Published: 26th July 2021
My right thing may not be the same as yours, but that's okay: UoH's new VC Dr Basuthkar J Rao
From creating highly skilled individuals to having conversations with the students about what's good or bad in the NEP. Dr BJ Rao opens up about his vision
Dr Basuthkar Jagadeeshwar Rao has just been appointed as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hyderabad by the President of India. And almost immediately, his approach is refreshing — Dr B J Rao says he believes in a conversation rather than a one-sided communication. This is in stark contrast to the previous VC, Dr Appa Rao Podile, who has been embroiled in many a controversy and has been at the receiving end of various protests accusing him of 'gross violations'. We got in touch with the senior professor and the Chair of Biology and Dean-Faculty at IISER, Tirupati who took over as the VC of UoH. Excerpts from a candid conversation with a central university VC, a rarity in itself:
What are your plans for UoH?
The University of Hyderabad in particular and India, in general, is at a turning point because we are part of a very competitive world and higher education has to produce highly skilled people. It is the skill that counts, not just the degrees. Universities have to produce skills, not simply degrees. If I can contribute towards this transition as a Vice-Chancellor, then I think I will be pleased.
UoH is one of the universities with potential in this country where such a transition can be made. We need to produce high-end, trained manpower. Many universities are producing degree holders and there is a huge difference between a degree holder and a high-skilled person. And this difference is widening — unfortunately and interestingly. UoH has a collection of great talent. Whether we can harness it is up to us. All the ingredients are there. The challenge is to collectively bring it into an interesting process.
What about resolving students' issues?
There might be numerous ways of doing something. We have to choose the best possible way — specifically (with) students' issues, employees' issues, academic issues, training and online training. The world has changed so much that we need ideas that are both divergent and convergent. You first diverge and get all the ideas, pick up some which are worth investing in and converge to get it done. The VC is one person. It has to be a systemic effort. Hopefully, I would be able to catalyse an ecosystem that will work towards the university and the country. And it is possible to do it. The university has done many things in the past. More recently, it might have made headlines for the wrong reasons, but we have to move on.
Some VCs have been known to be very distant and they do not communicate with the students or the other stakeholders or even the media for that matter...
I understood where you are going with this. Let me explain. One-sided views don't hold anymore. You bring in multiple views and we do the correct thing from there. We should be intelligent enough to look at multiple viewpoints. That is the least one could do. We will have to work together. For us, the agenda is the university, the society and the country. If the agenda is clear, then I think we should be able to work together independent of differences. It is better to have discourse where we hear it out and do the right thing — my right thing may not be the same as yours. That is okay but you need to hear each other out.
You spoke about skilling individuals. But whenever we talk about skilling the conversation inadvertently meander towards engineering, tech and sciences. What about humanities? We as a society only think about pursuing humanities when the board exam scores are low.
It is a societal problem as, we as a society, look at everything and assign a market value. But to my mind, all knowledge is circular — if you do sciences, you design or engineer, with the knowledge of engineering comes application, with applications, come products and patterns which in turn feeds in to artistic thinking and even social science and these innovative ideas push people to the natural world and they become scientists. The journey of knowledge, intrinsically is circular. We have broken it up into various parts. But it does feed into one another. If we can teach this to students, I think they can choose what interests them the most.
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But then again there's the question — Will it pay enough?
Every skilled person has enough things to contribute to society that we should be create such jobs. Our problem is not that. The problem is that we don't have skills — even in sciences or engineering we don't have skills. You have so many engineering colleges, medical colleges but are we really producing people with talent? No. The problem is not this college versus that college or this stream versus that stream. But are we generating high quality individuals. Once we do that, there will be no dearth of jobs. The individual will take care of themselves. I believe in that. We should not produce skilled individuals who are just barely cutting it. Not trying to get there is not an option. Can we create an ecosystem where students are excited about what they are learning? It can be arts, social sciences, literature, music, liberal arts, basic sciences, quatam mechanics or data science — its does not matter what field as long as the student is learning great quality skill and knowledge which they can implement somewhere.
What are your views on the NEP 2020? Is it a step in the right direction?
It is a policy where you can seamlessly move from one stream to the other. You can start learning the subject that you like best and you can transport skill from one university to another. You can also take leave from one stream, do some work and come back and there is some rationalisation about the undergraduate degree now. It is a progressive step but we have to implement it properly.
Yes. The devil is in implementation...
If there are some fears of implementation failures, we should definitely address them. But that does not mean we don't take the first step. Take the step, you may wobble a little but you will stabilise. The implementation and fail-safe mechanisms are the key.