I want to begin by heartily congratulating the graduands of the day. This is a very special day in your life. When my generation graduated, about fifty years ago, India was struggling as a `third world country’. When you are graduating, everyone expects India to be the `third most powerful country’ in the world. And my friends, it is you, who will be charged with building this great future of our great nation.
You all are also entering a world, which is exciting as well as challenging. I say challenging, since we realize that we are living in a VUCA world, which is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. They say that institutions can’t build `the future of the young’, but they can build `the young for the future’. You are fortunate that MNIT Jaipur, has equipped you fully with skills and tools to deal with this challenge most confidently.
I am so happy to see the great progress that Malaviya National Institute of Technology (MNIT), Jaipur has done. I want to congratulate the Director for his dynamic leadership and also the entire faculty for their determined commitment and dedicated contributions that has led to this splendid performance of MNIT.
As I stand before you, my mind goes back to 1998, when the Government of India set up a committee under my chairmanship. This particular Mashelkar Committee was asked to look at the 19 Regional Engineering Colleges (RECs) in India. It was asked to review the performance of these RECs and also make recommendations so that they could move into higher orbits of performance and delivery. It was this Mashelkar committee that recommended the conversion of Regional Engineering Colleges into National Institutes of Technology (NIT). And it was not just the change of name. It was the change of fundamentals from funding to governance. This involved moving the funding from the states to the centre, changing the constitution of the board of governors, the governance structure, upgradation of infrastructure and several other measures to provide autonomy, flexibility and freedom. The idea was to lift these institutions to a much higher level.
I am so happy that at the dawn of the 21st century, these recommendations were accepted fully by the Central Government and NITs were formed. You might ask as to what prompted the Mashelkar committee to recommend the elevation of RECs to NITs. We found that from around 200,000 students who annually appeared for the IIT entrance examinations during those years, only around 2000 of them got in. But for those 2000 students who got in, we found that there were, may be 20,000, who appeared for the exams, who were almost as good. They were left out and where would they go? They all went to Regional Engineering Colleges, Government Engineering Colleges, and so on. Our committee had wide ranging consultations with several stake holders, including the companies that employed these REC graduates. We found that the contributions that were made by the graduates of RECs to national programs such as space, defence, atomic energy and private and public sector industry were truly outstanding.
At National Chemical Laboratory, I have had the specific experience of having students from Regional Engineering Colleges do Ph.D.s under my supervision and I found them to be as good as those who came from the IIT system. For instance, Ravindranath, who came from the REC at Warangal, did work on modeling and simulation of polyester reactors as a part of his Ph.D. project and it became the last word in this field globally. In fact I won the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize in 1982 on the strength of that work alone! Ravindranath’s work is being used all over the world today. So I was delighted that full justice was done to these high quality REC students by the Government of India in accepting the 1998 Mashelkar committee recommendations and then creating NITs. It was also such a privilege for me to chair the NIT Council for three years, and see the progress that NITs were making.
Let me turn to what is dear to my heart, education in our future and also future of education.
What is the most powerful equation in the world? Some will say F = ma, resulting from Newton’s second law of motion. Some will say E = mc2 , Einstein’s famous equation. I will say, it E = F. E is education. F is future. Education is equal to future. No education, no future. For the individual, for the society, for the nation.
In the same way innovation is driving our future. Therefore European Union calls itself `Innovation Union’. That is why 2015 is the year of innovation for Switzerland. That is why India has declared 2010-20 as the Indian Decade of Innovation.
President Obama had famously said “education and innovation are the currencies for the 21st century.” This is true.
I will go even further and say ‘education in innovation’ and ‘innovation in education’ are the dire needs of the hour. World class Universities of the future will be those, who excel in achieving these twin goals.
MNIT Jaipur must have the dream to become a world class institution. And all world class institutions have a seamless integration of education, research and innovation. Education disseminates known knowledge. Research creates new knowledge. Innovation converts knowledge into wealth and social good.
Let me elaborate. The Vice chancellor of Cambridge University Sir Lezek Borysiewicz has created a Circle of Advisors. I happen to be one of the members of this Circle of Advisors. In his very first presentation, the Vice-Chancellor told us that Cambridge University has won over eighty Nobel Prizes but at the same time, it has 15000 start-ups creating 45000 jobs with atleast five companies with revenues of US $ 1 billion plus each! You can see here a powerful example of seamless integration of education, research and innovation. MNIT Jaipur should have the dream of achieving such beautiful confluence of Saraswati & Lakshmi.
Three Pillars for a World Class University
President of India has been repeatedly expressing a concern that our universities and educational institutions do not figure in the top hundred in the world. Why is it so?
On the other hand, no matter what indicators are used – and by whom – Harvard University always occupies the first place. Why is it so?
Since 2007, I have been a having a brief stint at Harvard University as a Distinguished Visiting Professor almost every year.
George Whitesides in Harvard University is a close friend of mine. He is the highest cited living scientist in the world today. His H index is a staggering 176, whereas the very best in India has an H index, which is slightly in excess of hundred! This means George Whitesides has scaled the highest peaks of excellence in fundamental scientific research. But at the same time he has founded companies based on his research in Harvard. The market capitalization of the companies that he has floated is more than 30 billion dollars! I once asked George about why Harvard is what it is? Why is it always ranked as number one? He explained to me the fundamentals that made the difference.
The first is the single minded pursuit of excellence, both in teaching and research.
The second is the unflinching commitment to the true institutional autonomy without even a trace of a political interference what so ever.
The third is world class governance, which provides an unshakable and robust foundation leading to a long term stability and sustainability.
Let me elaborate on these three pillars now: excellence, autonomy and governance.
Let us come to excellence first. There is a growing realization that mere teaching without research is sterile. So there has to be an absolutely uncompromising pursuit of excellence, both in teaching and research. This means getting the very best of faculty, not the second best. This also means getting the very best of students, not the second best.
Excellence in teaching is vitally important. When knowledge is known to double up every five years, our curricula cannot continue remain the same. Our methods of delivery, the chalk and talk, cannot just continue as infinite possibilities open up due to the advent of technology. One often complains about the ‘tyrany of large numbers’ in India. But taking recourse to new technology can make a difference to the challenge of both numbers and distances. Our methods of assessment are based on rewarding selective and uncritical rote learning rather than analytical abilities and creative thinking. All these and more need to be changed by an aggressive recourse to disruptive and game changing innovation in education.
Excellence in research means there has to be a continuous thrust on not only `working’ at the frontiers of research but `creating’ new frontiers. This means an aggressive and relentless thrust on saying the `first word in science’ or the `last word in science’. Or doing research that will “lead” and not “follow”.
Autonomy is the lifeline of an academic institution. The Kothari Commission (1966) was eloquent in stating the role of university autonomy. It said “only an autonomous institution, free from regimentation of ideas and pressure of party or power politics, can pursue truth fearlessly and build up in its teachers and students, habits of independent thinking and a spirit of enquiry unfettered by the limitations and prejudices of the near and the immediate which is so essential for the development of a free society”.
The autonomy must flow across the university from teachers to students. The teacher should have a complete autonomy to design and deliver his course and also the assessment. Similarly, the students should be allowed to take courses of their choice in different disciplines and different universities. They can be awarded a degree on the basis of the credits they have earned. For this, a flexible credit based modular curriculum should be created. It should be harmonized across colleges and later perhaps even across universities. Students should have choices on the subjects, teachers, colleges, etc.
Autonomy of the University system is so important that it continues to be discussed and debated even today in Europe, which has had a rich history of academic excellence for centuries. For example, the national strategic priorities for higher education were the object of the law passed in France in as recently as August 2007. They were referred to as `University Autonomy Law’. They provided the Universities with a new system of governance and real autonomy in terms of their budgets and human resource management. Universities were allowed to create University Foundations or even partnership with companies. And this is being done elsewhere in Europe too. For example, in Finland, since 2007, each University can have a legal status of a Foundation, thereby increasing their financial autonomy.
Let us look at governance now. The governance structure of our Universities has not changed with changing times. Rules of yester years that were framed in a different context continue as such. Context decides the content. When the context changes, the content has to change. Unfortunately that has not happened. Centralization of decision making with ineffective participation and contribution by faculty and students has created a situation that is far removed from the much desired process of collegial consensus making.
Governance focusses on the `rules and mechanisms’ by which various stakeholders can and will influence the decisions, the ways and means by which these stakeholders could be made accountable, and finally, to whom will they be made accountable.
Over-regulated systems with interference by multiple agencies tend to stifle innovation and creativity, promote corruption and also malpractices. On the other hand, a under-regulated system encourages exploitation, leads to a disorder and eventually to erosion of social justice. A balanced overachieving and transparent regulatory mechanism that ensures accountability can instill a sense of confidence amongst all the stakeholders, from the academic community to the society. And that is what India needs.
We must design, develop and deliver new solutions which will not only lead to the adoption of ‘best practices’ in governance but also hopefully create the ‘next practices’.
Ten Golden Rules to Success
My young friends, at the end, you will ask me, what will it take us to succeed in life?
As you step out of the portals of this great institute, I will like to give you `Ten Mashelkar Mantras of Success’, if you like. Here they are:
First, your aspirations are your possibilities, so keep your aspirations always high. We often complain about scarcity in India. But remember, the combination of scarcity and aspiration can create disruptive and game changing innovations.
Second, I strongly believe that there is no limit to human endurance, no limit to human achievement and no limit to human imagination, excepting the limits you put on your mind yourself. So be `limitless’ in terms of your imagination.
Third, there is no substitute to hard work for becoming successful. I have myself worked 24×7, week after week, month after month, year after year and will do so till I take my last breath. The golden rule is the following. Work hard in silence. Let success make the noise.
Fourth, like instant coffee, there is no instant success. Your overnight success is always a result of everything that you have done through that moment. If you really look closely, most overnight success took a long time, as Steve Job famously said.
Fifth, again about success. Please remember that success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing, as the legendary footballer Pele, who reached an ultimate pinnacle of success in life, had said.
Sixth, it is wrong to wait for the opportunities to knock on your door. If opportunity does not knock, build a door.
Seventh, remember, innovator is one who sees what everyone else sees, but thinks of what none else thinks. Indeed, if you master the art of visualizing the invisible, you can make even seemingly impossible, possible.
Eighth, continue to be creative. Creativity does not get exhausted. The more you use creativity, the more you will have it.
Ninth, when someone tells you that it can’t be done, take it that it is more a reflection of his or her limitation, not yours. Remember, innovator is one, who does not know that it cannot be done.
Tenth, I have always said that I in every Indian must stand for innovation, not for inhibition or imitation. Indeed, remember it is better to fail in originality, than succeed in imitation.
And as I end, I will like to appeal to all of us to fulfill the dream of our Hon’ble President — Indian universities and educational institutions to figure in the top hundred in the world. For this, we as a nation need to move with absolute determination and unflinching commitment. Let us take a pledge.
– We in India will make a transition from being a hesitant private sector supporter to a strong practitioner of privately managed non-profit institutions of higher education.
– We will do away from being a tentative destination for occasional foreign students to be a preferred global destination for foreign students.
– We will change the image of being a suspicious viewer of foreign institutions to aggressive partner and competitor of foreign institutions.
– We will move from minor follower and a player in research and innovation to a global leader and a giant in research and innovation.
– We will be an aggressive disruptive innovator rather than a `safety first’ incremental innovator.
– We will be a confident and competitive intellectual property promoter rather than being protective and restrictive intellectual property practitioner.
– Instead of being copier of `best practices’ in education and research, we will become the creator of `next practices’ in education and research.
– And finally, we will move from an occasional world-class university builder to a builder of many leading universities in the pack of world-class universities, ranked in the top 100 in the world.
And it is these paradigm shifts in our attitudes, in our aspirations and in our actions that will propel us to reimagine and reinvent India of our dream, as a great nation, occupying its rightful place in the comity of nations, which is right up there at the top.