Universities and Regional Development

By R S Tolia • Random Thoughts • 5 Mar 2015

“ In recent years,” noted the Twelfth Plan document, “ higher education has isolated itself from the society resulting in breakdown of a vital social contract ”, and it exhorts the Universities and Colleges that they  “should engage more intensively than before with wider society and contribute to the local and regional development.” Uttarakhand Governor Dr KK Paul’s meeting with the Vice Chancellors of the nine state Universities last Tuesday comes as a timely reminder to the Captains of these institutions of their roles as intellectual leaders of the society. In fact, the Chancellor went on to flesh –out their roles further by suggesting that the over-all atmosphere of the campus must pulsate with a desire to constantly strive for qualitative improvement in academics buttressed by adequate infrastructure like state of the art laboratories, well-stocked libraries, facilities for sports and cultural activities. The forgotten social contract with the society is now to be revived and strengthened  via collaboration with five villages under the Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana ( SAGY ), whereby every Parliamentarian has been asked to pick up five villages each for integrated development in his or her Parliamentary Constituency.

Universities as Centres of Excellence

A standard of sorts was prescribed when the nine state universities were reportedly allowed to pick a specific theme of their own choice, obviously which they must have picked up as their current strength, and asked to work-out a plan of action for developing as a Centre of Excellence. Nothing could have been more practical than leaving it to the Universities themselves to come forward and suggest what they perceive as their USP, the Unique Selling Point as it were, and work on it. Going by the themes that these nine state Universities have reportedly identified for themselves it would be quite instructive to reflect on whether these institutions of higher learning have it in themselves to make any dent in near future, on the one hand, and what all they would need to do if they really wish to emerge as a Centre of Excellence, given their immediate background, on the other.

The Universities : Old and New                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Of the nine state Universities, while two Universities, Kumaon and GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, date back to the Uttar Pradesh era i.e. pre 2000; the remaining seven, Doon University, Uttarakhand Open University, Uttarakhand Technical University, Sanskrit University, Ayurved University, Horticulture and Forestry University are a post Uttaranchal/Uttarakhand creations, each created under its very own Statute, with the latest, Sri Dev Suman University, forced to be created to accommodate the role of an umbrella University, with essentially an affiliation-role, which hitherto was played by the HNB Garhwal University, Srinagar, which has now been upgraded into a central University. Of the nine, under discussion, thus Kumaon University, becomes the doyen among all eleven, pre-dating even the HNB Garhwal University, with huge campuses at Almora and Pithoragarh. It is on the card that the SS Jena Campus at Almora is soon to join as the tenth state University, with focus on Education, as a discipline, and very rightly so, given its excellence in the field of Education faculty, which has excellent credentials. That makes it a perfect 10. However, how many of these have the credentials to reach that perfection, that would be a moot point, and an interesting story to watch ! If the state Universities have a social obligation, a contract to honour and an obligation to develop the region, the same principle applies to the growing number of Universities, regular and all the so-called Deemed to be Universities. Will they also follow the call given by the Chancellor ? There seems no reason to suggest otherwise, and pray why not ?                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

The Themes of Excellence

Administratively speaking while department of Higher Education itself becomes responsible to carry out the new mandate prescribed by the Governor Dr Paul in respect of  The Doon, Kumaon, Open, Sanskrit, and Sri Dev Suman, it would be Agriculture department which will be required to support the GBP Agriculture and Horticulture & Forestry, whereas it is the Medical Education department that would be required to back up the Ayurved University. So, the administrative departments will have their tasks cut out for them when these institutions of higher learning present their Framework for administrative, financial and other clearances, if this new direction given by the Governor cum Chancellor has any chance of bearing any fruits.

The themes chosen by the Universities present an interesting mix, interesting in the sense that while some of them seem to have been picked up quite appropriately and thus stand a chance of early realization, given that they receive support from various administrative outfits that already exist in the state and given that back-up directions also get issued by the related administrative departments, and allied outfits, taking a cue from the push that has come from the Raj Bhawan itself. The Universities also have to quickly work-out a Framework to achieve the goal set out, identifying the stakeholders, partners and disparate streams that must now converge at the proposed Centre of Excellence. This Framework must also ensure that all that a University has also works towards the very same goal. The University has to look Outwards, as well as look Inwards, to become a centre of Excellence. Its like having a Vision, a Mission and the Values that will go realize that Vision, to be pursued in a Mission-mode, no less.

A Few Tips

Here is a SWOT Analysis, University-wise, offered unsolicited.

Doon University:

  • Well positioned, has a School of Environment & Natural Resource, armed with a good laboratory, faculty, PhD Research Candidates, increasing number of students,
  • Development and Finalization of the State Action Plan on Climate Change and periodical follow-up with all departments; preparation of State Environment Report and its Annual Updating; Various activities of environment monitoring needs to be allotted by the State Pollution Control Board ; involvement in the activities of the State Bio-diversity Board; Close association with the Forest and environment Department and their activities; PhD Research projects on Van Panchayats, Pollution control and monitoring; Involvement in Land, Forest and Hydro-power related Assessment Reports could make the School, the Faculty and the PhD Candidates make the University a Centre of Excellence in shortest possible time.
  • Organic linkages via MOUs with ICIMOD, SAARC centres, TERI, WII, FRI, Wadia Institute and departments of Forest, Environment, Wild life, Irrigation, AHEC, Roorkee, HAPPRC, Srinagar, GBPHIED, Almora and NGOs like PSI, HARC etc could make it a major Centre for Excellence; UCOST, SAC, DMMC, THDC etc could easily supply required resources besides the MOEF &CC and Department of Science & Technology; Faculty and Research Staff would require funding assistance; Policy related assignments could be carried out with the help of Centre for Public Policy
  • The University must develop further on two International Seminars held recently; first on Development of Hydro-power and another by FRI and ICIMOD, on Mountain Forestry, as well as on Sustainable Eco Tourism at WII; It must hold Annual International follow-up Seminars and similar events on Climate Change themes. 

GBP University of Agriculture and Technology :

  • Already an acknowledged Centre of Excellence, not of Uttarakhand but of India; the First Asian Agriculture University, acknowledged as the harbinger of the Green Revolution in India; Immediate task is to provide it a World-Class leadership, as its indeed a pity that it should remain head-less for more than two years ! There must not be any compromise on its Vice Chancellorship, and it must get its due, a World-renowned Agriculture Scientist ( ICAR ) who is also an able administrator; cannot brook any further delay, every day delay is a matter of gravest concern
  • Its alumni are all over the world, heading prestigious institutions in the field of agronomy and related subjects; the new full time Vice Chancellor must leverage his links with ICAR, get projects from CGIAR and so on; revamp each of the nine Colleges dedicated to Agriculture, Fisheries, Horiculture, Agro-Forestry, Livestock, Poultry and so on; The School of Agro-Business was a pioneering innovation, and must be immediately activated and upscaled; it must develop a Vision of 25 years on Mountain Agriculture;
  • Mountain Agriculture theme should become its focus, as now most of the states have their own Universities and various ICAR Institutions to look after their concern; Mountain Agriculture architecture must be supported by adding Agriculture in all Intermediate Colleges, as special subject, and a pyramedical agricultural structure of mountain agriculture teaching and practice requires a major thrust; whatever has been done at the Vivekanand Parvatiya Krishi Anusnadhan Kendra ( VPKAS), Almora, another ICAR Institutions must be mainstreamed by this University;
  • Agro-forestry, the poplar success story should be replicated in the mountain wastelands, as Mountain Agriculture is nothing but Integrated Farming and Family based farming; Pantnagar, Vivekanand and the Horticulture and Forestry University Bharsar  must synergize their efforts;
  • Organic farming must be developed as an alternate farming for all 10 hill districts, as it has not been taken seriously by this University so far; collaboration between Turai Seed Corporation, Organic Commodity Development Board and Seed Certification and Organic Seed Certification must be developed as a major employment generation activity by all these Universities and Commodity Boards and Corporations.
  • What GB Pantnagar University has done to develop Uttarakhand Turai-Bhabar, one of the highest productivity regions in entire India, has a great potential to be offered as a Package for developing the adjoin backward regions of Western Nepal, some 20 plus districts; recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Nepal, could be leveraged to offer as a agricultural development of Western Nepal adjoining Uttarakhand ( across Kali river ) with the help by Pantnagar University; such a project could be got prepared by Pantnagar University in collaboration with IIM, Kashipur, and this Package could be offered by Governor Paul to premier Narendra Modi; such a project would revive the financial position as well as reputation of GB Pantnagar University.

Horticulture and Forestry University, Bharsar

  • The Vice Chancellor would do well to camp at Bharsar campus and the administrative department must become pro-actively solve all pending administrative and financial matters; it would be better to learn from the neighbouring states of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir; as an initiative of Regional Cooperation, being encouraged by the Government of India it would far better to enter into a long term collaboration with the Horticulture Universities of Himachal Pradesh and the Sher-i-Kashmir University, at Srinagar; as it would be easier to access the progress they have made in advance cultivars and the seedlings produced there; the temptation to start on our own has already cost us 15 precious years;
  • Uttarakhand has made major progress in cultivation of Tea in the hilly regions; tea-processing unit has been established at Kausani and some 600 hectares of Darjeeling grade tea is today cultivated in Uttarakhand, most of it has already been turned into organic; this University would do well to develop farming and commercial models of sustainable tea cultivation and develop further the tea catchments already developed; MGNREGA funds have been imaginatively deployed which can further be developed; it is estimated ( Land Bank ) that Uttarakhand has a potential of covering more than 18,000 hectares of Darjeeling grade tea in the hilly regions; this University should immediately take up and develop its own expertise in tea cultivation in the mountain regions, linkage with Toklai, deployment of technical experts and systematic development of tea could be its immediate target;
  • Private sector has shown great results in growing peas/frozen peas, flowers and the SIDCUL Complex at Chafi, Naini Tal district deserves to be promoted by this University and the the poly-house and protective cultivation, training of farmers and development of horticulture entrepreneurs needs to be taken up on a Mission mode;
  • In the trans-Himalayan regions like Pithoragarh, Chamoli and other parts of Garhwal several plant species like Seabuckthorn and Taxus baccata etc  have great potential, these deserve to be first taken up as horticultural cultivation, their regimes procured from DRDO set up like FRL, Leh and large scale cultivation taken up say with the help of M/sDabur, who have now set up  Research & Development Centre near Gadarpur, in Udham Singh Nagar; collaboration with private units like Dabur, Patanjali and other export units can quickly cover a very large area in trans Himalayan regions under these valuable commercial plantations; MOUs could be entered with them as M/s Dabur had done in Nepal etc.     

Kumaon & Ayurved Universities:

  • Medicinal Plants and Herbal development have been shown, which would require very special efforts on the part of both;
  • Uttarakhand already has Aromatic Plants Centre, Sea Quin, and HRDI, the latter a great disappointment considering the assistance that it has received over the years; while the Aromatic Plants Centre has progressed and has great potential for up-scaling but it calls for re-visiting of the original plan that was devised for medicinal plants development; Medicinal Plants and Herbal Farming deserves a re-look at the entire architecture as it has seriously bogged down in the secretarial fie and a near total absence of knowledge of the sector and lack of leadership; it would be best developed via the Ayurvedic and private sector route; doubtful if this centre of excellence has any chance of taking off.

Technical University, Open University               

  • The National Skills Development Mission along with the SGRY component of the Rural Development Ministry’s National Livelihood Mission’s Training component offer huge potential for Skills-led employment opportunities that Governor Dr KK Paul desired the Universities to look into. In the post NITI Aayog approach one of the three Groups of Chief Ministers constituted after the first meeting talks of Skills, and this also has to be read with the two Task Forces that have to be constituted, one of Poverty Alleviation and the other on Agricultural revival. The National Skills Development Mission and the National Skills Development Corporation have undertaken massive surveys and given the state of present attention on the Livelihoods Mission and Skills Development it appears extremely unlikely that in near future Uttarakhand will be anywhere other than ‘modestly satisfactory’, which in World Bank parlance has equivalence with what is termed as Zero ! Uttarakahnd’s track record in poverty alleviation and Skills development efforts must worry our civil servants as well as public representatives alike. An affiliating university like the Technical University, which does not have a full-time Vice Chancellor for quite some time, seems an unlikely candidate to be made responsible for “pharmaceuticals” and how the Open University could acquire excellence in “Automobiles” remains to be figured out by many, like this author.

Tail-piece:

Sri Dev Suman University, another affiliating University, if it has anything common with the Tehri Lake and assumedly the tourism potential that this 42 km plus 22 km backwater is said to have, is just its name, Sri Dev Suman. In sum, the Technical, the Open and Sri Dev Suman, as these stand today, clearly appear three non-starters, among a class of nine state Universities. However, one would always be happy to be proved wrong, if these pass muster when Dr Paul reviews the progress of this new initiative. The joke that one often heard – that hitherto our Universities had just three functions, namely, Admissions, Examinations and of course, occasional Convocations ! The Semester regime commenced the change, the UGC Regulations of 2009 made the PhD a bit tougher and to these two, development as a Centre of Excellence has added some real substance. Higher education can do with far more attention. At times the Top Down, as an approach to Regional Development , can also work, at least as a trigger. Thank you Chancellor Dr KK Paul.  

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