Delhi's Shiv Nadar University gets new Vice-Chancellor. Here's what lies ahead for her and the univ

The Shiv Nadar University has welcomed Dr. Ananya Mukherjee as its new VC. As a university, we believe in thriving in diversity, she says, and shares her views on various other topics
Shiv Nadar Univ gets new VC| Pic credit -
Shiv Nadar Univ gets new VC| Pic credit -

Dr Ananya Mukherjee, who is a professor of Economics, Philosophy and Political Science, has been appointed, from January, 2022, as the new Vice-Chancellor of Shiv Nadar University in Delhi NCR. The research-focused university had been established by the Shiv Nadar Foundation and has gained the tag of eminence by the Government of India. Dr. Mukherjee has been known for her role as the Academic Provost and Vice-President of Canada's University of British Columbia (UBC). Previous to this, she has worked with various prestigious organisations, like the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD). In the year 2021, she was selected as one of Canada’s most powerful women by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN). When a personality as she steps down from the UBC board to assume a new role in India at Shiv Nadar University, positive and impactful developments are highly anticipated. In an interview, she speaks about her new role, the areas in which she wants to bring a change and much more. Excerpts from the conversation:

As the new Vice-Chancellor, what are the areas that you want to focus on for the overall development of the university?

There are some foundation pillars on which any university stands. The first is research, which is an essential aspect, and we are focused on developing research in all disciplines as a habit, where everybody is encouraged to ask questions. Development in the area of research is one of my top goals, and the university also ambitions itself in research excellence. The second is teaching excellence. We have a residential campus, and focus on curriculars inside the classrooms, co-curriculars and extra-curriculars also, which take teaching beyond classrooms. The focus is on building a strong student experience so that the students can face and overcome challenges to achieve their maximum potential, irrespective of their backgrounds. The third focus is on social impact, where students are taught to be concerned about issues like sustainability and climate change. The fourth area of focus is on attaining eminence and status. This can be further acquired and maintained through social involvement, so the students are made to involve themselves in issues like socio-economic divides, urbanisation and so on, through a solid learning process.

Are there any current social challenges that you find currently in the university that need to be addressed?

No, not in the university but the research projects that are going on in the university need to be aligned towards finding solutions to prevalent and upcoming social problems. Climate change is one such issue, urban expansion is another and also since innovation is very important to overcome such challenges, we support innovation in every sphere. There is a special incubation centre at the university for the development of products, processes for combating social and contemporary challenges.

How does Shiv Nadar University plan to keep the issues of social differences aside, welcome diverse groups of students, provide them with a safe space where they can express themselves freely and, at the same time, establish a culture of its own?

As a university we believe in thriving in diversity. We have students from all over India and we would also like to welcome students from around the world. The word for university is vishwavidyalaya in Sanskrit, which means that it is a global platform. And we would like to think of Shiv Nadar University as one such platform because of which we teach everyone to think from multiple perspectives, as that helps students build respect for all ways in which people think and act. There is also an emphasis on art and creativity that we try to build in our university. We are a part of a large creative ecosystem and the performing arts faculty involved is very enthusiastic in helping students live in a multidisciplinary environment. The university curriculum has also been made such as to enable the students and faculty to challenge each other. 

You have been in the US and Canada. What factors of the Western education system would you like to see in India? 

The thing that I would like to see is the involvement of students in various programmes and activities, which actively happens in Western universities. Involvement helps the students develop leadership abilities quickly, construct a voice of their own and reach out. We also encourage students to challenge themselves into different leadership-building experiences. Another thing that I would like to focus on for the contemporary students is the mindset for research, that is highly dominant in the West. The mindset to be actively involved and ask questions about everything should start from an early age. The development of a curious and research-oriented mind is what I would like to see happen.

Speaking of research, since you are an active participant in the issues relating to women and women empowerment, what do you have to say about the involvement of women in research? 

Women are involved in everything, research too. However, women face some significant barriers in the field of research. In a recent survey that analysed the impact of COVID-19 on research, it was found that women researchers were more severely affected than their male counterparts. The problem is large and one solution could be the uniting of women everywhere involved in research to form a global platform to overcome the existing challenges. The encouragement of a curious mind, to be made possible perhaps by providing rewards for asking questions is another solution for the problem. Various programmes and plans can also be created in the fields of Mathematics and Science, where the involvement of women is less, to encourage more of them into these fields. But the issue with women’s involvement is the reflection of larger social problems and they have to be addressed first. Strategies, resources and support is the need of the hour to devise such solutions.

The recent news of the CUET has really hit the education sector in India. Is Shiv Nadar University planning to take it up?

At the moment, the university has its own criteria for selection of students into the university and that shall continue. Students wishing to get into Shiv Nadar University’s undergraduate programmes can apply with their SAT, APT, SNUSAT, ACT or JEE Mains scores.

Lastly, as you are a professor of Economics. What do you think about the financial measures taken by the Indian government to develop education and research?

In the NEP 2020, there was a policy to create a National Foundation for supporting research. This is a wonderful idea and we should like to see it happen. It would be a big boost for the field of research. It happens in the West that such programmes encourage young minds into research. The applications to the programmes are adjudicated by peer communities, which inspires great involvement.

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