‘I am a trustee of government money but will ensure researchers get their right due,’ says Anna University Vice Chancellor

‘I am a trustee of government money but will ensure researchers get their right due,’ says Anna University Vice Chancellor

‘I am a trustee of government money but will ensure researchers get their right due,’ says Anna University Vice ChancellorIn an interview with The Hindu Mr. Surappa talks about his roadmap for the University in the next three years.

Anna University’s Vice Chancellor M.K. Surappa took charge amid much controversy. He faced not only political animosity, but there were also murmurs of his inflexibility which resulted in unpleasant brushes with the administration in his earlier positions.

In an interview with The Media Mr. Surappa talks about his roadmap for the University in the next three years.

Anna University has a culture of research. Ever since you came in, there has been much anticipation that you will improve research. What will be your focus?

Anna University has great potential to excel in teaching, research and innovation. In the recent past, it has not had a momentum in terms of research. Some departments have a strong research culture and innovation. The Centre for Aerospace Research has developed new drones and helicopter systems, that have been used by the State’s line departments for societal needs and improve our quality of life. But we are not doing to the extent we should be. I have indicated where research funds are available. I am motivating, inspiring and putting pressure on staff to come up with mega research projects. Some things important for me are the unitary campus with MIT, AC Tech, and CEG, that form the core of research. A good number of faculty members have been motivated. The next is improve quality of teaching, education and research culture in regional campuses. Then comes the affiliated colleges. I can only motivate and mentor them and handhold them.

I have to improve the research culture, bring accountability, transparency and confidence in governance system and ensure that innovative people are awarded. People who are not doing enough would have to do more to get their dues. Systems and processes must be in place, applied uniformly,consistently and rigorously. All the departments have to pull their weight.

What is your plan for regional engineering colleges? Now that the government has suddenly added 720 more seats.

The minister was here on that day since I explained to him and some decisions have been taken. The minister listens to me carefully, he is a sharp person and has good memory. I explained my responsbilities. I told him it is my duty to explain as an academician. My objective is to provide high quality technical education. We have been talking about quality education but not delivering it. I will make every effort to see that high quality learning processes are in place. Teachers have to be much more motivated. We have to create infrastructure, innovation centres, be involved in multidisciplinary projects, take up larger impact projects. Developing a product is like building a great mandapa. It requires various kinds of people – electrical, civil, sound systems person will join. People must learn from other disciplines. I am encouraging curriculum change also. An engineer should learn some biology, a civil engineer should learn the consequences of the impact of environment on the building, must have knowledge outside the domain, must be exposed to marketing, IPR. We have to bring these changes gradually. Each of these components could be given to the students for 15 days in a three-month semester.

You have said you want to bring Anna University on a par with IITs where the students get involved in research …

We have to increase the faculty strength, fill faculty positions, create new posts. Promotions held up for various reasons must be given. I will try to get the best people, put up a rigorous process in faculty recruitment. Diversification is also required. We have to create a corpus and the government has to give us operational autonomy, freedom doesn’t mean there can be no scrutiny. I am a trustee of government money. The government can subject us to intense scrutiny in our research and financial dealings. Research and innovation cannot be under government control. Academia is about knowledge creation. I want to bring in discipline. It is about exercising self-restraint. Your mind must be able to work freely.

In three years’ time (the completion of his current term) where do you see Anna University?

I definitely see it to be higher than what it is now. But how high depends on the support I get for bringing in transparency, for my governance structure and how many of my deputies rise to that level. It must be completely based on objective, merit-based evaluation. We have to uniformly adhere to the system. We need to respect the systems and processes we put in place.

In India in terms of number of publications we stand 14 or 15 in the world. but in terms of quality, we are no where even near countries like South Africa that have much higher impact than us. In academic meetings we let down our institutions because we don’t want to offend our friends or even our gurus. We are not ready to learn lessons and ignore our mistakes. We don’t adopt the best practices of the best institutions in the world. Many of the decisions are based on perception rather than facts and evidences, especially in the academia.

I have been told I don’t make adjustments. You can be an example and have to be above board. I am a trustee of the government money.

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