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President presents Visitor’s Awards for ‘Best University’, ‘Research’ and 'Innovation’

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President Pranab Mukherjee yesterday called upon researchers in universities to apply themselves to meeting the developmental challenges of the nation.
 
“The best minds in our universities should apply themselves to work out solutions in areas like sanitation, urban transportation, sewage disposal, clean river systems, healthcare and drought-resistant farming,” he said during the presentation of the Visitor's Awards for the year 2017 at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
 
“They should also convert new knowledge into innovative products that are directly beneficial to the common population. Innovative minds should create tools and implements that alleviate the drudgery of farmers, workers, artisans and weavers.
 
“The number one barometer for successful outcome of research and innovation should be its beneficial applicability to a wider section of the population,” he added.
 
The award presentation was on the third day of the Festival of Innovation at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
 
The President presented the Visitor’s Award for the ‘Best University’ to Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
 
The Visitor’s Award for ‘Innovation’ was presented to Dr. Deepak Pant, Department of Environmental Science, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Central University of Himachal Pradesh for development of a reactor for direct conversion of waste plastic to LPG in small scale.
 
The Visitor’s Award for ‘Research’ was jointly received by Dr. Shyam Sunder, Department of Medicine, Institute of Medical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University and Prof. Niranjan Karak, Department of Chemical Sciences, Tezpur University.
 
Dr Shyam Sunder got the award for his work in the area of diagnosis and treatment of Indian Kala-azar. Prof. Karak was honoured for development of renewable resource based bio-degradable hyper-branched polymer nano-composites as self-cleaning, self-healing and bio-compatible smart sustainable futuristic material.
 
For selecting the winners, online applications were invited from all Central Universities for each category. A Selection Committee headed by Ms. Omita Paul, Secretary to the President and comprising Secretary, Department of Higher Education, Secretary, Department of Science & Technology, Chairman, UGC; Executive Vice-Chairperson, National Innovation Foundation and DG, CSIR screened the applications and selected the winners of the Awards.
 
The President said the honours recognize the single-minded devotion and painstaking work in the pursuit of excellence of the winners. JNU has been adjudged the best university for its unrelenting pursuit of academic excellence.
 
It has shown outstanding performance in all key parameters like quality of students and faculty, training of faculty, citations, publications, research projects, foreign collaborations, seminars and innovation exhibitions. He urged the university to continue the good work.
 
“A lot has been said about the quality of India’s higher education system. Many have debated that standards are declining as a corollary of the vast expansion seen over the past few years. Yet, many have argued that increasing our capacity to provide higher education is a dire need in the context of a growing youth population,” the President said.
 
“There are over 250 million young people – one-fifth of the country’s total population - in the age group of 15-24 years. The onus is on the higher education system to realize their aspirations and perfect their scholastic potential.
 
“I, for one, do not see any dichotomy between greater access and better quality; or between higher equity and superior standards. It is entirely possible for the attributes of quantity and quality to move in the same direction at the same time,” he added.
 
Referring to the concept of ‘world-class’ institutions that have, of late, engaged the minds of policy-makers, educators and academic experts lately, he said, "The jury is still out on what elements a world-class institution constitutes. And whether some features of such institutions can be specific to the context of a region or an economy. But, presence of certain key traits is essential to label any institution world-class."
 
"Firstly, a sizeable presence of meritorious students and faculty. This does not happen all of a sudden as institutions have to attain a certain degree of maturity before it starts gathering a pool of talented people.
 
“Many of our institutions of recent vintage may face problem in the beginning on this account. But policy catalysts may help. Under the Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN) programme, about 780 foreign faculty experts have enrolled to teach in Indian institutions.
 
“We are also witnessing a favourable economic climate pulling Indians working abroad, back to their motherland to seek the opportunities emerging here. Our institutions would do well to leverage this ‘brain rain,” he added.
 
"Secondly, adequacy of financial resources to boost physical infrastructure and academic resources: Institutions have to look beyond government funding to innovative mechanisms like industrial projects, sponsorship of chairs, and tie-ups for setting up research facilities.
 
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"Thirdly, a governance model that allows institutions to respond quickly to change while enforcing a mechanism of critical analysis and honest reflection.
 
"Such a system requires strong institutional leaders who can enlist the cooperation and commitment of all in driving the vision of the institution. It also calls for building a cadre of academic leaders who can inspire students and fellow educators. Drafting alumni and industry experts in governance structures, too, can bring in a fresh perspective to the academic environment.
 
"Fourthly, an eco-system that supports research and innovation.” A challenge for our institutions has been to retain bright students after education to do research. Good students either leave formal education to enter the corporate, government and other sectors, or pursue a higher degree in universities abroad.
 
“To arrest this trend, we need to make holistic changes in our education system. The pedagogy in our institutions at all levels has to promote creative thinking, novel learning and scientific scrutiny,” he pointed out.
 
“An atmosphere where learning modules are supplemented by inquiry-based project work will be necessary. This will build in students an inclination to do research and to innovate,” he said.
 
“If we have a large pool of meritorious researchers – complemented by top-notch research laboratories, tie-ups with industry, collaborations with foreign institutions, and an attractive compensation system – our institutions could be involved in doing more cutting-edge research,” he added.
 
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