Manipal Univ VC: "Edu is first, research secondary"
Nimesh Chandra, 27 Mar 2014

"We have not been able to bring investment in establishing world-class labs, world-class science institutions, and skill development institutions"


Q. What according to you is a World Class University?

A. When a WCU label is given, we need to ask, “For whom?” I think it all begins with students. A university, which provides the right education, the right opportunity and the right environment to groom the student, will be a WCU. While there are many parameters given by different rankings, to me what matters for a university is how well quality education is being delivered to the students and if he/she is being allowed to grow. Unfortunately, there is too much of emphasis on research. For a university education comes first, research is secondary.


Q. So, you mean to say education takes precedence over research?

A. Indeed, that’s what a university is all about and we are here to nurture talent. Especially in India, most universities need to meet the primary focus, to educate. One of the major conflicts is that we have teachers who focus a lot on research but ignore the basic responsibility of teaching. 


Q. Do you think the agencies doing World Ranking of Universities have parameters skewed towards western countries?

A. Yes, initially the rankings were very much in favour of the western universities but the current ones like Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) and even Times Higher Education (THE) Rankings are moving towards a more pragmatic approach. This is because rankings are an evolving phenomena and any system if it remains static, it will fail. These rankings, for instance, have done certain modifications keeping the interest of BRICS countries or emerging economies. For instance, they have removed the component of Number of Nobel Laureates who emerged from the universities or number of international faculty because these are difficult to have for universities in this part of the world. They have also added components like citations per faculty, or number of PhDs in the assessment. 


Q. What should be done for India to make a mark on the global publication map?

A. Effort must be there, of course to publish, because research is integral. But let us not do so at the expense of teaching or at the expense of student learning. If you see the top universities in the world, their entire focus is on research and not on student learning. It is seen that students are learning on their own. They also do so because research is measurable, but how will you assess education? The only thing is possibly student-faculty ratio where Manipal University stands out. 


Q. Knowledge as public good vis-à-vis capitalizing on knowledge – where do you think the focus should be?

A. There is a misconception that private players cannot do public good. Manipal University has made a difference to the life of millions of people, for the society. At the same time, we are one of the top private universities as far as large research output is concerned. The university has innovation centres, incubation units and has filed several patents. We encourage the spirit of innovation among students and faculty. A lot of learning happens outside the classrooms.  


Q. Your take on a single regulatory agency in higher education like the one proposed some time back?

A. The way we function in India, there is lot of confusion among regulators owing to the large numbers we have. Control is the way of life and when so many controls are put, it is difficult for universities to grow. Our universities have been given autonomy, so let them on their own get their accreditation, let them get their own colour and let them be looked at by an independent agency - international or national. It all has to be from within. Manipal University is always willing to have all their credentials verified, or look at any aspect of our functioning.


Q. What is the most daunting thing for students in Indian higher education?

A. It is to get quality education. And this is because of the perplexity that has been created by commercialization in education, especially too much of advertising in this domain. Students do not know what is right, what is true and will they get their money’s worth? The most important concern for them is - will my education prepare me for life? 

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