The use of information and communication technology to help top scorers from rural areas where connectivity is a joke sounds like an Utopian dream. But Professor RV Raja Kumar decided to take up the challenge in 2009 when he was called to head Rajiv Gandhi University of Knowledge Technologies (RGUKT), which aims to extend quality education to students from the hinterland. RGUKT admits 6,000 students annually for a six-year integrated course, which is equivalent to a BTech programme.
A graduate in electronics and communication engineering from Andhra University, Kumar decided to “serve the mother state” after carefully considering the proposal. Taking charge of three residential campuses at Basara, Nuzvid and RK Valley was a mammoth task, recalls the vice-chancellor. “When I joined in February 2010, the first batch of students were in second year of pre-university. There was ‘no engineering’ in the academics, including faculty, laboratories and curricula and regulations. The students were expected to move into first-year of engineering in July. To top it, there were some issues like pending construction bills worth Rs 150 crore. Construction was stopped and some students were protesting over the ‘learning-by-doing’ mode of education. Fortunately, some good initiatives were taken earlier on for infrastructure building and I received the support of Professor KC Reddy, the then chairman of AP State Council of Higher Education,” says the professor, who is on a five-year leave from faculty of electronics and communication engineering at Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur (IIT-KGP). Kumar credits the various administrative roles he undertook at IIT-KGP for his success. “In 2006, I became the dean of academic affairs at IIT-KGP and that helped me while designing the curriculum for our students. As students come here soon after clearing their SSC examination, we have a six-year window to prepare them to become excellent engineers. Also, our students learn the basics of information technology quite early, which aids with their preparations to enter the workforce,” says Kumar.
The vice-chancellor then goes on to explain the process of selecting students. “In collaboration with the SSC board, we select students who are the top performers in government schools and prepare a first list before results are announced. This is to avoid poaching by corporate colleges, which offer coaching for various competitive examinations. After receiving applications, we have observed that almost 60 per cent of candidates from our list opt for RGUKT. Though we had initially regulated the entry and reserved 85 per cent for rural students, we have changed our rules following a High Court order,” he says. “However, rural students from government schools are given an advantage during selection as 0.4 Grade Point Average (GPA) is added to their overall GPA considering the limited opportunities available to them,” says Kumar, who believes the university will continue to provide opportunities to rural and deprived students.
The first batch of students is set to graduate in May 2014 and the VC envisions an able engineering workforce. “The first batch of 6,000 students will excel in competitive examinations such as GATE and IES as we aim to create good engineers who excel in domain knowledge. Opportunities are not uniform. Intellect can be born anywhere irrespective of the background,” says Kumar, who was part of the team that built the SONAR homing system for the first torpedo in India. Of the two parallel worlds — academics and administration — he straddles, Kumar does miss teaching and research, though he continues to guide students for doctoral work. “When I accepted the offer to lead RGUKT, I was in the middle of projects including a Rs 1.8 crore initiative sponsored by Vodafone at IIT-KGP and another on cognitive radio. Though the pace of research is constrained by the administrative responsibilities, I enjoy teaching the course on introduction to electronics through contact classes at various campuses as well as the orientation class for the incoming batch of students,” he says. His tenure will end in February 2015. “My tenure at RGUKT has given me a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction and hopefully the next two years would be as satisfying.”