Dr. Sandeep Sancheti, Vice Chancellor, SRM Institute of Science, India

Dr. Sandeep Sancheti, known as Institution Builder, holds a Ph.D. from Queens University of Belfast UK, after obtaining a B.Tech (ECE) from Regional Engineering College, Warangal (now NITW) and M.Sc (Engg) from Delhi College of Engineering (now DTU) in 1982 and 1985 respectively. He has been recently appointed as 97th President of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU), New Delhi. Prior to this, he was the President of Manipal University, Jaipur, Director National Institute of Technology, Delhi (NITD) and Director NITK Surathkal. He has also served as Director In-charge, NIT Tiruchirapally, NIT Calicut, School of Planning & Architecture (SPA) Delhi and Mentor Director, NIT Goa, NIT Puducherry and NIT Sikkim. Dr. Sancheti began his professional career at MBM Engineering College, Jodhpur, as Assistant Professor in the Department of ECE in 1984 and later moved to Malaviya Regional Engineering College, Jaipur (now MNIT) as Associate Professor in 1990.

 

The claim that a culture of research is missing in Indian institutions may be just an assumption.  Institutions are making every effort to promote research slowly yet systematically. The challenges include availability of materials, equipment, labs, funds and senior researchers. Education sectors have realized their role and are progressing to meet the demands of the future. Now, the implications for the higher education research are clear. The major focus from recent years is on research and specifically research across disciplines. We at SRMIST have taken various research initiatives over the years to mobilize the available knowledge resources for research and, to come up with innovative solutions.  All the research centers of SRMIST function in a cooperative manner to identify and work on cross-disciplinary research projects.  We also embarked on a journey of search and re-search and follow the concept of learn and relearn to deliver the best results.

However, there is a shortage of quality faculty to guide research aspirants in certain specific areas. It is certainly a stumbling block in the transformation of higher education in India.  We need to re-study the higher education system to find the best regulations, which can help us in several ways.  We need to engage in promoting various aspects like teacher progression programs, teacher research programs, extra course completion etc. Some of the challenges Indian institutions face include the lack of financial support, heavy teaching load, lack of research skills and knowledge, research materials and resources. We at SRMIST give maximum financial support for research with research spending around 6-7 percent of the annual budget.

Faculty members pursuing research often complain about the lack of time. We therefore decided to provide them with teaching for four days in a week and reserve one day for them to undertake research.  This is our way of helping them with free time which is made available to them for research.  SRMIST has established around 10 Centres of Excellence and 12 as Centres of Research. The research framework is ever expanding, and need based.  We recently established our own Statistical Centre for Training, Research and Consultancy in our campus. The aim of this centre is to bring together multidisciplinary students, research scholars, and faculty with the expertise to promote fresh thinking. It will also conduct training programs and short courses for both internal as well as external faculty members, research scholars and students.

We have 250 Memorandums of Understanding that are both Industry and Institution based. We also have implemented the FIIP (Faculty Industry Immersion programme), to bridge the gap between industries and students by allowing faculty members to be facilitators who in turn ensure that students are made industry ready. We effectively engage in FAP (Faculty Abroad Program) to promote unique opportunities for interaction between foreign universities and Indian institutions. Faculty members would benefit from such exposure to a culturally varied and diverse faculty make-up, with an opportunity to exchange ideas and promote wider learning.

On the flipside, converting innovation to intellectual property is through patenting and commercialization. We are providing full support to our faculty and students in this respect. Institutions must use innovative methods to tap intellectual potential of all stake holders and support it further with bit of equity and partnership.  Another important avenue in this direction is technology transfer and should be promoted aggressively at all levels by higher education institutions.

At SRMIST, we offer more than 20 courses on Entrepreneurship. Interested students can also take up entrepreneurial ventures, aided by the university, in lieu of final year project work which will help them to become employers creating much needed job opportunities rather than becoming employees. This provides them an avenue to take up entrepreneurship while they are in the formal education itself. To support this initiative further, we allow deferred placement in case such a need arises. We also have an entrepreneurship team in place that contributes effectively. We also engage in SAP (Student Abroad Program) through which we have exchanges with leading universities like University of Berkley, USA.

The Digital Era of Learning

There has been a technological transformation in every field. E-learning has become a crucial aspect of the educational system.  In such a technology-driven scenario, it has become a challenge for the teachers to accommodate e-learning in their teaching-learning processes.  Today’s students are born with technology and seem to look at it as part and parcel of their lives. Due to this transformation, teachers need to be tech savvy failing which they may not be part of what they should be doing. There is also another contention whether technology can replace teachers. Therefore, teachers must be flexible, effective, tech savvy and abreast in the subject and as well as in current events. As learning becomes more personalized, onus lies on teachers for orchestrating what should be learnt, when, where and how because everything is available under the tap of the mouse and this could mislead students easily. Thus, academicians must pay heed to every detail. Further, in Indian context another challenge for digitally driven knowledge delivery is the uninterrupted access to digital technologies that too at affordable cost particularly in rural areas.

Today, a major debate is going on in the developed and developing world on how higher education is going to come to terms with Education 4.0 in the era of the beginnings of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Information Technology has peaked into the digital era with stake holders in India deeply pondering on how the digital era, machine learning, big data and artificial intelligence are going to leave their mark on both teachers and students across campuses and cutting across all disciplines. Educators need to undertake training programs or special courses on digital transformation. They need to be more open to transformations to be able to deal with matters in education system in the 21st century and move away from conventional methods of content delivery to knowledge delivery. It effectively means that teachers should become facilitators delivering excitement to students in a multi-disciplinary and multi-functional scenario.

What’s in for Students?

Students of today need new skills that will make them ready to collaborate with others on a global level.  Memorizing facts will no longer be accurate or complete in the near future. Students need to know how to find accurate information, and how to use critical analysis for assessing the veracity and the current or potential uses of new information. Students need to understand how the workplace works and can see how to develop their skills to fit into it. They need to be ready to move across jobs and sectors and also engage in research more effectively. In this respect, the real challenge institutions face is that of handling diversity of students particularly with different backgrounds, abilities, communication skills, career aspirations and many more to be handled through the concept of one size fits all which is a herculean task.

At present, Global fluency and perspective, IT skills, Communication skills, Ability to work under pressure, Resilience, Analytical skills, Teamwork are the key skills required for the students to find a job of their choice. In a nutshell, in addition to their core (subject/specialization) expertise they should be more open and adaptable to a given situation, be ready for competition and develop the ability of lifelong learning.

A Word of Advice

First, students must be keen observers of the current happenings. If they fail to observe such events, then they will have to read it from other sources as it will be history to them. Therefore, I urge that they should be aware of current events of their own region, country and the entire world particularly in the subjects of their direct interest.  This will promote a better understanding about events globally.

“Thinking globally and acting locally” is also the mantra to be followed. Students must give back to the society because by doing so an intensely positive impact on the world could be created.  Many people are reliant on the benevolence of others in order to get along. Without people who are willing to sacrifice their time and resources to help, there would undeniably be a lot more suffering occurring in our world. They can also be encouraged to respond/lead/voice their opinions through proper channels by maintaining their decorum especially in terms of language. Working to be a good human being and a responsible citizen before focusing too much on being a competent professional is very important. (As told to the Editor)

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