University keen on having free and fierce debate among students: Vice-chancellor Dr Wasudeo Gade

As Savitribai Phule Pune University prepares to participate in global education rankings for the first time, vice-chancellor Dr Wasudeo Gade discusses the varsity’s rechristening, as well as the different criteria SPPU will be ranked on – research, sports facilities and sops, student diversity, etc. With a PhD in Biotechnology, the VC emphasised on the need to build strong research culture, as well as tolerance for intellectual debates among students

mid-day: Was there any political influence behind renaming the university? Will the change in the brand name affect the university’s reputation?
VC: The proposal to change the name of the university was submitted by the senate and management council members of the varsity, and I don’t think they were under any political influence. We identify with the ideology and thoughts of Savitribai Phule, whose contribution for girls’ education is valuable. It is true that the 65-year-old brand name, ‘University of Pune’, was established worldwide, and keeping it intact and improving upon it will be a big challenge.

VC Dr Wasudeo Gade
First of all: With the university braced to enter world education rankings for the first time, VC Gade is confident that SPPU will emerge as one of the top universities in the nation. Pic/Shashank Sane

mid-day: Is it true that the number of foreign students at SPPU is decreasing?
VC: The number of students from the Middle East have decreased, as many were found involved in illegitimate activities like manipulating results and forging marksheets. However, students from Afghanistan and other SAARC countries, as well as from the US, Europe and African countries, have increased in the last two years by 500 admissions. For me, honesty is important, and the standard of the institution must be maintained. So I don’t mind if there is a decline in the number of students who don’t take education seriously.

mid-day: The hostels on the university campus are plagued by several issues; what measures have you taken to deal with them?
VC: The hostels have not been renovated since they were built. We tried to undertake complete renovation of the hostels earlier, but students refused to vacate their rooms even during holidays, as they were preparing for various entrance exams. So now, we have started renovation work step by step. Since the new courses were launched, the demand for hostels has only increased. We are also building a new 10-storey hostel for PhD students, which has already received a Rs 40-crore grant.

mid-day: Amidst your busy schedule as the VC, do you still find time for your research projects?
VC: I feel bad that I can’t take classes these days, as I used to earlier, but my research work is still on. Whenever I find time — on holidays, early mornings or late nights — I visit the lab. I regularly interact with PhD students. In my group, I have six PhD students and five postdoctoral fellows, and we are currently working on five projects. We published 15 international research papers in reputed journals in 2013, and also got one US patent.

mid-day: How do you intend to tackle the inadequate number of research guides in several of the faculties at the university?
VC: We have taken initiatives to increase the number of guides. We are also focusing on the quality of guides and experienced researchers in every department. The problem is that though the number of students is increasing, the number of senior professors is constant. There is no research culture at the college level. So initially, we relaxed some of the norms for the guides, especially for the engineering and commerce faculties. Once the number of guides increases, we will make the norms strict again. We also have a minimum of two recognised guides at the research centres in Pune, Nashik and Nagar districts, and also at the 300-odd university-recognised institutes all over the country.

mid-day: You had invited the economist, Nobel Laureate Dr Finn E Kydland for a lecture recently. Will such lectures motivate students to think beyond their curriculum?
VC: I am pushing for a forum in the university, for open debates and discussions on various issues. We will be inviting national and internationally recognised experts to deliver lectures every month under this initiative, and students will confront them with burning issues faced by India. There should be cross –discipline dialogue amongst students. For instance, science students should converse and exchange ideas with students from the social science departments, and vice versa. These sessions will be telecast live across colleges, and there will be two-hour interactive sessions. I have formed a management committee for this purpose, and have also sanctioned funds for it.

mid-day: Pune has witnessed attacks on intellectuals and institutions in the past. Do you think intellectual debates will
be welcomed?
VC: I hope that several organisations and institutions in Pune will receive our new initiative positively. Intolerance is not good. Just because you don’t share the views of other people, you can’t attack them. Such attacks and violence shows how small your thinking, and how low your intellectual level is. My intention behind such a forum is to have free and fierce debates on all ideologies and issues, to help students build their character and tolerance levels.

mid-day: What is the university doing to promote sports?
VC: We provide several facilities and concessions to sportsmen and women. We are developing world-class infrastructure, including a nine-layer lawn tennis court, two basketball courts, a synthetic hockey field with AstroTurf, an athletic track, a cricket ground and an indoor stadium. We have received Rs 20 crore in funding from the central government for this.

mid-day: Tell us about SPPU’s expansion plans. Will administration now be decentralised?
VC: We are developing SPPU’s sub-campus in Nashik and Ahmednagar. We have acquired 63 and 83 acres of land in these cities, respectively. The development plan has been approved by the state government, and 350 positions of teaching and non-teaching staff have also been approved. We have now demanded financial support of Rs 370 crore for infrastructural development of these sub-campuses and will be giving administrative autonomy there.

Salil Urunkar, Niranjan Medhekar, Kartiki Lawate, Chaitraly Deshmukh, Namrata Anjana, Shashank Sane, Joe Williams were part of the mid-day panel.

Did you know?

For the first time, SPPU has agreed in principle, to participate in the UK-based Times Higher Education World Rankings, which held the Chandigarh-based Panjab University as number one in the country for 2014-2015

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