Published: 06th March 2021
Amrita University VC Venkat Rangan: We focus on research, not NIRF rankings
In a conversation with us, Rangan talks about research, Mata Amritanandamayi's approach as the Chancellor and about why they're starting online degrees in line with the NEP
Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham's rankings have been going up for a few years now. Last year, the university skipped four ranks in the National Institutional Ranking Framework to become the fourth-best university in the country. An Institute of Eminence, it was also ranked the 125th best university in Asia, according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings of 2020. So, we assumed that the university's priority in 2021 will be to try and improve its rank and aspire to be the top-ranked institute in India. But to our surprise, the university's Vice-Chancellor Dr P Venkat Rangan tells us that improving the ranking is never the only priority. Instead, he says that it is a result of a number of activities that the faculty and students undertake.
"We are not focussed on the ranking itself. A lot of our projects are focussed entirely on research. As a result, a lot of international collaborations and publications have also happened. The ranking is just a side effect," he says. At the same time, he is not sure if the rankings will go up in 2021, given the pandemic and the resulting situation. "The rankings depend on a set of parameters. Because of the pandemic, many parameters won't show an upward spike because of the limited access to the labs. We're not expecting anything," he says.
Rangan adds that the university's chancellor, spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi also plays a major role in its growth. "She is quite different from other chancellors. She is involved in the university's activities on a day-to-day basis. Many of our innovations, that she had initiated are bearing fruit now," he says.
A computer scientist, who was the youngest to serve as a professor at the University of California, Rangan returned to India in 2003 to teach at Amrita. He admits that at that time, he was unsure about how it will be to work in a university where the chancellor is a spiritual leader and not an academician. However, he says that he was amazed by her approach to everything. "Amma's (Mata Amritanandamayi) is a very different kind of personality when it comes to handling the chancellor's duties. Her spirituality is almost exclusively focussed on the good of society. She would probably ask the scientists to think of developing a phone with remote monitoring, vital parameters that may give advance warnings about medical conditions and an intervention to save lives, instead of developing a better-looking phone, " he says. He adds that since Amritanandamayi meets a lot of people every day and listens to their woes, she constantly thinks about ways to solve the issues that the world faces.
The university has recently launched six online degrees, adhering to the new National Education Policy. The NEP, Rangan says has helped her work towards achieving yet another dream of hers — providing affordable and quality education. "Amma wanted us to make quality education affordable for the poor too. One of the first things that Amma told me when I joined the university was to leverage technology to offer online programmes so that teachers across campuses can teach the students in other centres. We wanted to work on these lines for a while now, but the UGC regulatory framework wasn't quite favourable back then," he says. He says that the university started working on developing these courses a month into the lockdown.
READ ALSO: Amrita University launches certificate course on Mahabharata, six new online degrees
Despite a massive switch to online education, the digital divide is still an existing problem in India. Mindful of that, Rangan says that Amrita has programs to make these classes available for the poor students too. "We are offering a number of scholarships. Online lectures are available even for students who use a low bandwidth internet connection. We also send the audio recordings of classes to some students," he says.
Along with the online degrees, the university has also started a six-week course on the Mahabharata. Expanding on that, Rangan says, "This course looks at the ancient texts of wisdom in India and tries to extract very subtle and impactful principles of management, human values and compassion. Many students from abroad are also taking up the course," he says, adding that the university is now planning on taking a similar approach to other texts of wisdom like the Ramayana, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. When asked if a similar approach will be taken on texts from other religions, he says, "We'd love to, but finding faculty is a challenge."