Dr Subhash Chandra Parija, MBBS, MD, PhD, DSc, FRC Path, FAMS, FICAI, FABMS, FIMSA, FISCD, FIAVP, FIATP, FICPath is Vice Chancellor of Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth, Pondichery, a deemed to be university. He has previously worked as Director at the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education & Research, Pondicherry. He speaks to Higher Education Plus on several issues related higher education scenario in India.
- What should Indian Universities do to attract global students?
To attract global students, first we need to know what keeps them away. Main reasons why global students shy away from Indian educational institutions are Institutional Capacity, Quality, Safety and students experiences. While institutional capacity and quality can be addressed by policy makers, student experience and safety is of great concern. Government of India has made several initiatives including the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) augmented by private institution initiatives that has seen success in certain scenarios. Nevertheless, we continue to ride over India’s rich history, diversity, and a rapidly growing economy as factors attracting foreign students. International students look for mobility and flexibility at the curricular and institutional level. Availability of unbiased information to make informed choices is essential. Eventually, a student’s success is measured by the experience he/she gains at any institution. We need to value that to become global game players. Our academic partnerships with global institutes also play a major factor in attracting global students.
- Do you think the private participation needs to be increased in India in the higher education sphere for healthy competition and enhancement of quality education?
Of course yes! If we look back in years, educational institutions around the world have evolved to serve certain purposes. Initially, they started producing educated members of the elite like physicians, engineers, lawyers etc. serving primarily as a teaching institution. Later, these institutions started educating people to support the industrial revolution. When Government stepped in to take a role in higher education and research through regulations and grant mechanisms, institution started fulfilling the needs of the Government, mostly economic development in the yesteryear’s that later slithered into a multifaceted hub of varied dimensions. Now, time plays a critical role in this evolutionary process determining how quickly, effectively and efficiently Universities make amends in their policies for their service. While public universities are regulated by government protocols and compensation system, private universities have the advantage to enroll themselves swiftly, into a healthy competition and enhancement of quality education. It is all between time and quality. An institution that establishes quality in a relatively quicker time will be the winner, a philosophy of any private entity.
Secondly, healthy competition can occur only when there is healthy participation of all institutions. By healthy participation, I mean, commitment to enhancement of quality education and academic flexibility. Commitment alone cannot bring the impact unless education is translated to suffice the evolving economy. In this regard, Universities, especially public universities, are under significant protocol constraints that threaten their ability to adopt innovation in translation of education. This is exactly where private participation needs to be encouraged.
- What needs to be done to encourage students to take up the research based projects in our universities?
Every individual is a researcher by nature. Taking up research to nudge to pressures than to create an impact is common. The research/researcher gains recognition for his/her contribution only when the research brings an impact in the society.
To inculcate the spirit and culture of research among students, initially, more importance has to be laid on research at the PG level and weightage should be given in the formative and summative assessment of examinations. Special weightage should be ear-marked in the competitive examinations preparing the candidates for higher education or job opportunities. Above all, the teachers should be trained and motivated in research arena. At Undergraduate level options should be made available for students to take up mini research and platform should be created for the students to exhibit their research outcomes. This should reflect in their educational certificates issued to them.
As His Excellency Dr.APJAbdul Kalam once said, “The best research will give the best teaching and the best teaching will give the best research”.
- Should the universities in India need more autonomy? What is your opinion?
Yes. There are four key players in the game: Government, Universities, Industry and the Society. Government has its own competing interest set by its agenda and other priorities. Industry always has difficulty in creating new knowledge and is preoccupied with exploiting available knowledge, again set by their priorities. The society doctrines the changing demand in an evolving world, becoming the largest customer base in need. So, it is the universities that ultimately take up the burden of serving the scholastic needs of the future society. Therefore, it is very clear that Universities should be given autonomy in co-evolving to the changing needs of the society that it serves. I feel that the Graded Autonomy initiative by the University Grants Commission has paved way for this and the higher educational institutes should make better use of this to earn their autonomy.
- Why Indian universities are not in the race with top class foreign universities in providing quality higher education to students?
To be competitive, educators must know what the global industry is looking for in their new recruits. This is the beginning. On the other hand, education in India is loosely coupled to engagement, empowerment and entrepreneurship. All the same, students’ perspective and societal acceptance of education to take up non-traditional jobs is missing. Parents want their child to become a doctor or engineer or lawyer and so on. Left out with no mindset for innovation, loss of competitiveness is inevitable. A great pool of population is left for job hunting. Where there is quest for survival, race is luxury. Also, our educational system is not groomed to focus on the depth of training rather claims success in a broader education. This becomes a challenge to global competitiveness and employability. Until recently, there were no metrics of quality. Our institutions and faculty could not make substantial contributions due to lack of infrastructure and opportunity losing their motivation. Research based integrative courses have to be offered and the importance of technical education has to be brought in.
- What is the track record of SBV in campus placements?
SBV, a health sciences Deemed to be University has addressed placements positively, despite being a health care university. The reason is that placements are usually a prerogative of science, engineering and technology higher educational institutes. Despite this, SBV has performed in graduate placements. For example, our nursing graduates have embarked on the placement through a unique, specified and committed cell. More than 95% of the nursing UGs and 75% of the PGs who specialise in five disciplines of nursing are placed through this endeavour. Placement cell plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of outgoing graduates.
- What is your vision for the SBV in the coming years?
Many young people today want to solve problems facing the global community. They need to be engaged and empowered and that is what SBV is aiming for in the years to come. Educational programmes, services and research contributing to the needs of the society will be the pragmatic vision of SBV.SBV envisages being one among the educational leaders in inclusiveness, societal wellbeing and responsiveness to the needs of the vulnerable, differently-able and other diverse sections of the student community.
As Robert Bergman said, the University should be showing the society where it should be going rather than just responding to what it wants. That is the kind of change that I would like to bring into SBV.
- SBV has introduced music and yoga therapy into medical care, what are the other initiatives you have taken up at SBV for enhancing the idea of innovation among students?
The future of health care is Convergence Science. It is all inter-disciplinary. Health care is not just attending to illnesses or treating diseases but practicing quality of healthy life by all. To achieve this, the global understanding of health care is marching towards enduring relationship with technology and innovation. In this regard, SBV has devised strategic mechanisms to embrace innovation through technology. Our programs and operations are being redefined to carve out a niche of innovation in every major activity. For example, an “Innovation Cell” to promote innovation and entrepreneurship among students and faculty is designed. Translational inter-disciplinary research programs starting from undergraduates have been started. Music and Yoga therapy in patient care are being vitalized.
As a first of its kind initiative, SBV has taken upon itself to promulgate and reinforce Complimentary Medicine, as perceived through the various facets in academic, patient care and research through evidence based yoga therapy and music therapy. AYUSH, coming under the aegis of the Union Ministry of India, strongly advocates complimentary medicine. SBV has taken the cue and has acted positively by starting innovative programs in all the three streams (viz., academic, patient care and research). One more innovation in education is by promoting Heath Professions Education (HPE) at UG, PG and doctoral levels, hitherto not attempted by any other health sciences deemed to be university. Such activities and copyrights in Music Therapy, Yoga Therapy and HPE bear an ample testimony to the innovative and highly organised approach in these nodal but less frequently visited areas. This initiative brings in the concept of Holistic health and builds the concept of team among the members.
- What are the job prospects available for life sciences students other than medicine?
Life Sciences students are technically trained masters of science who respond to the needs of both the work environment as well as the needs of the society at large. As biologists they will be at the forefront of identifying and solving the growing number of related issues confronting life form on planet earth or elsewhere. Being a biological sciences student means one has the opportunity to become a highly versatile graduate. Many career possibilities are open to life sciences students. As well as being prepared for PhDs, Masters degrees or employment in many areas of biological sciences, biologists find employment in ecology, environmental impact, healthcare, molecular biology, conservation and land management, including forest management, climate change, biological modelling, scientific publishing, support to government, teaching in colleges, universities and schools, public education (zoos, museums, nature reserves, scientific societies etc.), biomedical sciences and a host of other professions.
- What is the message that you wish to give to the youth of this country?
The mind set of youth getting employed has to change and this should focus on self-employment as well as providing opportunities for others. The youth should focus on bringing out their talents in different facets of life. The wide availability of knowledge through various means should be properly inculcated in to their minds and it has to be channelised meticulously so that the Youth becomes the future leaders. Take the entire globe as their destiny and make better use of the global opportunities so that we become the child of our mother earth.
How a youth prospers in life is not entirely an education problem. All I can say is that everything rests with “attitude and gut feeling” of where and what the youth wants to be in steps of five years from today. An active mind with clean attitude prospers. Education is the gentle brush that adds colours to the prosperity. Get educated with a vision.