Published: 23rd August 2021
Osmania University VC Prof D Ravinder Yadav: Students have the right to protest, but not on the street like politicians
Telangana’s premier state university got a new VC a few months back. Prof Ravinder is up against an uncertain post-pandemic era and the traditions of a 100-year-old institution
Osmania University finally got a new Vice-Chancellor in May this year after a duration of almost two years since Prof S Ramachandram demitted office in 2019. The state government blamed the delay on the pandemic, and said that the search committees were unable to function. Prof D Ravinder Yadav has over 30 years of experience as a teacher, ever since he joined the Political Science department at OU as a member of the faculty.
As soon as he took office, he proposed a 21-point agenda. “The university needs a vision,” he tells us in an exclusive chat at his office on campus. The agenda was released on July 31 and marks a slight shift from what was considered the status quo at the varsity, including the open campus setup; Prof Ravinder has closed multiple entry and exit points to the campus. In what he has termed “pro-student initiatives,” Aadhaar cards will now be linked to the hostels for biometric attendance.
“My focus is on research,” insists Prof Ravinder, adding that he frequently touches base with Deans and HoDs, ensuring that at least one teacher from each department is working on a project, and scholarly articles are put out regularly. As the Principal of the University College of Arts and Social Sciences, Prof Ravinder established the Academic Research Committee along with two research centres. He seems to have carried that same vision to the chair of the VC. “That is what will build the university’s image and perception. We will show our work through our activities. The face of the university is research. They won’t know Ravinder, but the publications will speak for the university,” he says.
However, the University is plagued with deeper issues. Right from the frequent disruption of classes due to protests (for which it has received quite a bad reputation in the state), the severe shortage of staff (according to sources, only 400 out of the required 1,200 posts are currently filled), and constantly deteriorating infrastructure (just last week, there were reports of damages to the Arts College building due to rains).
In this free-flowing conversation with Edexlive, the VC shares his outlook for the university.
How do you plan on revising academic programmes to better suit the post pandemic world?
That is one of the most important things on my agenda. As soon as I took charge, I conducted sessions with senior faculty, deans, HoDs and chairpersons. The existing courses are not up to the expectations of the students. Most of the courses are traditional and conservative. The market is expanding exponentially and skill-oriented courses are in demand. For example, if you take BCom, students don’t want to pursue it on its own. They want Computers, Retail Management and Marketing or Artificial Intelligence added to it. These are the kinds of courses that are in demand. The University has a responsibility to move in that direction. We reviewed the existing course structures and suggested ways to meet the expectations of the students. On the other hand, the NEP also speaks about integration of courses and a multi-disciplinary approach. And that’s why I think we should be ready with the courses.
The Telangana State Council of Higher Education and OU have come together and started two new courses in two autonomous colleges — BA honours in Political Science in Osmania University College for Women and BA honours Economics in Nizam College. Most of the students look at Delhi for a good honours course, and we will launch these two courses here soon. There is also popular demand for BE in Mining for engineering colleges, and BBA AI. We will also start AI and Machine Learning courses.
Do the students have the background to study these courses? Will they be able to cope up?
Teachers are equipped on how to teach, and students need to focus on studying the latest developments for their future and their career. Otherwise, they will be nowhere in the market and the system. Knowledge is integrity. Medicine or engineering cannot be viewed differently than other courses such as arts and social sciences. The evolution of knowledge is multi-disciplinary. Society needs this kind of demand of the social sciences and arts, and subsequently, towards medicine and science and technology too.
How has the pandemic been on the university and its teachers and students? I'm sure there have been losses and gains all around.
Loss has been everywhere and has affected all sectors of economy and education. No technology can replace physical, interactive teaching. University means students and research. The absence of students and research has been our biggest loss during the pandemic. On the other hand, we were exposed to new technology. Teachers in the arts and social sciences background were not acquainted with technology, but they’re comfortable with it now. We are new to this kind of a system. Teachers and students are also getting accustomed to it slowly.
Has the university reached out to students who didn’t have access to digital education during the lockdown?
In March 2020 when it first began, it was difficult to reach the students. Network issues were a problem. Students don’t have smartphones. We prepared notes and uploaded them in WhatsApp groups. We also shared reading material via the website and through emails. The students were free to download these materials and synopsis of the lessons and study at their convenience. We were also providing training material. That helped cope with the situation.
If we speak about the NEP, what was, personally, the biggest takeaway for you?
One important measure in the NEP is the multidisciplinary approach. Look at the subject from different angles. And the students are also exposed to multiple concepts. So that really enhances the skills and knowledge of the students. We are also working out how to implement that.
Logistically, how hard or easy do you think it will be to maintain the free entry and exit system proposed by the NEP?
That is a major policy decision. The government and the Board of Higher Education and the minister of higher education and VC will have to come together for a call on the entry and exit policy. Knowledge should not be restricted. It should be open. There should be no barriers. Any graduate should be allowed to pursue courses of their choice. In fact, central universities have already opened it up, but the state universities have not. Why not? One BSc student pursued Political Science in JNU and became a professor. So why can’t we do it? That is why I think conservative and traditional structures should be wiped out, and the system should be made open to the students. If they are capable of studying Chemistry coming from a BA background, they should be allowed to do them. Why should we restrict their interests?
Is OU also considering providing lessons and courses in regional languages?
Not exactly right now. The government of India has come up with a proposal for professional courses to be taught in regional languages, I don't think they are any takers for that. There haven't been any colleges approaching us either. Once the EAMCET results are out, we will see whether the students are looking at these courses in regional languages. Because no colleges have come forward yet to start courses in Telugu so far.
The VC’s office has been petitioned to include comprehensive sex education in the syllabus for UG students. Have you heard about it, and is it something you wish to implement soon? Do you think it is important?
The committee with the deans will look into it, and see if it can be included in Sociology or Psychology courses. For all students, it is not something that we have focused on yet, but we will definitely look into it. Sex education for UG students is the need for the hour. They have to know what is good and what isn't. They have to understand the implications. It will help sensitise the students, particularly boys. It will help them in the future. Once they understand the intricacies and importance of that. UG is a good age for this initiative. And I believe everything should be open for discussion and debate. Things will be better for it. Education is meant for discussion and debate.
It took OU 7 years to implement a gender sensitisation course. People say that there is excessive red tape involved in how the OU functions. What do you think can be done to fix it?
(chuckles) We are prompt in taking decisions, but we have to act within the framework. We are planning to implement an e-office for transparent, responsible and accountable administration. For example, if I submit a petition to you, without the e-office, they will just pile it up for days, years together. With the e-office system, the petitionee will get an SMS immediately and will be held accountable as to how long he takes to respond. The officer is also responsible. We are going to roll it out soon. The course structure we are proposing also needs to be approved by the concerned academic bodies. Implementation will follow. We are working out the course content and structure to suit the NEP.
Why has the university been embroiled in some land-related controversies of late, and do you have plans to fix that?
We recently appointed a separate estate officer and a retired RDO. He will be going through all the records, and the land survey to figure out where this is happening. We will address it with the support of the government. There are also some plans in the pipelines, and we will reveal it soon.
How open is the space for dissent on the campus, both on campus-related matters, and national/regional/political issues?
I am from a Political Science background. I believe in democracy and democratic functioning. Students will come up with ideas and debate on regional, national and international issues. When we were students, we used to have debates every week. When we became teachers we encouraged students to take up issues at the debate forum. When I became the Principal of the Arts College also, there have been initiatives such as the model parliament, welcoming ideas. Dissent if constructive and helpful to the system is always welcome. But if it is simply for the sake of criticism, we won’t take it seriously. The students have the right to protest on certain issues, but there should be some limit. They can debate and discuss in seminar halls, but not as politicians or political workers coming to the streets and demonstrating. That’s not done. The university expects the scholars to debate, discuss and come up with solutions. We believe in that and we encourage that.
How often do these debates happen? Does a sense of dissent in the student’s mind often spill over to protest instead of going for a debate?
Students will come up with issues. It is the responsibility of the administration to listen whether it is possible or not. Whether it is in the hands of the university to fix or not. Certain issues are beyond our limits. But we will represent the students when that happens. Before the pandemic, students used to have activities in front of the Arts College. We met all organisations in room number 57 and had a day-long debate. We told them that this was not the way. We have classes from 9 am to 1 pm. Please attend the classes, and once they are done, seminar halls are open for discussions and debates. The students were convinced, and they stopped conducting meetings, debates or discussions during class hours. If we engage the students with dialogue, they definitely will listen. That is my approach, and my experience also shows that.
How bad is the staff shortage at the university and why is the government unable to fix it?
We are managing the courses with what we have. The government is working on how to go about it.
The government has said that universities can function from September 1. Is OU prepared for its students?
All our staff is vaccinated. Once the college opens, we will conduct a drive for vaccination, and take all precautions. I have already appointed officers of hostels. All students come together and will use a common dining and common washroom. That’s the only worry. Asymptomatic cases might lead to serious complications.
Is there a trust deficit in OU between the students and the administration? If yes, then how would you like to fix it?
(laughs) Absolutely not. There is no trust deficit.