Published: 20th January 2021
After the pandemic, education will never be the same again: PP Mathur, BGU's new VC
Prof (Dr) Premendu P Mathur, Vice-Chancellor of Birla Global University (BGU), Bhubaneswar shares his thoughts on various topics including online education, pandemic, research and a lot more
For about three months now, Birla Global University (BGU), Bhubaneswar has had a new Vice-Chancellor, the prolific Prof PP Mathur. The researcher and scientist has held several posts at prestigious varsities like KIIT University and Pondicherry University and has been the recipient of awards like the Asutosh Mookerjee Memorial Award (ISCA) and Young Scientists Award (ISCA) among others. He calls his journey exciting and rewarding and hopes that he is able to contribute to BGU in a substantial way.
“The countries and states where budget allocation is higher perform better. Our country has around 3 per cent of the GDP dedicated to the education sector. The government needs to allocate more money in the higher education system in order to increase the quality of education in the country,” opines the VC when asked about the upcoming union budget session and what should be its focus area when it comes to allocating an appropriate budget for education. In this way, prof Mathur shares his thoughts with regards to online education, research and how he wants his tenure at BGU to go. Excerpts from the conversation:
From being a researcher in the fields of Endocrinology, Toxicology and Bioinformatics, to being the VC of Pondicherry University, KIIT and now BGU (not discounting the various other roles held in between), how has the journey been so far for you?
My journey from Pondicherry University to Birla Global University has been extremely exciting and rewarding. When I joined Pondicherry University, it was at a formative stage and I could translate my ideas there which gave me and the university visibility all over the country. We started very innovative teaching programmes there which are very successful and continue to attract students from all over the country. Centre of Excellence in Bioinformatics is one of them. I had launched a Study In India programme which also attracted students from all over the world. When I joined KIIT University it was also in the growth phase. I could contribute quite significantly to their academic programme which paid them off. Now, the university has become an Institution of Eminence. I have taken over as the Vice-Chancellor of BGU a little over three months ago and I hope that I would be able to make some innovative changes so that the university also gains visibility across the country and becomes a reputed place of study.
The university has five schools Birla School of Management, Birla School of Communication, Birla School of Commerce, Birla School of Social Sciences & Humanities and Birla School of Law
As the VC of BGU, what are some of the changes that you want to bring about in the university?
At the outset, I want to strengthen the teaching programmes and also improve the faculty output in terms of their research papers and innovation. Today the challenges are way too many and we have to implement the new National Education Policy while strengthening our teaching programmes. I am sure that the faculty will help much more to take this university to a higher level. We have recently introduced some innovative courses like MBA (Banking Technology), BSc (Data Science) and MBA – Business Analytics.
In a period where the education system is in flux, caught between online and offline classes, what will the future of Indian education be?
The current pandemic has taught all of us various lessons. The university could successfully continue its teaching for the past 11 months through online mode. The teachers and the students cooperated very well and the university could also conduct examinations online. Once the pandemic is over, education across the world will never be the same again. I personally feel that the best of online and the best of offline would get integrated and the learning experience of the students would be enriched. I am talking about a hybrid mode of teaching in which information could be given online while skill development could be offline. With over 1.6 billion students worldwide, it is a herculean task to bring them back to the formal education system.
Prof PP Mathur | (Pic: BGU)
Since the main criticism against online learning is that it doesn't penetrate into every nook and corner of India, in your point of view, what's the best way to ensure academics doesn't take a hit for anyone?
When the pandemic hit us the education system was not prepared for online classes. However, the credit goes to the institutions, teachers and students who coped pretty well in these difficult times. However, the country is so large and resources have not been available to many schools along with teachers and students. In those cases, it was a great challenge to see how the country can provide facilities for online teaching. I feel that after the pandemic has waned, the government and the institutions should work together to improve the basic digital resources needed for online interaction. We may prepare ourselves better for the next eventuality. Development of digital and technological infrastructure is most important in the present context.
It has been stated various times before that neither the quality nor quantity of research in India is enough. Is the National Education Policy going to be the shot in the arm that research needs or is it going to take much more than that?
Most of the institutions lack facilities and manpower for quality research in India. It is a challenge to increase the quantity of research without compromising on quality. The National Education Policy, if implemented properly by all the states, could address this issue and some of the universities would be designated as research universities where the focus will be predominantly on research and innovation. I hope that the required funding would be made available to the universities so that they can be competitive enough. We also need to set up business incubator facilities in the educational institutions to promote and nurture start-ups.
Let's learn | (Pic: BGU)
As a visiting professor, scientist and awardee, you have been in academia for a long time now. Do tell us the changes you wish to see in education.
I have spent around 45 years in research and teaching at various universities. I feel that the academic institutions are not changing their methodology and they heavily focus on testing the memory of the students rather than innovation and problem-solving. Development of relevant skills needs immediate attention. The universities may shift their expectations from ‘what the students should know’ to ‘what the students can do’. Only when the education system inclined more towards skill development, things may improve and will create manpower which could get employed and could become entrepreneurs.
Education has always been the gateway to jobs in India. Does that still hold true? Do Indian students enjoy 'learning for the sake of learning'?
Higher education in the country has been made available to a large number of people now with the increase in the number of colleges and universities. The government aims to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio from around 30 per cent to 50 per cent by 2030. Of course, in the university higher education should empower the students to get jobs in India and abroad. The overall performance of some of the institutions has been good but there is a mismatch between the skills of the students and the expectations of the employer thus, making many students unemployable which is a very serious issue to be addressed. Underemployment is also a serious point of concern. I feel that the higher education system should be made much more vibrant and sensitive to the needs of the country, state and society. If the education system addresses the problems faced by the people of a country, we would achieve much better results.
Sports facilities | (Pic: BGU)
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