“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Ishfaq Mir (IM) from the Rising Kashmir interviews Professor Riyaz Punjabi

(Prof Riyaz Punjabi is a distinguished academician and an expert on International Peace and Conflict Studies. He started his career from Kashmir University and holds a Doctorate in Law. He has headed the Department of Distance Education and Dean Faculty of Non-Formal Education. He has also taught Law in this University and Jawahar Lal Nehru University New Delhi. He is a visiting Professor and fellow in Jamia Millia Islamia, Indian Institute of Advance Study and Centre for South Asian Studies Switzerland. Before taking over as Vice Chancellor of the University seven months back he was the Professor at Centre for Study of Social Systems at JNU. He brings with him a treasure of knowledge and experience he has gained over past three decades.)

‘My Vision is to make KU hub of research and technology’

IM: You have experience and exposure of National as well as International Universities. Where do you think KU is lacking and what is that needs to be paid due attention?

RP: We have a lot of talent in Kashmir University. There are hardworking people who can compete both at national and international level. So, that way we are rich.
But they need leadership and direction.

Due to turmoil the work-culture in Kashmir University was badly affected. That work culture needs to reviewed immediately at a rapid pace.

Enthusiasm of the University employees had also suffered which is now coming back.
Then there are infrastructural constraints and departments have expanded with increase in the enrolment.

We lack the adequate number of buildings, hostels. More land is required for extension of the campus. So we are looking for further generous funding from the Centre and the State as well.

Keeping all this in view my priority is to intensify the valuable research and increase the sphere of education in the University.

IM: What are your plans for Kashmiri resurgence?

RP: My attention would be to launch Kashmir specific studies. This would include economic, sociological and scientific research specific to Kashmir.

If we want to develop the economy of Kashmir we first need to know about the economy and for that research is necessary. Similarly in Kashmir specific scientific research thrust would be on study of water bodies, flora and fauna and the rich vegetation on the mountainous forest areas of Kashmir.

I feel delighted to say that the work for this has already started wherein we would prepare the core groups who would later prepare the study material. The study material so prepared would be introduced in the curriculum of the students of different levels.

IM: New Universities providing professional and job oriented courses have come up in the State and thus KU is having a tough competition. What are you doing to compete with these universities?

RP: First I might tell you that it is these new universities that have to compete with Kashmir University and as I already told you we are now stressing on the professional courses that would be of immense help to the society in all the major aspects. There is probably nothing more intellectually challenging for a University than to live up to the high expectations of people by excelling in a competitive environment. In order to cultivate high academic standards, it is sine qua non that a great range of programmes be introduced, a highly qualified faculty carry out innovative research in various discipliners and an integrated student-service-operation ensure that the University’s future be even greater than it’s past.

IM: A common allegation against KU is that it produces theoretical graduates every year who fail to contribute much to the society. What is your take?

RP: You are right that much has not been done. We need to produce graduates or pass outs relevant to the society. So we emphasize those courses having job appreciation like MCA, LLB, LLM, Bio-resources, MBA, Food Technology and others. But then the social science can’t be ignored as it is the part of our society. For that we are merging the technological aspects with that of the literature and the languages. The department of Persian now offers one-year crash course in Computer Literacy as an additional technical qualification to its students. So we are on a mission to provide our society the best trained and skillful graduates in future.

IM: What is your new education policy to meet challenging standards?

RP: We are assessing what is lacking in the University. Once it is over a certain strategy would be devised accordingly.

Presently our colleges are overcrowded and the educational facilities are not up to date. Since the students who reach Kashmir University first complete their degrees through these overcrowded colleges and schools as well. So we first need to redress the education system at the college and school level to make the students reaching KU for higher degrees more capable. Career oriented courses being taught at the college level need to be seen into.

I personally analyzed the results of 10+2 and B.A, B.Sc of the last year. After analyzing the results I could only conclude that the standard of science and mathematics at school and college level has gone down drastically. It is an alarming situation. Even there is a lack of adequate staff in the colleges.

Government should look at the educational needs from a professional perspective rather than a political perspective. Instead of opening new colleges thrust should be on the existing old colleges. There are no avenues of extra-curricular activities for students in the new colleges and the staff from old colleges is being diverted to the new ones. It is creating frustration for the students and teachers as well and would explode sometime.

IM: In KU there is a lack of qualified and experienced faculty in some departments. What are your plans to fill those voids?
RP: In the past large number of posts got lapsed and were not filled on time. But the vacant pots are now being filed and new post are also being created. State government has been positive in approach and has helped us in this regard.

IM: Kashmir University lacks a definite calendar wherein the whole academic as well as non-academic events could be marked at the beginning of an academic year. Even scholarships are not given on time. What do you say?

RP: I fully agree with you and it is not only the scholarships that are not given in time but entrance examinations for different programmes are also not announced on time. But now we are devising a calendar having all the dates marked for the entrance examinations and other information needed to be provided to the students from time to time during an academic year. I have already issued the instructions and the calendar for the next academic session would be ready before ending December 2008 and would be implemented from March 2009.

IM: Recently Vice Chancellor University of Jammu, Professor Amitabh Mattoo went to the Afghanistan which shows that New Delhi wants the academicians to play active role in politics. If provided an opportunity would you play the same role in India’s foreign policy to counter Pakistan’s involvement in cross border terrorism?

RP: No, honestly not. I want to take my educational facilities across LoC. We can offer educational avenues to the people on the other side of the fence and reserve seats for the “Azad Kashmir” students in professional areas especially which could be a Confidence Building Measure (CBM) and help the peace process.

IM: Before assuming the charge as VC, University of Kashmir you were very active in politics and represented India at several times as an academician. What did you do that time?

RP: I have been active as an academician in international law, law and peace studies in international peace and security. Recently I was nominated for the title of Honorary Professor of the International University, Vienna for ‘Strengthening international relations in the sphere of education’. This was published in a media release from Europe Business Assembly (EBA) in Oxford, London.

What I mean to say is that it is all because I have worked and contributed at international level that is how I was active.

IM: After assuming charge as VC, did you try to know about the research conducted so far in the Kashmir University and how it has benefited the State in socio-economic aspects?

RP: We are developing a website named ‘e-repository’ in which the abstracts of all the researches done so far would be kept. Afterwards the whole research would be publicized as such. The Department of Library and Information Science is likely to make available the facility of Open Access (OA) movement, a world-wide effort to provide free online access to the scholarly literature especially peer-reviewed journal articles and other pre- prints. The Department will make the facility available not only to affiliated colleges but will formulate a committee to draw members from SKUAST, SKIMS and the University of Kashmir to develop strategies for making Open Access operational for scientists and scholars.

IM: It seems that from the last five years the KU standards have gone down. On one side you conduct entrance examination to select the candidates for different courses and on the payment seats are there to provide admission to the mediocre people. What do you say?

RP: No the standard hasn’t gone down. In payment seats too we maintain a merit. After taking the merit into consideration we invite people who can afford to pay for the education. So there is no question of selecting mediocre people for any course.

IM: When is the NAAC team visiting KU? What is its basic time period and has KU to remain gearing up for the inspection every now and then?

RP: We have developed an Internal Quality Assessment directorate and want to move ahead of the NAAC accreditation. Next year we are having the NAAC inspection. We have already got ‘A’ grade and I am sure that we will be able to get the much higher accreditation in future.

I have set up a directorate of Career Counseling and Planning which prepares students for competitive courses of national and state level exams.

I am planning e-governance in Kashmir University and we are starting it from the e-governance in examination. We have got a rupees 4.30 crore project sanctioned from the IT Ministry after I met the concerned minister. The work has already started.

IM: What is University doing as far as the placement of the students from the professional courses is concerned?

RP: We have tie ups in national as well as international companies and have hundred percent placements in some departments. We are in constant touch with the well known companies to place our boys there and our boys are not facing any such problem. It is they (students) who have to prepare themselves to join the bigger firms.

IM: As Vice Chancellor University of Kashmir, what would be your future strategy?

RP: In future I want to have biotechnology and engineering in the KU campus and to have more and more job oriented courses. I would stress on the increase of quality research in science in the University.

My future strategy would also include the emphasis to make the north campus functional. Campuses in Kargil and Kupwara would be functional by the next year.

So I would try my level best to enable the Kashmir University achieve new heights during my tenure.

I want to take my educational facilities across LoC. We can offer educational avenues to the people on the other side of the fence and reserve seats for the “Azad Kashmir” students in professional areas especially which could be a Confidence Building Measure (CBM) and help the peace process.

We are developing a website named ‘e-repository’ in which the abstracts of all the researches done so far would be kept. Afterwards the whole research would be publicized as such. The Department of Library and Information Science is likely to make available the facility of Open Access (OA) movement, a world-wide effort to provide free online access to the scholarly literature especially peer-reviewed journal articles and other pre- prints. The Department will make the facility available not only to affiliated colleges but will formulate a committee to draw members from SKUAST, SKIMS and the University of Kashmir to develop strategies for making Open Access operational for scientists and scholars.

I have set up a directorate of Career Counseling and Planning which prepares students for competitive courses of national and state level exams.

I am planning e-governance in Kashmir University and we are starting it from the e-governance in examination. We have got a rupees 4.30 crore project sanctioned from the IT Ministry after I met the concerned minister. The work has already started.

We have tie ups in national as well as international companies and have hundred percent placements in some departments. We are in constant touch with the well known companies to place our boys there and our boys are not facing any such problem. It is they (students) who have to prepare themselves to join the bigger firms.