Just in case

anyone would like to read my convocation report, here it is:

Your Excellency the Governor of Andhra Pradesh and Chief Rector of the University Shri E. S. Lakshmi Narasimhan, respected Dr. R. Chidambaram, Chancellor of the University, Dr. Anil Kakodkar, the distinguished Chief Guest of the Convocation, members of the Convocation, colleagues, dear students and esteemed guests:

On behalf of the Executive Council of the University of Hyderabad and on my own behalf, it is my privilege and honour to extend you all a cordial welcome to the thirteenth Convocation of the University. Our Chief Guest Dr. Kakodkar, an eminent nuclear scientist, was the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and Secretary to the Government of India, Department of Atomic Energy. He has also been the Director of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, and is well known for having played a major role in India’s nuclear programme, particularly in the design and construction of the indigenous Dhruva reactor as well as the reactors at Kalpakkam and Rawatbhata. Recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri Awards, Dr. Kakodkar is a champion of India’s self-reliance: his dream is to make India fully self-reliant in energy particularly by the use of indigenous Thorium resources. We are indeed privileged and honoured to welcome you, Sir, as Chief Guest at this Convocation.

We extend a warm welcome to our respected Chancellor Dr. R. Chidambaram. Dr. Chidambaram, an Indian nuclear scientist and metallurgist is the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India and formerly was a predecessor of Dr Kakodkar as Director of the BARC. As a member of IAEA‘s ‘Commission of Eminent Persons’, Dr. Chidambaram played an important role in getting the Safeguards Agreement passed by the Board of IAEA that followed the signing of the Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement between India and the United States of America. Dr. Chidambaram completed his Ph.D. in nuclear physics at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore in 1962 and his research thesis on Nuclear Magnetic Resonance was awarded the Martin Forster Medal for the best Ph. D. thesis submitted to the IISc during 1961-62. He has subsequently been awarded the D. Sc. in metallurgy and in materials science. Dr. Chidambaram is the recipient a number of awards and honors including the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Shri.

We are also privileged to have in our midst His Excellency the Governor of Andhra Pradesh Shri E. S. Lakshmi Narasimhan. Thank you very much, Sir, for sparing some of your valuable time to be with us to give away medals to the recipients.

Before I present my report, I warmly congratulate all the graduates who have received their degrees today. My hearty congratulations are also due to the medal winners. Yours is the Earth!

Ladies and gentlemen, the University is now 37 years old and is regarded as one of the major Universities in the area of higher education achieving honours and attaining standards that set a benchmark for universities in India. The faculty strength is over 400 and that of students is 4,700 plus. We are poised to expand further in the coming few months as we advertise 124 positions and will, hopefully, fill these up soon. As of now the faculty have written over 1,100 books and more than 12,000 papers. We are also pleased to share the news that we have been granted 8 patents. All these have helped us achieve the position of the highest ranking University within the UGC system.

The University is particularly pleased that this year one of our alumni has been awarded the Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar Prize in Chemistry in addition to several of our faculty being elected to the INSA, IASc, and other academies. We also have a Young Engineer of the year among our colleagues, and our former Vice-Chancellors have recently been given the Gujar Mal Modi Science & Technology Award, H.K. Firodia Award and the Lokmanya Tilak Award. Our faculty have also been associated with several important national and international bodies, held Professorships of distinction both in India and abroad, and participated in the global educational scene with as much vigour as we have always done. Furthermore, they have been funded quite handsomely receiving grants from national and international funding agencies like UGC, MHRD, DBT, DST, EU, DoE, IUSSTF and so on. The University’s current extramural R&D funding is over Rs. 135 crores.

In its 10 Schools of study, the University offers postgraduate and research programmes in several areas of the Humanities, Social Sciences, Sciences, Arts, Management, Medical Sciences and Engineering. There are also a large number of students under the Distance Education and Virtual Learning Programe through 20 PG Diploma courses. In addition, there are a number of Centres outside the School system, interdisciplinary Centres such as the Centre for Neural and Cognitive Sciences, Centre for Women’s Studies, Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, to name a few. I am happy to inform that it has been decided to convert the Department of Economics into our eleventh School.

The Academic Staff College at the University is one of the finest of such Staff Colleges established by the UGC. It has so far conducted 72 Orientation Courses, 180 Refresher Courses for the benefit of 10,000 teachers from the colleges and universities all over the country. The University is running a high school on the campus for the benefit of employees’ children as well as for those from the neighbourhood.

Over the years, our annual student enrolment has grown steadily, now at a little over 4,700 in regular courses. Entrance examinations for selection of students are conducted in 25 centres all over the country. About a third of our students are women, and nearly two fifths come from marginalized or otherwise deprived communities.

The Library at the University has done very well and has a collection of about 3.6 lakh books and other reference material, and it subscribes to about 600 foreign journals and 18,000 online journals and 12 online databases. It is fully automated with special software for the visually-challenged students. It has recently received the highest usage award from the UGC for utilizing online journals and databases provided under the UGC Info Net Digital Library Consortium.

This is the final year of the 11th Plan, under which the University has been allocated a sum of Rs. 189 crores, a large part of which has been spent for expansion and strengthening of our infrastructure.

In this Convocation a total of 2097 students will receive their degrees and of these 161 are Ph.Ds. This brings the total number of Ph D’s produced at the UoH to nearly 1700, and the number of graduating students since the time of its inception to nearly 20000.

In the early part of this century, the University Grants Commission selected the University as one of five that they declared to be Universities with the Potential for Excellence. Along with this title came entitlement, a certain special grant that each of the Universities could use in order to better realize this potential. It was the wisdom of the leadership at the UoH at that time that the funds obtained under the UPE grant were used to promote interdisciplinary or interfacial studies, thereby ensuring two things. The first was that we realized that the most exciting aspects of any field of enquiry lay at its boundaries, where the questions and methods came dangerously close to the methods and questions of other traditional domains. The second was that we could make new entities to look at these problems. Thus, the interface between biology and physics, between nanoscience and biology, between physics and neuroscience, between neuroscience and philosophy, and between science and public policy: these interdisciplinary- indeed multidisciplinary areas of study have been found most fruitful, and form the focus of some of the new research that we have undertaken in the past decade. And thus we have seen the establishment of a Centre for Neural and Cognitive Sciences, a Centre for Nanotechnology, and a Centre for Women’s Studies among others.

Among aspects of multidisciplinarity, of intellectual integration, one of the most imaginative initiatives that the UoH has pursued is the undergraduate programmes, the integrated Masters programmes in the Sciences, Humanities, and Social Sciences. Students are admitted after twelfth standard in this five year program of studies. The first set of students to graduate are among those here in the hall today, and we are very proud of this innovation that the University has introduced in higher education in India. Like many good beginnings, this effort needs nurturing and polishing, and this is our task in the coming years. The integration that has been successfully done vertically needs to be buttressed horizontally as well- to offer students in the country a liberal arts program that is sensitive to our educational system and our needs.

This sense of consolidation will, I hope, mark the efforts of the UoH in this decade. Having witnessed considerable growth- in faculty strength, in student strength, in the number of programs, the number of departments, centers and schools, and in the number of different degrees we give; it is now time for us to consolidate. We are in desperate need of infrastructure to fully realize our dreams. Adequate hostel rooms, adequate offices and laboratories, teaching spaces etc. These facilities are not just part of a wish list, they are crucial if we are to be in a position to take advantage of the initiatives made in the last decade. The University is – in a way that few institutions are- a wonderfully inclusive campus with diverse inputs from all over India. The potential is all here, and it is the obligation of the University administration to translate the potential into realization. This requires, at the base, a solid infrastructure. Common teaching spaces are our primary requirements as we make our claim for the UGC’s second phase of support under the UPE rubric.

Having just gone through a part of this exercise, it is a matter of pleasure to report that the University community has with one voice requested for common facilities – for the faculty as a whole- to pursue and strengthen our efforts in interdisciplinary areas. Enabling students to easily pursue complementary disciplines, enabling the mingling of ideas in common spaces- these are the themes of the different areas of support that we have requested.

To reiterate some ideas that I articulated a couple of months ago, the University system is continuously evolving, and not always in a way that one could have anticipated. Today, we see the mushrooming of new Institutes and universities with different mandates, different aims, and different sets of goals. I would not like to forget the very special space that the UoH, as a Central University, occupies as a centre for learning and knowledge dissemination; we have an added responsibility, to grow with inclusion in the true sense, and with transparency. Our commitment to this goal remains as real as always. It also becomes increasingly difficult, as the world changes, as the country changes, and indeed as our local environment changes. But a University such as ours was founded on the hope that from such scholarship would emerge the possibility of addressing social and societal problems, and from such scholarship would emerge the material that would lead our country forward in all spheres of achievement. These hopes are still alive.

To realize this aspiration, the UoH needs the ability to grow in new ways, and indeed, needs to be unfettered as we aspire to excel. Too often, we perform to the levels set by others and achieve goals set by governments. As academics, we know that the best standards are internal, set by the disciplines themselves. We need the freedom to pursue such ideals, without fear or favour.

Our progress along these paths would not have been possible without the unstinting and tireless support of the UoH fraternity which includes the students, the staff, the officers and the teachers. Each has played her or his role with enthusiasm and dedication, and each has been crucial in bringing us to this special moment. Thank you all.

Jai Hind!

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5 thoughts on “Just in case

  1. A very concise report highlighting all important aspects of the University, sir. I especially appreciate the fact that you realize how desperately the campus needs new infrastructure and facilities. The filling of additional faculty post is much anticipated.

    Now that the university has put itself on the map of the best institutions, it is time we fill the lacunae in existing facilities and take steps to make sure we reach higher and stay there.

  2. For the last 21 years I have been reading messages from the Vice Chancellors and Others given on various occasions, including yours Sir.

    But I have not seen till now anyone placing the “Teachers” first, followed by others in the University, in defining so-called “fraternity” (I use the word ‘so-called’ for I doubt its existence in the campus).

    This university or for that matter any higher education institution can “perform and excel” in teaching and research if the main delivery agency “Teachers” are kept in the end, as if as an afterthought in the fraternity.

    Right from the top administrators down to the office staff, including students (a recent tendency), Teachers are considered to be there to be “ill-treated”, “disrespected”, “abused”, “troubled”, “suspected”, and not considered to be worthy of in the university system. The Teachers are reduced to few Deans and Heads when it comes to mandatory consultancy on “policy matters” most often reduced to alienation of university lands to interested parties, etc and hardly think on facilitating by creating enabling conditions in the system for the Teachers to perform and give their best.

    One undesirable consequence has been that the Teachers themselves started spending more time on how to reach the highest authority in the power for all sorts of favours, even to get routine things done by the administration and increasingly moving away from:

    1. Upgrading their readings
    2. Innovation in teaching
    3. Rigor in research
    4. Concern for larger social issues
    5. Sharing knowledge with fellow teachers
    6. Parenting students, (JNU we were attached to teachers who mentored us)

    The administration is so paralysed that the entire time (including top administrators) is spent on file circulations, with all sorts of comments, notes and objections coming out of illiteracy of rules and regulations.

    For instance, to meet Registrar in our University, the Teachers will have to wait for weeks; even if one dares to take a chance and go his office there is this electronically secured door. I am just giving an example of Teachers experience and no disrespect is meant to the office.

    Where is time to think of creating enabling academic environment?

    Still to be fair to Teachers they do deliver, along with students, otherwise we cannot be the “Number One University”, whatever that means.

    Compared to earlier years, I have been noting too much apathy and disillusionment among the Teachers in our University. They are no longer daring to dream and jump for innovations. Motivation seems to be missing and naturally the energy is missing. I feel pained and do not know how to address it.

    Sir, at least you are showing interest in opening up of dialogue and creating space for Teachers to give their best.
    We need urgently:
    1. Discipline to be restored (all sections of the University)
    2. Creating mechanism for rewarding good teaching and research
    3. Forum and system that motivates inter-disciplinary dilogue and research
    4. Mechanism for making research visible to others in the globalised world
    5. Vision map for UoH, at least for the coming 20 years
    6. Making administration more responsive and facilitating agency

    I dare to share these thoughts, for I am personally convinced that you are for change, accountability and innovation. I can assure you that Teachers are very much pro-active for anything that is meant to take UoH to a higher level.

    My sincere apologies to the University community, if I have sounded harsh in my language.

    Let us make our UoH the best and make it so visible to this globalised world.

    Murali

    • Thanks for your insightful (and incisive) comments Murali. Your points are well taken, except I am not sure exactly what you imply when you say This university or for that matter any higher education institution can “perform and excel” in teaching and research if the main delivery agency “Teachers” are kept in the end, as if as an afterthought in the fraternity. I think it is pretty clear as to how I see the members of the fraternity and their roles in the overall functioning of the University.

      There are reasons for the administrative paralysis, many of which you know as well as- if not better than- me. I will be more than happy if teachers can take the lead in shaking us out of this stupor.

  3. In this world, you have to run as good as you can just to stay at the same place.

    Well, if you want to go somewhere, you have to do better than that.
    (Quoting from memory, so please forgive in advance!)

    Yes, we have a plan for the university, apart from the master plan. The real question is “do we want to go anywhere?”

    We are all the time looking up for guidance and direction; how we can guide others and give directions? Performance comes last; devotion is first. Devotion is easy to measure; performance is intangible. Also today devotion means loyalty.

    Last year Dec, our Registrar circulated a notice stating that a smartcard based attendance monitoring system will be in place soon. Hopefully this will restore some discipline (as and when it is implemented).

    If our colleagues cannot dare to dream, VC will be having nightmares. We progress because we can dream. We are dead if we stop dreaming.

    By the way, I was looking for a speech like the one you posted the other day.

    Real teachers do not bother where they are kept, in the beginning or in the end. Knowledge is its own reward and recognition is only a decoration, as they say.

    – C K Mitra

  4. Dear Sir, I’ve just finished the 3rd year of my Integrated Masters in Social Sciences. This post makes one feel really proud to be in HCU but there are some issues that we as students of IMA have. For one, when we come into HCU we’re just 17/18 year olds. While we do grasp and appreciate that HCU has a commendable academic atmosphere, we at times tend to feel that that is all HCU offers. The ‘college experience’, to put it candidly is something that is missing here and is one of the reasons why the IMA/IMSc students are a little unhappy here. We do realise the excellence that the university has achieved in terms of academics and this is not merely through reading about the same. We see it in the classrooms, in the kinds of readings we are made to do and the quality of work that is expected from us. Personally I find exposure of this kind extremely precious. Sadly we tend to feel it is the only kind of exposure we are subjected to. Secondly, HCU deserves the best. As dramatic as this sounds, its true. We do not advertise enough, there are people in Hyderabad itself who do not know what an integrated masters is or even what HCU is! We have the most amazing resources in terms of library, internet, access to journals and so on. I strongly recommend sir, that we advertise better.

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