BEST UNIVERSITIES

Schools of thought

Indian universities now focus on research, innovation and industry-academia interface

DSC_6692 Working model: Aligarh Muslim University has tweaked its curriculum to make it employment friendly | Aayush Goel

A sprawling and colourful campus, with students zipping around on bikes and bicycles, makes Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in Uttar Pradesh lively and vibrant. This nearly-century-old, multidisciplinary university with a focus on cutting edge research is one of the toppers in THE WEEK-Hansa Research best universities survey. “We are specifically working on different applications of nanotechnology—in the areas of health care, agriculture, energy, environment and water purification,” said Professor Absar Ahmad, director of the newly set-up interdisciplinary nanotechnology centre at AMU. “We are also collaborating with different organisations to make seawater potable, using nanotechnology. It would be available at a fraction of the cost of the conventional methods for desalination.”

Our focus on research is strong and our students have more than 900 patents. A hundred of these were filed in the last five years. - Atul Chauhan, chancellor, Amity university, Noida (seen below with students)
We trained our students not just in their subject areas, but also assisted them to become entrepreneurs. We have more than 50 incubated companies. - Chenraj Roychand, founder chairman of Jain Group of Institutions
We are aiming to work with AIIMS to look for possibilities in joint research. The aim will be to see how technology can help in medical sciences. - Prof M. Balakrishnan, deputy director (strategy and planning), IIT Delhi

Most of the universities THE WEEK team visited for the survey gave emphasis to research and innovation, tweaking the curriculum according to the requirements of the industry. These universities have a research-based approach, and aim to make their students employable and industry-ready.

The interdisciplinary nanotechnology centre at AMU has around 15 students who are doing their BTech in nanotechnology. “We are also working on a project given to us by the department of biotechnology, government of India, based on transitional research on biologically produced nanomaterials, and their biomedical applications,” said Ahmad. Simi Matloon and Sumairah Kareem, who are pursuing MTech in nanotechnology at AMU, said that the exposure they got was unique. Their research project on gold and silver nanoparticles with applications in health care had been a successful one. The department has also recently introduced PhD in nanotechnology.

Tech support: Jain University, Bengaluru, has a dedicated learning hub called JUx and a centre for virtual learning and innovation to support technology-driven education | Bhanu Prakash Chandra Tech support: Jain University, Bengaluru, has a dedicated learning hub called JUx and a centre for virtual learning and innovation to support technology-driven education | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

The students at this university score over many universities and institutions located in the metros as far as employment opportunities are concerned. Students from AMU’s electrical engineering department secured jobs with many firms such as Accenture, Siemens and Tejas Networks, and some cleared the Indian Engineering Services exams. Some students like Maryam Viqar returned to the university for higher studies after working for a while. After her BTech, Viqar worked for a Middle-East firm dealing with fire alarm systems. She returned to pursue her MTech as she felt that it would improve career prospects.

“Our electrical engineering department has been given special status by the department of science and technology, government of India, and we get research grants from them,” said Professor Mohammad Hasan, head of the department, who has a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, UK. Professor Tabassum Shahab, pro vice-chancellor of the university and professor of paediatrics at the university medical college, said: “The specialty of our university is that we have regular classes, and exams are held on time. Our academic schedule is on track always, without any delays.” He added that AMU was the only Central university in India, apart from the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), to have a medical college. “We have regular academic council meetings, where discussions are held to tweak the curriculum and make it employment-friendly,” said Shahab. “Usually we try to do minor revisions every semester. We also emphasise on the importance of high-end research in our university. Recently, we have increased the intake of PhD students.”

Interestingly, the university has also set up a solar power plant that has a total installed capacity of 4.5MW. “This solar photovoltaic installation is probably the one with the largest capacity in any academic institution in the country,” said Mohammad Rihan, convener of Green University Project, and member-in-charge of the electricity department at the AMU. “This plant generates approximately 20,000 units of electricity on a clear day. Our plant contributes significantly towards environment protection and the national solar mission. Considering these developments, the ministry of new and renewable energy has empanelled us to impart training to engineers of government-owned electricity distribution companies. Till date, we have trained around 200 engineers.”

National high: Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, has topped the list of multidisciplinary universities in the country | Aayush Goel National high: Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, has topped the list of multidisciplinary universities in the country | Aayush Goel

Another significant facility at AMU is its huge library, with almost 15 lakh books. In addition, there are around five crore e-books. It is open from 8am to 2am. Besides, there are sports facilities.

BHU in Varanasi is the third best multidisciplinary university in THE WEEK-Hansa Research survey. It has a self-sustained township with dairy farms, huge sports grounds and shops spread across the gigantic campus. Professor Rakesh Bhatnagar, the newly appointed vice-chancellor of the university, is on a mission to fill the 400 faculty positions that are vacant.

“When I joined as the vice-chancellor of BHU, the first thing that struck me was the size of the campus,” Bhatnagar told THE WEEK. “I was impressed by its founder Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya’s vision to have such a huge campus a hundred years ago. This is one of the largest residential campuses in Asia, with as many as 140 departments. Now, I am on a mission scouting the best people to fill these posts. As of now, we have around 2,000 highly qualified teachers. I would like to give more focus to innovation as that is what our country requires. We need to engage our students in research and development, especially in the drug-discovery sector. I am also working towards involving students in sports.”

Power push: Students at the electrical engineering department of Aligarh Muslim University | Aayush Goel Power push: Students at the electrical engineering department of Aligarh Muslim University | Aayush Goel

Professor Mallickarjun Joshi, coordinator of the internal quality assurance cell (IQAC), said that BHU is a very traditional university, and that it scores over other universities in terms of the range of subjects that it offers. He added that the medical college of the university has a 1,000-bed hospital, and has one of the largest trauma-care centres in the region. Patients have been coming in from as far as Nepal, not to talk of nearby states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.

“The medical college is also coming up with a cancer hospital,” said Joshi. “The institute of science has around 14 departments, and the physics department has had stalwarts in the field of science such as Professor C.N.R. Rao and Professor U.R. Rao. There is a central discovery centre, where all sophisticated instruments are installed and tested. Besides this, we have a large museum that has around 1.05 lakh artefacts, with 14,000 miniature paintings and around 32,000 coins. We have, of late, started a course in forensic science, and also a centre for research on genetic disorders. Many of our departments have a UNESCO chair, too.”

The research-oriented approach of the university helps students go beyond curriculum. For instance, Sukanya Sinha, who is pursuing her MSc in physics at BHU, said that it is compulsory for the students to do research while pursuing their postgraduation. “I am currently doing research in Hays mechanism,” said Sinha. “Once you choose your topic, it is your individual research.” Shubham Mishra, a postgraduate student of physics, said: “We have the freedom to choose the topic of research, based on our interest.”

Atul Chauhan | Aayush Goel Atul Chauhan | Aayush Goel

The department of performing arts at the university offers postgraduate courses in several streams of music and dance. The auditorium at the department is a beehive of activity, with students practising different forms of dance. “Our auditorium is different, as there are no seats,” said Professor Birendra Nath Mishra, dean of the department of performing arts. “In line with ancient tradition, the performances are witnessed by the audience, seated on the ground. Even the vice-chancellor has to sit on the ground.”

As far as technical universities are concerned, IIT Delhi is one of the best in the country, according to THE WEEK-Hansa Research survey. Professor M. Balakrishnan, who is the deputy director (strategy and planning) at IIT Delhi, told THE WEEK that right from the beginning, the IITs believed in hiring the best hands. “Before the IITs came up, there was no serious approach towards research,” said Balakrishnan. “After the formation of the IITs, the brightest brains were recruited to join as faculty, and it made all the difference.”

We are aiming to work with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to look for possibilities in joint research. The aim will be to see how technology can help in medical sciences. The joint research initiative is the norm in many institutions in the US and Europe.” IIT Delhi is also planning to set up science parks on its extended campus, near Sonepat in Haryana.

Chenraj Roychand | Bhanu Prakash Chandra Chenraj Roychand | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

Private universities like Amity University, Noida, one among the best private universities in the country as per the survey, are also aiming at making a mark in the field of research and innovation. Since this university has multiple campuses overseas, students get an opportunity to go to foreign campuses and interact with students and faculty there. The university has nearly 32,000 students.

“One of our greatest advantages is our multi-campus system, with campuses in the UK, Singapore, China, Romania, and the UAE,” said Atul Chauhan, chancellor, Amity University. “Our focus on research is strong and our students have more than 900 patents. A hundred of these were filed in the last five years. We also have 300 government-funded research projects.” The university also offers scholarships to nearly 15,000 students annually, at a cost of around 010 crore. The Amity Group is in expansion mode and plans to have its presence in 50 countries in the next ten years. “I feel that a rigid format in an education system kills creativity of the students,” said Chauhan. “Hence, we strongly believe that there should be a strong multidisciplinary approach, and that students should have the flexibility to combine subjects according to their interest.”

The huge campus of Amity University is a vibrant one, and besides providing international exposure, the students are given hands-on training in various fields. Saburi Khurana, who completed a course in corporate law from Amity, bagged a job with HCL. “We used to regularly have moot court sessions at Amity,” said Khurana. “I could brush up on my negotiation skills, and that has kept me in good stead. We also used to have regular sessions with senior persons from the corporate world, who used to guide us about corporate ethics.” Shrishti Yadav, who is doing her postgraduation in applied psychology at Amity, said that the internship the university had arranged for her with a practising psychologist gave her a unique exposure.

Private universities such as Jain University in Bengaluru also give importance to innovation. Chenraj Roychand, founder chairman of Jain Group of Institutions (JGI), told THE WEEK that the mantra of Jain University is to create measurable socio-economic impact through education. “A decade ago, there was hardly anyone talking about startups,” said Roychand. “But, we envisioned a need for entrepreneurs, and Jain University was one of the very first universities in the country to introduce the concept of ‘edupreneurship’. As part of the concept, we trained our students not just in their subject areas, but also assisted them to become entrepreneurs. We have more than 50 incubated companies under the initiatives taken by our university.”

Prof M. Balakrishnan | Aayush Goel Prof M. Balakrishnan | Aayush Goel

Jain University has a dedicated learning hub called JUx and a centre for virtual learning and innovation to support technology-driven education. Roychand also said that the curriculum plays a vital role in determining the quality of education. “We have developed a strategy under which we have co-opted all the stakeholders,” said Roychand. “These include professionals from various industries, well-known academics, students, our alumni and parents.” He added that while planning a curriculum, they make sure that it is industry-centric, and provides students with a strong foundation for their career, and at the same time enables them to pursue their higher studies. “We have developed strong collaborations with international universities, industry bodies and research organisations,” he said. “This provides us access to both intellectual resources and infrastructure, encouraging collaborative learning. For instance, our collaboration with Gartner Inc provides us with the latest trends in the technology sector. Our collaborations have also helped us to incorporate strong elements of practical components such as internships and projects at prestigious companies.”

He also explained that in order to provide choice, the university has introduced a number of new-age courses in energy management, aviation management and multimedia, to name a few. The university has also implemented the choice-based credit system to provide academic flexibility to candidates. Recently, Jain University was accorded graded autonomy status by the UGC. The laboratories at the university’s engineering campus have facilities such as wind-tunnels, and simulation technologies. One of the latest additions has been a fire lab at its global campus, established in collaboration with the UK-based Underwriters Laboratory. The university authorities claim that it is only the second education institution in India to have testing and training facilities in the field of fire engineering and testing.

The university is introducing new courses in emerging areas—BSc in gaming, BSc in business analytics, BTech in artificial intelligence and robotics. Overall, the university has around 16,000 students, of which 600 are research scholars.

The O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonepat, is aiming to carve a niche for itself in the higher education segment. “We stand apart from other universities in the country because of the global orientation of the institution, particularly in pedagogy, public service and international collaborations,” said Professor C. Raj Kumar, founding vice-chancellor of the university. “Our global partnerships are designed to create opportunities for students and faculty members, to expand their learning and research horizons.” He added that the university had established over 200 collaborations with leading universities and institutions, in more than 50 countries, since 2009. “Our collaborations take the form of faculty and student exchange programmes, joint research and publication activities, summer and winter schools, and, dual degree programmes with institutions including Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Columbia and Michigan,” said Kumar. “These also enable overseas students to spend an exchange semester on the JGU campus, complementing our aspiration to build an international student body. Most recently, we had students from Australia and Taiwan, spending time on the JGU campus, as part of our India Immersion programmes. We also do other short-term programmes for overseas students.”

Kumar said the university also offers unique programmes—MA in diplomacy, law and business, and BA in global affairs, liberal arts and humanities. “The contemporary social, political, economic and technological context makes it imperative that our students acquire the skills, but more importantly, the conceptual tools that are applicable across domains, and also across cultural spaces,” said Kumar.

Research is the main focus for private universities such as the SRM University at Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh. “Some of the focus areas for research currently include blue economy, alternative energy, bio-computing, quantum computing, poverty alleviation, and health and nutrition,” said P. Sathyanarayanan, president of SRM University. “Students also have various opportunities to participate in faculty research projects as part of their curriculum.” The focus on experiential learning, on-campus incubators, and the university’s Next Tech Lab, he said, offer plenty of opportunities to students for experimentation, learning, and developing academic depth. “The lab has won multiple hackathons, has been publishing in top journals, and has received validation from the finest professors around the world,” said Sathyanarayanan. “Recently, SRM University has signed an MoU with the Integral Coach Factory to develop India’s first hydrogen-powered train. The project will be test piloted in 2020. Our students are working on the fuel cell technology for the same.”

METHODOLOGY

THE WEEK and Hansa Research conducted the Best Universities Survey 2018 to rank the best multidisciplinary and technical universities in the country. Universities recognised by the UGC, offering full-time postgraduate courses in at least two disciplines, and having graduated at least three postgraduate batches were eligible.

A primary survey was conducted with 245 academic experts, spread across 19 cities. They were asked to nominate and rank the top 20 universities in India. Of the 245 interviews, eight were qualitative. This helped to get an in-depth understanding of the reasons for the rankings.

Perceptual score for a university was calculated based on the number of nominations by experts and the actual ranks received.

For factual data collection, a dedicated website was created and the link was sent to more than 550 universities. Forty-six universities responded within the stipulated time. Those that did not wish to be ranked were omitted.

Factual score was calculated using the information collected from universities and other secondary sources on age and accreditation, infrastructure and other facilities, intellectual resource, research, student quality, alumni and industry exposure, and placements (only for technical universities)

Composite score = Perceptual score (out of 400) + factual score (out of 600)

Some universities could not respond to the survey. For these universities, composite score was derived by combining the perceptual score for the university with an interpolated factual score based on their position on the list.

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