Published: 21st April 2021
SNU VC Sriman Bhattacharyya: Institutes set up by corporates have the capability to go further than other institutions
We speak to Sriman Kumar Bhattacharyya, the founding Vice-Chancellor of Shiv Nadar University, Chennai about what he plans for the institution going forward
Amid the pandemic, several large corporations launched new universities and among them the most prominent one in Tamil Nadu is the Shiv Nadar University, Chennai (SNU). Almost two months ago, the university also got its first Vice-Chancellor. Sriman Kumar Bhattacharyya, a former IIT Kharagpur Deputy Director, has been appointed as the university's founding VC. He will begin in a year that has redefined the rules of education, with four courses — two engineering and two commerce and management. We converse with the eminent professor about his plans for the new university, his role as a VC and also the new National Education Policy. Excerpts from an insightful conversation:
How is the experience as an administrator at IIT Kharagpur different from being the Vice-Chancellor at SNU, Chennai?
I have been associated with IIT Kharagpur for 34 years in different capacities. I was serving a the Deputy Director when I came to SNU. While the activities that I was engaged in at IIT Kharagpur are different from what I'm doing now at SNU, the one aspect that remains common between the two institutes is that they are striving towards academic excellence. When I was talking to the people at SNU, Chennai, I could see that the university was looking forward to certain quality and innovative academic activities. I thought it would be a good challenge to take up and build a new institution from the ground up.
Sriman Kumar Bhattacharyya
Do you think it was a good idea for SNU, Chennai to be launched in 2020? Would it have been better if the university had a head-start before the pandemic or launched after it?
The Shiv Nadar University Act was legislated in 2018 and the institution was being thought out and developed since. But whenever you start anything, unforeseen circumstances are inevitable. COVID-19 was never anticipated but it has taught us some good things and we have evolved so much over the last year. So, I don't think that starting out amid COVID-19 is a problem. The university has a dynamic system and we will be able to move forward much like all other universities. COVID-19 is unpredictable and we can't keep things on hold due to it. We have to find out ways to overcome difficulties that may arise in the future.
What changes will be made to admission process of the university considering that Board exams have been cancelled or postponed?
We were anticipating the postponement when the COVID cases began to rise. We began brainstorming on how to overcome such a situation. The students will have to clear the Board exams whenever they happen. But our admission process is not solely dependent on Board exams. We will conduct an entrance exam and also a personal interview to evaluate the students. The three factors together will determine admission. We would have to think of a process to let the students come to the university once things become clearer about Board exams. We are dynamic enough to evolve accordingly.
Shiv Nadar has had a presence in Chennai in the form of SSN College of Engineering. How does SNU, Chennai plan to set itself apart from its own competition?
The focus of SNU, Chennai is to make students industry-ready. Therefore, SNU, Chennai has decided to launch courses like BTech in Computer Science with IoT and BTech in Artificial Intelligence and Data Science. These areas are the need of the industry. This is unlike the programmes being offered at SSN College of Engineering. The programmes that we have decided to launch and will launch in the future will impart quality education though innovative research. Our courses will include micro-specialisation. A student who is pursuing a degree in Artificial Intelligence and Data Science will have the opportunity to explore some areas of the Computer Science with IoT course. We are providing flexibility in the curriculum so that students that explore their interests besides the course they are pursuing. With SSN being close, SNU can leverage on the programmes they are offering and this can prove to be advantageous and enriching.
Inside the SNU Chennai campus
What are your views on the new National Education Policy? How does SNU, Chennai plan to align with the vision of the NEP?
The NEP talks about universities that offer multidisciplinary education. SNU, Chennai is launching with two schools — School of Engineering and School of Commerce and Management. School of Commerce is launching with a BCom in Professional Accounting, where the students will get an opportunity to get prepared in a way that they will be able to appear for CA and other professional exams in their intermediate and final years. The uniqueness of the programmes we have developed is that a Commerce student will be able to micro-specialise in Artificial Intelligence and Data Science, for example. We are merging these two fields of study which is very much in line with the NEP.
The NEP has also spoken about a National Research Foundation, where a repertoire of different research projects will be created. Any educational activity also includes research, which is a huge part of SNU, Chennai.
Do you think getting a good rank by QS or NIRF is important for a private university like SNU?
Students and their parents get guided by data while getting admission in a university or college. Even IITs are compared — which is a first-generation IIT and which is a second-generation one. Whether we like or dislike it, a ranking does impact the education system. An academic institution can self-evaluate the various parameters on which scores are given and ranks determined. They can self-introspect and develop accordingly. Rankings are important to maintain the quality of education by improving upon the areas where they might have earned less scores.
How is the Indian education landscape getting affected by more corporates investing in education? Is corporate-funded education the future?
We need to impart quality education to our younger generation. India's youth population is among the largest in the world. Providing quality education can really make a difference to our country and I'm glad to note that corporates are creating institutions that will do so. The corporate mindset has to be inculcated to make the institutions more effective. I think the institutes set up by corporates have the capability to go further than other institutions in terms of providing quality education. More such institutions are necessary to bridge the dearth in quality education and can prepare the youth to hold fort in the future.