Published: 17th March 2020
There are no bad students, only bad teachers: Why UPES VC Sunil Rai thinks India needs to educate its educators
The NEP is now thinking of how to enhance the education delivery system rather than create technicians and engineers, says UPES Vice-Chancellor Dr Sunil Rai
India is set to be an Asian superpower soon and the youth is considered its biggest advantage. But are we teaching and training them right? Are our policies rightly aligned for the job? Dr Sunil Rai, Vice-Chancellor, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPES) helps us dissect the Indian education system and talk about the nitty-gritties that need to be fixed. Excerpts from the conversation:
The National Education Policy (NEP) has been one of the most discussed topics in the Indian education sector last year. How hopeful are you about the NEP? Will it bring change or be like some of the other policies that never get fully implemented?
I think the NEP is not just leaning in a positive direction but it is also timely. Right from the Kothari Commission when we looked at education as a policy we have evolved. At that time it was all about education that would be relevant to us — it was more of following than creating. I think we have grasped and understood the degree system, infrastructure and other basics by now and it is behind us. What this NEP is focusing on is educating the educators. We have a training program like BEd for School level but have you heard of such a course for university or college level? Refresher courses don't quite cut it. This education policy is focusing on that. There are no bad students there are only bad teachers — I have immense respect for today's youth, we have to align ourselves as teachers with them to teach them better. We already have a course on Academic Professionalism at UPES where we select teachers who can contribute at a greater level.
The NEP also focuses on a National Research Fund which will integrate all the funding bodies. Do you think that this will hamper the freedom of the research you do at autonomous institutions?
These funding institutions, to start with, are a bit discriminatory towards the private institutions. It does say that if you have a certain rank you can avail funds but those too favour the public institutions — in terms of infrastructure, funding etc. There can be a reservation when we start of but once there is equal opportunities for everyone there should not be a bias — that becomes discriminatory. The government does not give us any funds for the infrastructure nor the salary or maintenance costs. After that, there should not be any distinction.
Indians have been known for great research but lately, we often hear complaints that teachers at universities and other higher educational institutions submit a PhD just for the sake of a higher pay grade. How true is it and how would you deal with it?
I completely agree with you. These regulations (to award a promotion with a higher degree) are there for the good of the nation. NAAC, AICTE, UGC and other such bodies expect that you do research for two reasons — one is relevance and upgradation of deliveries. You can only be teaching a topic well if you have researched it. These bodies also say that it is important that a teacher has a few SCOPUS publications to their name. And people try to do it any which way. This is not good. So here at UPES, we have decided that we will undertake research that is implementable here and now. There is no use of doing something that the society finds no use of. Our Dean of Design is working on a project that will help the locals here — to enhance tourism in Dehradun and the region around it.
India has been discussing an educational makeover for some time now. What do you think are the most important aspects we need to look into at this juncture?
The higher education situation in India has three essential issues — relevance, speed and internationalisation. We keep hearing the cliched statement that whatever graduates we produce, the industry is not able to use them and that it takes about six months to one year to train them again which eats into the productivity of the youth. There has to be a relevance of what we are doing — particularly in professional programmes. it should take our students just a week's time to get accustomed to the firm's culture and then they are good to go. They should not lack the relevant knowledge. There is no point in an IT graduate not knowing languages like Python properly. The education sector needs to realign with the industry for this. Today, businesses are built at the speed of thought. If there is a proposition it has to take some shape in reality in three to six months time — then it's on, otherwise, it dies a natural death. We need to master the speed — execution, understanding the context, combining well with the team, everything needs to be fast. What other nations did in 50 years, India needs to do in 10. Internationalisation is unavoidable in this day and age. If I create a new product, I have to manufacture it in China because it is the cheapest, from Europe, I would need the value addition and then move on to the USA for building AI and other futuristic techs. It is thus important to understand everything from their geography to their culture and how they work to align yourself with them.
What is UPES doing to keep its curriculum relevant, speedy and global?
We not only co-design the curriculum with the industry but co-execute as well — almost 30 per cent of UPES's programmes are co-delivered either on our campus or we send the students over. Our faculty too is required to gather industry experience through externships where they go and work at the industry for a designated period of six to eight weeks to stay updated and learn what's relevant. We update our curriculum every year but that is not enough. If we have already started teaching a curriculum and we are halfway through when we get reports from our alumni and our industry partners that there is a new tech in the block, we try our best to give them ample exposure. So that they are not lost when they got out into the industry. We also send our students abroad for industry experience. Student exchange programmes too help imbibe the work culture that the nations have and we can skim and take the best.