institute to another. I want VIT to be a model for the rest of the country. With limited resources, we have very good students from all parts of India. VIT is only university in the south where have more students from the northern state plus and we have students from around 50 countries. We enjoy a good diversity.

We have the partnership with MIT, Boston, Havard and the Massachusetts General Hospital MGH. A research team came from Boston who took classes for our students. They supplemented their learning in our medical research area, which is called CAMPTEC (Centre for affordable medical technology). Students are working with the MIT and Boston research team in this area. We focus on engineering consultancy programmes so that we able to apply research in those areas. We have good relation with the industries like CISCO, Microsoft, IBM to cater to the industry research. Further we have strong partnership with EARAI, Pune - we run bachelor, master and Phd programmes jointly with them. When we conduct regular programmes at Wipro and Cognizant, it helps us to understand industry well.

Indians are notorious for theoretical knowledge and not practical knowledge. We have made sure that every subject has project component. We have introduced embedded labs and industry revises our curriculum. It is obvious that such advantages you can if you have autonomy. We have something called peer tutoring. The senior students teach the students on the basis of their skill. We are able to make academic innovations and we want to be among top 200 universities.

Q. Private universities notorious for minting money, often ridiculed to not serve haves not. At Vellore, your university comes as breath of fresh air helping needy. Tell us about it. 
A. We have a scheme called STARS to support the advancement of the rural area student. We take one boy and one girl from each district of Tamilnadu but the condition is that the student should have studied in government school located in a village. So among the students who get top mark in the district, we provide them 100 percent scholarship – fee waiver in tuition, boarding and lodging. They don’t spend a single paisa for any expenditure in education, be it for BTeh or any other course they choose. Another scheme which we have initiated is we call it Universal higher education – In the Vellore district who got first rank deserve to join college we will help them financially through our trust. I will submit the report to government of India and we will achieve he mission by 2017. I want this model to be replicated in all 647 districts in the country! 
Q. So how will you assess the regulatory mechanism of India’s higher education? 
A. The number of regulations should come down. Even government felt the need when during the 10th plan it was documented that at least 10 percent of the affiliated colleges be given autonomous status. Some universities are dying state because of lack of autonomy, as they don’t have freedom to do anything of their own.10th, 11th plans are past and now we have reached 12th plan and still status is not yet given. About 3500 colleges should be autonomous, but at present we have only 400 autonomous colleges in the whole country. In the last five years not a single private university was permitted to be deemed university. So, expansion of higher education is definitely affected. Why autonomy only in the hands of few?      

Q. There’s a constant dilemma, tension in the air. Where do you think immediate thrust should be to steer educational reforms?
A. If the government doesn’t give anything, we go to courts. I once called up minister and said, “Save us from sending a lot of money on court cases”. There is no healthy dialogue between the universities and the government. At least twice a year regulatory authority should directly talk to the institutions so that most of the problems get resolved. This will help us avoid court cases. It is appalling to witness 30,000 pending cases related to education in our country. The government should not clamp down our throats. It should be more of a consultative process. The problem is that government thinks of the few culprits who are exploiting students and making rules for everybody in the country. The problem is generally institutions don’t have administrative autonomy and the financial autonomy. We have introduced number of liberalization in business and industry in 1991 under new economic policy somehow it is not applied to education. 

India is constantly afraid of losing quality over quantity. The government should open up their mind and liberalise the education sector, so that we can excel. There should be competition among the universities and institutions, between public and private. Only competition will improve the quality and bring down the cost of education. Government should take serious attempts to see who are doing well. There are about 40-50 universities which are doing well in research area. If they are well supported by state and central government we will long way to compete with the world. 

Q. Which area needs utmost attention in the Indian context?
A. We have a lot of potential in the manufacturing sector, which needs attention extensively. Why are we just emphasising on importing from foreign country. We can give thousands of people employment by exporting. We are importing so much in aircraft, why? We have enough scientific knowledge, but our talent is not channelized well. We can increase foreign exchange by cutting down import. This requires a policy change at the central govt. level.

Q. How can universities bring life to education in our country? 
Learning should be a real joy at school, college or university level. In university, we need to facilitate all the professor to be facilitators who opposes giving spoon feeding material to the students. The focus must be on lifelong learning. We must create spark that will turn into wildfire.Higher education helps in the family development, society grows up leading to nation advancement. Its high time country gives higher education opportunity to 14 crores of children between the 14 to 18 age group. They will not only contribute to India’s development but all over the world, particularly developed country because they want talented lot. 

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