Published: 18th December 2019
We need to concentrate on inter-disciplinary research: CUTN's secret for exponential growth
In the past decade, the university has also built world-class labs for the Chemistry and Life Science schools
Established in 2009 along with 15 other Central universities in India, the Central University of Tamil Nadu has grown rapidly in a decade. With probably the best infrastructure among that bunch and a diverse student and teacher base, CUTN boasts of a healthy research ecosystem.
In the past decade, the university has also built world-class labs for the Chemistry and Life Science schools. "In the past three years, we have had wonderful publications in prestigious journals across the globe. In November 2015, the university published a paper in Nature. In April 2016, we published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases followed by a paper in The Lancet in 2017 and few more in 2018. Not just that, we have been published in various prestigious journals of Physics, Geography etc," said Vice-Chancellor Dr Aditya P Dash. "You do not always need sophisticated pieces of equipment for successful research. We need great ideas and an ecosystem that nurtures good ideas in India," he added.
So, what is the ideal research ecosystem? "Where bureaucracy should not exist, the hierarchy should not exist and a researcher should be allowed to research on whatever they want to and however they want to. Whenever a research grant comes in, 20 per cent of the grant generally comes to the university as an overhead charge. To encourage our professors, we exempted 80 per cent of that. This extra funds they can use for their research," said the professor. He feels that there should be more emphasis on inter-disciplinary and intra-disciplinary research for our research ecosystem to grow. "Inter and intra-disciplinary research will earn us dividends. We have been working on climate change and natural disasters. We need multiple departments working together here — no single department can accomplish the job. I always feel good ideas are more important for the arts. In science, you might come to a conclusion by tests and experiments but not in arts — here it is all in the head," he said.
The university has introduced flagship courses, which the VC thinks can be the future. "We started a course on Epidemiology and Public Health in 2016. We have heard of a Master's in Public Health everywhere. This is an area where we need to invest. We did not even think of public health as a sector to concentrate our forces until Bill Gates came to India in the early part of the 21st century and told us so," said Dr Dash. "Our course will more than just record epidemics. Our graduates will know how to diagnose the disease and take further steps or suggest so to the government. It is a holistic course that will teach the students how to handle the outbreak of a disease and not just record the statistics of it," he added.
The New Education Policy, the VC thinks, should make the accreditation system more refined. "It is a good policy but the accreditation system should be more refined. I, personally, would prefer quality over quantity. If I publish thousands of papers but no one reads them and on the other hand if I write 10 research papers but 10,000 people read it, which one is more beneficial? It is a good thing that they are consolidating the accreditation bodies, it is confusing to have multiple such bodies," said Dr Dash. "The National Research Fund will be a boon for Indian research ecosystem. If you integrate all the funding agencies and ensure the quality, then nothing like it. If implemented properly, the NRF has the potential to promote quality research in India," he added.
A good student-teacher ratio is also important, feels Dr Dash. If a teacher can pay attention to every student individually, it will help increase productivity exponentially. Higher education and research are two sides of a coin and research augments higher education, he said. Though he is in favour of autonomous structures, the professor feels that institutions like CUTN still need the governments to help and are not at a stage where they can be self-financed, "We are new universities and still need handholding for the next 20-25 years. If you suddenly stop our funds, we will not be able to survive. But there are established universities that can afford it for sure. The universities that have come up in the past five years have helped students in Tier II and III cities but, at the same time, there should be monitoring agencies to check the quality of education being imparted by these universities."
The university has a board for every department to periodically update and make the curriculum more skill-oriented. A graduate from CUTN should not be unemployed — they should have the ability to start something of their own. They are also working hard to implement a proper institutional social responsibility programme. "We are located in a rural area and we have acres of land given by the government, so we should help the locals. We have adopted five villages, introduced skill development courses for women and the youth along with other programmes," said Dr Dash.