Dr. Jamshed Bharucha, Vice Chancellor, SRM University, AP Amaravati speaks to Namami Chakravarty about inter-disciplinary experiential active learning.
Q. What do you think are the salient features of the renowned engineering programme of SRM, AP?
Our engineering programme, though only in its second year, is already recognized as a great programme and this is only because we believe in a multi-faceted and inter-disciplinary approach. We have a stellar faculty, 100% of which are Ph.Ds. with international education, teaching or industry exposure. This is supplemented by a robust curriculum benchmarked and designed as per international standards that apply to institutions such as MIT and Stanford. The quality and flexibility of the curriculum helps our students to meet global requirements both in terms of higher studies as well as employability.
Our global partnerships with schools such as MIT, Nanyang Technological University, UCLA, Berkley and other leaders ensure that SRMAP can collaborate on research programmes, student and faculty exchange in every way. In addition to this, we have inter-disciplinary foundation courses in the first year that help to build diverse perspectives, provide undergraduate research opportunities programme (UROP) in the second year, plan a through practice school in the third year, and a career-linked capstone project in the final year.
Q. What kind of reforms are required in Indian higher education arena?
Indian education must swiftly reform in terms of the curriculum and pedagogy. The curriculum needs to open up, so that students develop more career choices. The passive lecture format, coupled with assessment based only on exams has been proved ineffective for students today. Indian education also should put much greater emphasis on acquiring communication skills (both oral and written), teamwork and leadership. Offering greater autonomy to institutions to quickly adapt and evolve to global challenges is also one of the ways forward. Ensuring regular checks on the parameters of quality of education imparted, faculty, research, and credit systems will ensure that institutions provide quality education to its students.
Q. A committee headed by IIT-Hyderabad chairperson, submitted a report to AICTE recommending that no new engineering colleges should be set up from 2020. What according to you has led to such apathetic condition of engineering colleges in India?
We need quality institutions that can address the needs of the masses. The apathetic condition of colleges is because of lack of experienced faculty; traditional pedagogy; poor curriculum, courseware and infrastructure; and low industry academia interaction. Once the Government focuses on implementing the minimum quality parameters, this issue can be tackled to a large extent.
Q. Do you think there is an urgent need of industry trained teachers in institutes where disciplines like engineering, law, and medical is taught?
Definitely, the teachers may be academically sound but if they come with little or no industry experience, they will be unable to impart complete education to the students. Teaching theoretical concepts is important but to help students in knowing the realities of the corporate world and its survival strategies is more important than that. Therefore, the teachers need to have relevant industry experience. This is also one of the reasons because of which we focus more on research for our faculty and students.
Q. How do you think engineers of today can be made employable?
The reason for unemployment among engineers in India is very clear. What we teach does not correspond to what employers need. Today, most engineering majors do not get employed directly in the field of their specialization. The engineering curriculum needs to be made more dynamic, focused less on specialized knowledge, and more on analytical thinking, quantitative and qualitative reasoning, and the ability to communicate clearly across subject lines. The best jobs are ones that require the ability to find opportunities in new domains, with new modes of information.
Employability is a big issue in India. Most statistics put these numbers as abysmally low and point out the biggest issue which is very few premier institutions and a large number of sub-standard institutions. Some of the other reasons for low employability of graduating students are poor course content, poor faculty and pedagogy, poor infrastructure, low industry interface and probably lack of vision. Since the problem areas are now identified, the solutions must also come. The government needs to ensure that stringent norms all universities, government or private are made to follow set criterion for quality education. In addition, the government needs to allocate funds to ensure the curriculum is always updated and in accordance with industry needs.
Q. Are any frequent industry meets organised at your university? What are engineers of future taught in it?
We regularly organize industry interactions at the University campus. These meets are a good way to exchange information on the latest developments in the chosen areas. In addition, these are fertile grounds for prospective research collaborations and getting to know the latest happenings across areas and domains. We recently organized an international conference on Green Energy Technologies for Smart Cities at our campus, where more than 50 international delegates from 10 countries and 150 delegates from India participated.
Guest lectures visiting from industry and academia are a usual norm at SRMAP. The students get to learn a lot from these interactions with the focus on specialized areas. The exposure that they receive in these areas is unparalleled. In addition, we participate in and host a number of global conferences. Whether these are business engineering competitions or hackathons, we have not only organized them but have also won accolades across the globe for these.