Published: 30th April 2019
Do research that you want to do, not because there's funding: MSRUAS VC Dr Sivaguru Sritharan
Dr Sivaguru S Sritharan, the new Vice-Chancellor of MSRUAS talks to Rashmi Patil about how he's going to get his students to do research that has real-world applications
When you're at the helm, sometimes vision can be the only guiding factor. Having studied Aeronautics and Astronautics at the University of Washington and Applied Mathematics at the University of Arizona, Dr Sivaguru S Sritharan, the new Vice-Chancellor of M S Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences (MSRUAS) has plenty of that. And he has the international exposure to add that global edge to a thriving varsity. Creating a connection between the defence sector and RUAS's research teams to meet the nation's security needs is high up on his list. He also wants to bring medical and engineering streams closer so that they can disrupt the space. Excerpts from a charged chat:
You've spent a lot of time in the west. What is the major difference that you find between the west and India?
Though the west and east share some mutual influence in educational philosophy, there are some differences too. In the west, the research is closely tied to grants. For example, the research projects in engineering or any science field are judged by the grants or funds one gets. Western universities force one to take up research in subjects where there is more money. I have always resisted that idea. I believe that one should research whichever subject he or she is interested in rather than looking for the money or funds. I am happy to see that Indian Universities also work on the same philosophy. As far as the Indian Education system is concerned, there is a lack of connectivity between the needs of our defence sector and the research that happens in the universities. It is not the same in the United States. When it comes to Engineering and Science, the defence sector of the country has close ties with them. The National Science Foundation was inspired by the Office of Naval Research in the 1950s. I feel that defence is one avenue where MSRUAS can contribute. Five or ten years from now, the PhD thesis that will come out from the engineering or health sciences department should address the needs of the nation.
I think the students of RUAS should pursue their dreams in higher education with close connections to innovation and creative mind set. At the same time Universities in India should seek to shape their curricula to address the needs of the country in energy, environment, national security and health.
What is your vision for MSRUAS?
In the realm of artificial intelligence, my vision is to bring the medical and engineering sectors closer and introduce AI and robotics in the medical stream. The research will be based on the needs of the industrial, defence, medical, agricultural and commercial sector. As mentioned earlier, research projects must contribute to the needs of a nation especially in terms of security. We will be extensively working on this particular part in future.
On Board: Dr Sivaguru S Sritharan is the new Vice-Chancellor of MSRUAS and he has set new goals for the research department
How important is research in Higher Education?
Since I studied in the United States, I have realised that research and teaching are two inseparable elements in developed countries. Because you can't simply read and teach undergraduate students. One needs to have studied well and researched deeply in order to teach the students and make them understand the topics easily. In the US, most of the research projects are supported by funding. When I went to the United States for higher studies, I had only USD 94 with me. The moment I landed, I had a stipend in my hand. My professor, who was already working on a project, enrolled me in his class to help him with his research project. He would teach me and pay my stipend through the research funding that he got. There is no way I could have gone to the United States and studied if this facility did not exist. Then, there were no elaborate loan facilities. If this model is adopted in India, then research can contribute to the business model of the institution.
What are the unique programmes in MSRUAS?
We have an Advanced Learning Centre for medical students. Here, they practice surgery and operations on cadavers. It is the best way to train surgeons. This is the most unique programme here. It also provides a platform for interdisciplinary Medical AI research that we plan to do soon. We also have advanced certificate programmes and around 26 Masters Degree programmes which are tailored according to the needs of the industry. We are planning to start some unique programmes in coordination with the defence sector and DRDO so that our research projects would benefit the country in future. We have also tied up with the University of Illinois, Chicago where we will send our final year undergraduate students for higher studies. We have lined up another 15 universities in the US and Europe for collaboration and facilitating higher education.
What is the support given to budding entrepreneurs?
We have Ramaiah Technology Business Incubation Centre that supports aspiring entrepreneurs. We also get funds from the Government of India to help them build their enterprise. Faculty members or students from our college or general public can come up with an idea and create a business out of it. There is a panel that selects the ideas which are worth to be established and good. Apart from this, we provide them advice on research and our faculty guides them in this. This is how our incubation centre works. Based on their idea, we support the entrepreneur for a particular number of months. And typically it is for 24 months.
You say that you are collaborating with Universities in the US. With the present situation and new rules under the Trump administration, will students be able to go there and study?
The President of the US is not against merit-based research and he supports the educational exchange programmes between two countries. It's just the wrong message conveyed by people to create fear. Our students will be able to go there and study and also involve in various research programmes. Its the same with the US also.: