With nearly 40 years’ experience of being an educator par excellence, expert materials scientist Dr. Kuldeep Raina, Vice Chancellor of the Bengaluru’s Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences (RUAS), talks to Education Post’s Tanay Kumar about his undying love for teaching.
Tell us about your experience as a leader in innovative education. How does your university ensure that students get the best guidance?
Education is an evolving system. One can’t become a great teacher in a day. One might have a great idea, but how one explains that idea, that is what matters.
I have been teaching for close to 40 years. My students are like my family – I grow with them, learn from them, they learn from me. The journey has been nothing less than fascinating. And my experience at RUAS over that last one year has been fantastic, to say the least.
In the teaching profession, you think more of giving than taking. And when you’re leading a fraternity of educators, you are dealing with the best of minds. Be it an assistant professor, an associate professor or a professor, we don’t differentiate between them based on their level of knowledge – they are all brilliant.
At RUAS, we ensure that there is no compromise on infrastructure. It’s to make certain that students are more involved in learning rather than wondering they could have gone to a better college.
We emphasize the need to teach students in a manner that they fear exams. We teach them in a way that they look forward to an examination. We have all the necessary specializations to inspire and educate students to become skilled professionals once they leave college with a degree. After all, wherever they go after graduating, they forever carry the RUAS brand with them.
Talk us through your academic journey.
Curiosity has always been my best friend right through my education. Even now, when I am teaching a class, I attempt to find different ways to solve a particular problem.
Research has been another important part of my academic journey. Research is a phenomenon of reinventing something – to look at any theory or solution with a different perspective and possibly a better solution. Some of the papers I wrote were acknowledged in the best of academic journals, which gave a boost to my confidence.
Citing international journals, studying new ideas and sharing those ideas with students, giving students assignments, assessing and evaluating the assignments – it’s made me learn a lot. I have, till date, taught more than 3,000 students, and it gives me immense pleasure to know that.
The Indian government, like the Department of Science and Technology (DST) or the Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), was kind enough to support my research ideas.
And research without curiosity is not possible.
You did your post-doctorate research from the University of Manchester in the UK. Can you point out some differences between Indian and foreign universities?
Each country has its own regulatory procedure to follow when it comes to education. For example, Indian universities follow the University Grants Commission (UGC) norms, technical education comes under the umbrella of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). All regulatory bodies try to ensure that all institutions are up to a certain standard at the very least.
There is a global stratification of education. It means, in our country, we were training students according to Indian standards, which meant that they were not skilled enough to get jobs abroad.
What they have done in the West is matured their education system. And so has India – the situation today is far better than what it was 35 – 40 years ago.
At one time, with great educational institutions like Nalanda, Takshila etc. and great research scholars, India was the fountainhead of knowledge. But India went through a lot of destruction in the medieval period, which many countries in the West did not. So, they could stabilize certain good educational procedures that were apt for innovation and creativity. India is slowly, but surely, getting there.
India’s New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 will prove to be trend-setting chapter that will set up a great educational foundation for future generations.
Take for example the Covid19 period, when India proved to the world that it can develop its own vaccine. And these vaccines were sent to those countries we once borrowed vaccines from. The talent in our country is making it happen.
What are some of the areas students should focus their energies on in the present scheme of things?
Skill is going to play a very important role. More than just a degree, the knowledge behind the degree is key.
The Indian education system is faced with a challenge, that is focused learning. For example, if one has better internet connectivity, one can explore lots of tools, research literature on the internet without the need to go to a library. Internet is exploding with information and misinformation. Learning the right thing – that is the experienced learning students, and people at large, need.
Various Indian universities have now come up with focus on experienced learning of synergizing theory and practice.
Some decades back, entrepreneurship was limited to only families that had been in business for generations. But now, our curriculum has incorporated entrepreneurship as a proper study program. Quite like in the West, Indian universities are also emphasizing on the importance of being a job provider rather than a job seeker.
But we still have a way to go. The seeds of entrepreneurship need to be sown into the child’s head right at the school level.
Then again, in my school days, I had never heard of “knowledge economy”. But today, I have seen many high school students who are aware that knowledge is economy.
You have attained considerable research funding from various sources. What is the procedure to get such funding?
First, I would say, the idea. Your idea should be a noble one. Public and private sectors start supporting your idea when they see nobility and something new in it. To achieve the nobility and novelty, good amount of homework needs to be done before submitting the proposal or the idea to the government or corporates.
Corporates would only invest money when they see good returns on their investments. The government, on the other hand, won’t care about the returns in terms of monetary profit, but rather to do something innovative, something new.
Proposals should also include the duration of completion of the project in question. Plus, the new idea or the proposal should also show its relevance after three or five years. It means, the idea should be future driven.
Many of my proposals for government projects were rejected because the panel just didn’t like them. But I would go back and work more on those same ideas because I believed in them.
How has the experience of guiding research scholars been for you?
I have been a guide to about 40 research scholars and it has been a really fulfilling experience. During the first meeting with each one of them, I would condition them mentally to be patient while doing their research. We spent lot of time together and shared several ideas about experiments. Whenever there was a mistake, we would both own up the responsibility.
Spending time with these scholars from across India was an enriching experience for me. I always feel proud looking back, that I worked with such a great bunch of students. And we worked together as a team. It is important to have students who are obedient so they can take the research ideals forward.
All the research scholars I guided are doing very well in their lives. Some of them are working overseas, some have now become guides to other research scholars.
This feeling, that you helped shape someone’s life, is why I fell in love with the teaching profession.
Any message for the youth who aspire for a career in science?
Be committed to your work, and do it honestly and confidently. No one else, but you, will justify your work. Never be afraid of failure. Stay humble.
A fantastic example of brilliance combined with humility is India’s former President late Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who had pretty much nothing except a brilliant mind. And he created things that proved to be everything for mankind.
Have patience. Don’t lose your focus and intent. Build a solid and committed team, sit with your team members, converse with them.
Lastly, to achieve your aims, you have to compromise on a few things. Be disciplined about your aim.