JUST as the global education sector is witnessing a paradigm shift due to the Covid-19 pandemic, GNDU VC Prof Jaspal Singh Sandhu feels that it’s time that the institutes of higher education step up and play a proactive role in defining the future. Accepting that the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown several challenges in the face of global education system, Prof Sandhu stressed on devising concept of blended education, utilising digital resources to the maximum and ensuring that students are prepared to take up more engaging roles in combating health as well as academic tasks. While speaking to Neha Saini, Prof Jaspal Singh Sandhu elaborated on his vision as well as tasks ahead for his next tenure. Excerpts:
How has Guru Nanak varsity tackled the challenges posed by Covid-19?
Initially, we were like all others — forced to adopt the digital mode of teaching. But gradually, we are preparing our faculty and students to adopt more efficient method of conducting online classes. Workshops are regularly being conducted for the faculty, training them in several web-based teaching applications. We are soon going to begin with flip classroom system of teaching, an experimental method, where students will deliver subject-specific lecture during online classroom and the teacher will later answer the questions. We have also put in place a multi-level screening process to ensure that all safety measures on the campus are followed to a T.
What will be your biggest concern once universities and colleges re-open?
Our biggest concern would be the housing and hostel accommodation facilities for students. We have 7,000 students (approximately), availing residential facilities and roughly 1,500 rooms. With social distancing norms and safety guidelines in place, it will definitely be a big challenge to accommodate students without having to compromise on their health. We are building new hostels, but even then, a lot needs to be taken into consideration.
Do you think the digital shift in education, especially higher education, will be permanent?
Absolutely not, and it must not be so. I believe that due to the pandemic, the education sector was suddenly forced to change their way of functioning and depended largely on digital conduct of classes. But there is no replacement for face-to-face teaching and such a personal discourse on education is also important in higher education. Nearly 30 per cent of the non-essential subjects can be permanently taught through online mode, but if we adopt the method permanently, it will definitely hit the quality of education.
What has been the status of research projects in GNDU over the years?
We became Category-I university in my previous term and I would be focussing on tapping funds for more research projects. We already have got Rs100 crore from Central agencies for carrying out 46 research projects in the past few years. I believe that in the coming years, the academics have to become ambitious and proactive in the field of academic research. There is no dearth of funds, only lack of intent.
GNDU received Rs432 crore grant from the Centre this year to establish the centre for interfaith studies. What is the status of the project?
We will be the first university to set up such an institute of higher learning. We have already received the first instalment of Rs176 crore and will commence the work on the building within three months. The institute will be built on 20 acres and one of its highlights would be a symphony of religious music, a global compilation of religious music.
What infrastructural and academic upgrades are in-line for GNDU in the next three years?
We will soon be announcing the launch of our e-office, becoming the first university in the north to adopt a completely digital mode of administration. This is being done under the Department of Governance Reforms, Punjab. We became the first university to issue e-transcripts in the north. Our per-teacher productivity has been 7.6 on ratings, which is higher than the per-teacher productivity ratings of Punjab. We will soon launch a single access card-based system for student as well as faculty.
GNDU became the first vehicle-free zone university in Punjab. What’s next?
We have also started electric carts for ferrying students for free within the campus. These carts will offer hop-on service. Also, we became the first zero discharge university and switched to solar power. Our botanical garden and conservatory has international quality horticulture research infrastructure. We will soon become the first paperless university as well.