Enthusiastic researchers

A pioneer in many fields, Jadavpur university has managed to achieve a lot with limited funds.

Published: 19th August 2013 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th August 2013 02:13 PM   |  A+A-

The spirit of nationalism in Bengal is firmly rooted in its rich culture and literature. Jadavpur, which was formed as a technical institute in 1906, is an outcome of the independence movement. It was converted into Jadavpur University (JU) in 1955. Located centrally on Raja SC Mullick Road, it is and never devoid of activities. “Jadavpur has from the beginning been unconventional,” starts their vice chancellor, Prof Souvik Bhattacharya. “To give you an idea, in 1956 we started a course in comparative literature, and then began the tradition of mentoring other literature departments that formed later across the country. Cut to 2013, we are now starting a PG diploma course, which has been approved by MHRD, including funds, in digital humanities and cultural informatics, which is unique in India. You will not find such an enthusiastic group of researchers elsewhere.”

On the flipside, JU has a modest campus of 58 acres and a frugal approach to executing some pioneering ideas, owing to inadequate funding which is “a miniscule fraction of the liberal funding that is usually received by Central institutes,” says Bhattacharya.

The university has another 26-acre campus in Salt Lake City. The land was granted by the government of West Bengal and houses instrumentation and electronics, information technology, printing and construction engineering and power engineering and instrumentation departments, a school of mobile computing and communication, and a cricket ground fit to host a Ranji match. However, the university is desperate for both space and funds.

UG, PG and PhDs are offered by the different faculties. The faculty of arts offers courses in Bengali, comparative literature, economics, education, English, film studies, history, international relations, library and information science, physical education, sociology, Sanskrit and philosophy. The faculty of engineering and technology offers chemical, civil, computer science, construction, electrical, electronics and communication, food technology and biochemistry, instrumentation, mechanical, metallurgical and material engineering. Power, printing and production engineering are other popular fields. BSc and MSc are offered in instrumentation science, chemistry, geological sciences, mathematics and physics.

Diplomas are offered in multimedia and animation, welding technology, medical laboratory technology, radiography diagnostic and optometry. PG diplomas and certificate courses are offered in languages like Bengali, French, German, Sanskrit, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Portuguese, multimedia and web technology, and risk management and financial engineering, and applied remote sensing and GIS. The university offers a UGC-sponsored one-year PG diploma course in human rights and duties education with the Department of International Relations. Some unique certificate courses are acupuncture, energy management and audit, applied sociology, microprocessor applications, medical transcription, women and legal literacy, medical sales executive training, ultrasonic and magnetic particle testing, etc. Canadian studies, African literatures and cultures, European studies, Marxian studies, Refugee studies, theatre studies, Sir CV Raman Centre for Physics and Music, Hariprasanna Biswas Centre for India-China Cultural Studies, Centre for Translation of Indian Literatures, Sri Aurobindo Studies, V Ravi Chandran Centre for Pharmaceutical Sciences and many more initiatives are undertaken by JU. These myriads of courses attract students from all over the country and world. There are at least 40 foreign nationals studying here through self-financed programmes or exchange programmes.

Fee structure

Joint registrar, Sanjay Gopal Sarkar says, “It would be an understatement to say that quality education comes very cheap at JU. Our tuition fee for regular non-IT courses is as low as `250 pa. In addition to this, we offer financial assistance to students from lower income groups through concession in fees, stipends, SC/ST, physically handicapped and physical education scholarships.” The tuition fee, though, is presently being revised to overcome their financial crunch.

JU holds a strong record in interdisciplinary research through departments like schools of cognitive science, advanced studies on industrial pollution control engineering, automotive engineering, bioscience engineering, cultural texts and records, education technology, energy studies, illumination science, engineering and design, international relations and strategic studies, environmental studies, environmental radiation, archaeological sciences, laser science and engineering, linguistics and language technology, materials science and nanotechnology, media, communication and culture, natural product studies, nuclear studies, women’s studies, nuclear studies and application, mobile computing and communication and water resources engineering.

The Bichitra Tagore Online Variorum project was sanctioned by the Indian Government to commemorate Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary. The project is being funded by the Union ministry of culture. It includes all of Tagore’s written work and has been executed by the School of Cultural Texts and Records at JU. It includes text transcripts of his work obtained from Santiniketan, a collation engine that will enable comparison of different versions, checklist of contents, and digital images of all his printed material. So far, 47,520 pages of Tagore’s manuscripts in English and Bengali have been archived. It can be accessed at www.bichitra.jdvu.ac.in

Their central library is the third largest in the state, with over 6,14,846 volumes of books on record, 80,000 bound volumes of journals, 13,000 theses and dissertations, and 37,000 items of non-book materials such as reports, pamphlets, maps and micro-forms. The software used by The Centre for Digital Library and Documentation was developed by MIT, USA, and Hewlett Packard.

Challenges

Prof Bhattacharya is a man with a huge responsibility — to do much with so little. “I can’t explain the financial crunch we face. Looking at two decades of performance and research analytics, primarily in science and technology, and the gradient at which JU has improved is remarkable. We have been given Rs 36.8 crore, a jump from the 15 crore allocated four years back. But considering the number of students, faculty and staff we have on this small campus and the number of schools we have, it is quite a task. Around Rs 160 crore has been allocated by the state for 11,000 students. Around 870 teaching positions have been sanctioned. We also have a space crunch. Unless we create spaces, we won’t get students. Without them, our research output will not be great, and then the research funding will also drop. Higher education doesn’t come cheap anymore.”

He elaborates that people here come from different demographics and due to the high fee structure at other renowned institutions, they cannot afford to go there. Once admitted, they do have access to scholarships. But getting there is difficult. “Our faculty salaries are lower than central universities. They have very little medical support and no allowances. It is difficult to compete with other universities when you have this sort of financial crunch. We can’t experiment with the structure or timings because of various constraints like being a non-residential university,” he says.

This professor of mechanical engineering, adds, “I miss teaching terribly. I tried teaching last semester for four different groups. The time inside the classroom invigorates you. But this administrative duty is demanding.”

Immediate plans

The university is in talks with DRDO and CSIR for some research initiatives and believes their trump card is their human resource. “We are working towards raising funds and are looking at alternatives. Sponsored and funded research is one area we are doing reasonably well. We managed to scrape a fairly decent level of funding through consultancy projects from industry — we made close to `10 crore in 2012,” he says. “In terms of location, we are very blessed to be in the city, but are very vulnerable to the political environment. Any minor event has ripples on campus. Our presence in the city hurts us on and off, but we take it in our stride. The campus in Salt Lake City has taken on a few departments, which is a big relief.”

Prof Bhattacharya believes that ratings are important today. “As institutions, one can claim many things. What sort of credibility do these claims carry? How do you send your wards to these institutions without a comprehensive review? Agreed, the yardstick is sometimes not fair — they don’t address developing countries like ours. THE and Reuters are now conducting a detailed survey to rank us,” he says.

JU’s performance in the last survey NAAC did in 2008 was good — 3.61 on a four-point-scale – third highest in the country. “Several central universities have done worse, considering the funding they have at their disposal. We can do with a bit more autonomy and funding. There is room for improvement. The potential of our students and faculty is not fully utilised, unfortunately. We can’t send all our teachers abroad to present papers or for conferences — we don’t have a Faculty Development Fund. Cumulative Professional Development Allowance is also missing here, which has been prescribed in the Sixth Pay Commission.”

JU offers a certain freedom to its professors, a creative ambience and a strong record in interdisciplinary research for the last 15 years. The number of PhDs, journals and publications is very telling of the work done here. “More than 400 students read for PhDs in the last academic year. Science has 203 from science, 140 from engineering and the rest from humanities. These numbers are cyclic, but it’s an achievement. JU needs to build inviting spaces, in terms of labs, hostels and classrooms. The way we are working now is not sustainable,” opines Prof Bhattacharya.

Solution

Prof Bhattacharya shares, “We are fairly disappointed with the 12th Plan in terms of fund release. We are hoping the Centre notices our work and allocates more funds. Maybe they should look at performance-linked funding, which should give us a huge relief to take care of our faculty and expand our infrastructure.”

International rankings

  • The Scimago Institutions rankings (SIR) World Reports annual series 2012 has ranked Jadavpur University at 12 in India among all institutes of higher education including the IITs, IISc and CSIR & DST Labs and was ranked second among universities.
  • University Ranking by Academic Performance (URAP) Research Laboratory, an overseas outfit, has ranked Jadavpur University 10th in India in its 2012-13 report considering academic indicators.
  • NESTA, UK’s innovation foundation, rates JU as a leading research institution. The evaluation was done in terms of number of world-class papers published during the years 2001-10.

Prof Souvik Bhattacharya

Took up the role of vice-chancellor of Jadavpur University in July 2012. He was earlier a professor of mechanical engineering at IIT-Kharagpur since 1991 and served as dean of student affairs too. An alumnus of Jadavpur University, he completed his BTech in mechanical engineering (1976-1981), Prof Bhattacharya has a long association with Jadavpur. He completed his MS from University of Connecticut and subsequently, his PhD from Texas A&M University.

His research areas include thermal science, thermodynamic optimisation, energy engineering and natural circulation loops. He was honoured the Fellow of Indian National Academy of Engg in 2006 and has several publications to his name. In his four-year term at Jadavpur, he hopes to give the much needed importance to academics and student-centric activities.

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