The Twenty Third Convocation of the University was held on April 20, 2017.
Below is the Convocation address by Prof Ved Prakash: Hon’ble Dr Karsanbhai K Patel, Chairman, Nirma Education and Research Foundation and President of the Nirma University, Dr Anup K Singh, Director General, Nirma University, Members of the Faculties and Staff of the University, Graduates of the Year, Invited Guests, friends from Media, Ladies and Gentlemen: I feel it a privilege and an honour to be invited to deliver the Convocation address of Nirma University, Ahmedabad. I learn with interest that Dr Karsanbhai K Patel, a Padma Shri Awardee, established the Nirma University in Ahmedabad in the year 2003. In its journey of twelve years, the University that was established as the first Private University in the State of Gujarat, with the objective of developing high quality professionals which reflect and demonstrate values that the University stands for, through innovation and continuous improvement in facilitation of learning, research and extension activities has done exceedingly well. The University has set up ten Institutes / Departments. I congratulate you, young scholars, as you were a part of this Alma Mater for getting the best out of it in the meaningful years of your life. You are graduating from this university today with distinctions, honours and achievements. The seal of this university on your achievements will remain your prized possession for all times to come. The learning for which you had an opportunity to imbibe at this university will be remembered by you in whatever walk of life you enter after leaving the portals of this institution. Alma Maters are unique institutions which provide enriching insights which influence your accomplishments in the experiences that you gather later in life. I give my best wishes for the bright future of all of you.
The higher education scenario in the country presents an interesting example of a meteoric rise in the number of institutions as well as the enrolments since our independence. There were only 20 universities and 500 colleges with 0.1 million students at the time India attained independence. This has increased to 844 universities, including institutions of national importance, and 40,700 Colleges. The enrolments in Universities in the country has increased by 26.37 times, in the Colleges 58 times, since 1950. Besides this the number of Teachers has increased 52 times. Even though there is a significant growth in student enrolment in higher education, especially in the last two decades, the GER in higher education is still lesser than the world’s average GER (27%) and much lower than that of developed nations. In spite of the expansion of higher education that has been witnessed so far, the country still needs to enhance access and expansion to meet the aspirations of the youth population craving to taste the benefits of higher education and to contribute to the social and economic development of the country. We will require more institutions of higher education with particular focus on catering to the needs of the youth belonging to the under-privileged and un-served areas. The regional imbalance that we experience today will have to be mitigated by taking a pro-active stance for providing access and expansion not only among the marginalized sections of population but to consciously provide for opportunities for education of young people including girls belonging to scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs), minorities, other backward classes (OBCs) and physically and mentally challenged young population. In an ageing world, India is poised for reaping demographic dividends. About 12.8 million young persons are joining the working class every year. It is expected that the labour force in India is likely to increase by 32% over the next 20 years while it will decline by 4% in industrialized nations. India will have a large productive population of 75% by 2025. There is, however, a mismatch between population and educational infrastructure which is evidenced by the fact that the density of higher education institutions is more in the western and southern states whereas the demographic advantage is in the north, east and northeastern states.
It is interesting to note that 96% of enrolment in higher education is in the state and private university system. Any attempt at improving and consolidating the situation will require a new mission mode to incentivize state institutions based on academic, administrative and governance reforms. This problem is being addressed through the National Mission on Higher Education through Rashtriya Uchttar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) following the success of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Rashtriya Madhyamic Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) at the school level.
Today’s reality of higher education demands focus on the four Es of Expansion, Equity, Excellence and Employability. We need to enhance the GER, create new infrastructure, strengthen state institutions and enhance teaching capacities. An equally important concern is to ensure gender parity, reach the unreached, bridge the urban rural divide and address the educational needs of all social groups towards attaining the goals of inclusive education. Expansion and equity is not enough if excellence does not become our watchword. Mandatory accreditation of institutions, their periodic assessments, enriching faculty resources and focus on research and innovation are the key interventions we need to nurture towards quality and excellence.
Although university as a system is for creation of new knowledge, in the changing scenario, employability has also become an important concern. There is a need for enhancing skill development initiatives and implementing National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF) for mobility between vocational and main stream education. Industry-academia interaction has been proverbially weak and needs to be strengthened involving Public Private Partnership (PPP) models. Although this inter-linkage has been attempted, the research and development function through university-industry interface is not as prominent in the culture of our universities as it ought to be. The subject needs to be put on discourse to overcome barriers to a joint collaboration of curriculum and courses mutually relevant to both the university and industry. It may be worthwhile on the part of our university academics to make a detailed study of how this interface works effectively in the university system elsewhere in the world and outline strategies which can enhance such an interface with our industries in the country, and provide indigenous solutions to the problems critical for solution. Equal Opportunity Cells (EOCs) in the universities and colleges has been an important intervention of the UGC. These Cells should work with the Internal Quality Assessment Cells (IQAC) to monitor the social diversity in the composition of the institution, the status of implementation of legally mandated reservation as applicable, progress in the implementation of schemes, educational performance of the SC/ST/Minority and OBC (non-creamy layer) students. There should be appropriate publicity of the schemes for all backward communities so that they can avail themselves of the facilities. The progress on the above parameters should be put on the website of the universities. I have no doubt that the Nirma University is in the forefront of addressing these concerns. Education today is impoverished if it fails to utilise the orientation that can be provided to it by technology-enabled interventions. There is a need to ensure connectivity amongst institutions of higher education through National Knowledge Network (NKN) which is now connecting 26,000 colleges/university/research laboratories. Another intervention is to exploit the National Mission on Education through ICT (NME-ICT) for qualitative improvement of curriculum transaction and exposure of teachers and students to the frontiers of knowledge. Research and innovations are at the heart of developmental perspectives in higher education. The quality of research lays the foundation for the recognition of our institutions in their global ranking. This is a subject of concern as our universities need to improve their profiles, overcoming all barriers which hamper the growth and development of high-end research. Let me assure that there is no dearth of resources for supporting research, there is only a serious need for insightful minds to undertake interdisciplinary research which is the need of the hour. Innovation platform and innovation centres need to be established along with innovation and incubation parks, simultaneously participating in international collaboration. Academic education needs to be interfaced with meaningful skill development initiatives for a fairly large number of young population may not be tuned to research and academic careers but they have the foundation of applying their acquired knowledge to the development of skills which can earn them a place of respect in the society. The foundation for this has to be laid in the school and the un-organized sector. Vocational education programmes in secondary and senior secondary school have not received the success they deserve in spite of the exaltations outlined in the Education Commission (1964-66). The issue of skilled human resource has received due attention in the higher education sector through the setting up of Community Colleges and Community Polytechnics, strengthening existing polytechnics and even enhancing stature of vocational education by bringing it into the domain of higher education by offering B Voc and Career-Oriented Courses in the university system. Quality and excellence dimension in all domains of learning has to be the most prominent agenda of our university system. I find it very relevant to quote the Hon’ble President of India in this connection: “The quality of education has to be the focus of our attention now. We can be world leaders in education, if only we discover the will and leadership to take us to that pinnacle. Education is no longer just the privilege of the elite, but a universal right. It is the seed of a nation’s destiny. We must usher in an education revolution that becomes a launching pad for the national resurgence”.
It is agreed that excellence in higher education is possible through greater autonomy coupled with higher and performance-linked funding for universities that sustain excellence. It can also happen through enhancing skill and pedagogic awareness of teachers for improving instructional dynamics besides expanding and reforming faculty development initiatives and incentivizing faculty and student mobility across institutions for cross fertilization of ideas.
There is also a possibility of enhancing technology-mediated teaching and learning and expanding e-resource availability to students and teachers. Also instituting awards to faculty for reflecting their achievements on global platforms can go a long way in promoting excellence. It is an accepted fact that an essential mandate of the university system is to teach and train high quality personnel who can face the challenging assignments of a dynamic society. Instituting curricular, pedagogical, assessment, research and organizational innovations can be an important intervention. Establishment of special incubation centres and research parks can provide a fillip to research and innovation. It will be relevant to provide special funding to research-intensive universities. There is a need for clearer articulation of the concept of internationalization of higher education. Providing greater autonomy to institutions to enter into collaborative partnerships with the best universities abroad can be an important initiative besides working out areas of collaboration and exchange programmes. It would be relevant to design policy measures to attract foreign scholars to enroll in Indian universities. Augmenting the faculty with intellectual resources available outside the system in the form of professors can go a long way in meeting the need of faculty shortages. There is a need to introduce more efficient and productive models of improving the governance system. Reducing the burden of affiliation system through amendment of Acts by the state universities is an important concern. Developing an overarching regulatory framework for effective coordination of regulatory agencies is also the need of the hour.
Quality education warrants an inspiring learning ambience on the campuses of institutions of higher learning. Combating the menace of ragging and ensuring ragging-free campus life is an important concern. The UGC has recently brought out a publication on Measures for Safety of Women on Campuses and the efforts needed for Gender sensitization. These are some of the positive initiatives for providing safe learning environment on our university campuses.
The needs of expansion of higher education will require that new modes of delivery of higher education are articulated differently. In an ideal situation, the focus should be on delivery of quality higher education independent of the mode which means that the borders between “conventional”, dual mode and Open and Distance Learning (ODL) should get blurred. ODL can be on a strong wicket only if it is played well and its processes are comprehensively addressed. A strong accreditation mechanism which emphasizes on internal quality checks and external reviews is important. Let me end by wishing that the graduates coming out the portal of this great university will bring all the pride and glory to the institution and also to themselves by their performance in their actual life in whatever station of life they choose for themselves. Thank you