Prof Nazir Ahmad Ganai
Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Kashmir successfully competed for the flagship National Agricultural Higher Education Project (NAHEP) with a daring and ambitious vision of developing a model agri-education system aimed at ‘Re-orienting Agricultural Education to LEED’ and unleashing the potential of the sector nationally. The mission is to groom the students as Next-Gen leaders to take up the challenges of the 21st century for sustainable development. To skill students as creative and innovative entrepreneurs who will enable the shift from subsistence agriculture to sustainable commercial farming and create jobs for the rural people.
Build technical and soft skills of students for better chances of employability in the industry, and inspire them as discoverers of new knowledge and solutions to the problems of agriculture in the country.
SKUAST-Kashmir projected its enterprising and ambitious vision of developing a model agri-education system to foster creativity, innovation and inclusiveness, with the goal to generate the next-gen human capital skilled in technologies of the 4th Industrial Revolution, who can transform the subsistence and low remunerative agriculture into sustainable and commercial farming, to drive the knowledge-based and technology-driven agri-economy in the country. The SKUAST-K project proposal document for the World Bank-ICAR funded NAHEP went through the rigours international peer review by two US-based external experts who rated it 10 and 9.2 out of 10, dubbing the project targets as ambitious but achievable.
After the rigorous institutional scrutiny at ICAR and World Bank level, the project was sanctioned in August 2019 with an outlay of Rs 30 crore. At the beginning of the project, the university found itself in an unwelcome operational situation post-Art 370 abrogation with restricted movements and a lack of communication channels. However, riding on its resilient institutional character, SKUAST-K initiated the baseline activities to set itself for a fully operational project framework with team building, priority setting and get set go.
Building Institutional capacity
Under NAHEP, SKUAST-K significantly improved its institutional capacity by creating a physical infrastructure and operational ecosystem for an improved institutional capacity, including state-of-the-art Smart classrooms, Tech-enabled video conferencing systems, a hi-tech Discovery and Innovation Centre, Tech-enabled Library and Information Services. Model instructional farms and laboratories, improved research capability to foster translational research to create an institutional mechanism for offering outstanding education and research aimed at producing future leaders and developing research output that addresses challenges facing agriculture as well as help the UT develop into a model technology-driven and knowledge-based bioeconomy.
Improving Human Capital
An important step towards building institutional capacity is to improve the human capital in terms of increased competence of faculty and students. We used the NAHEP channel to improve the competence of our faculty and students by exposing them to global learning ecosystems by connecting our faculty and students with science leaders. About 50 faculty members and 40 students were sponsored under NAHEP to undertake advanced research in frontier areas in leading international institutions, which has resulted in improved research capability and collaborations. In addition to the physical engagement of scientists in international institutions, faculty members and students, during the Covid-19 pandemic, were connected to several top-notch international scientists, including Prof Rattan Lal (World Food Prize Laureate), Prof Vara Prasad (Director SIIL, USAID), Prof Jonathan Lynch (Root Biology Lab, Penn State) as well as renowned national science leaders. This has helped faculty and students improve their teaching and learning philosophies.
SKUAST-K has been proactive in implementing reforms in higher education in agriculture and allied fields. We have created institutional mechanisms for pushing reforms in the education, research, recruitment and overall governance. This includes the academic management system for education, a human resource management system, a single-window financial management system for improved system efficiency as well as NextGen Transcript that reflects a complete skill profile of students for better employability. In our recruitment reforms, we are moving from eligibility to suitability. Similarly, in our examination reforms, we are moving from lower-order skills to higher-order cognition. We are the first state agricultural university (SAU) in the country which has drafted the Startup Policy for the UT in line with the NISP-2020.
SKUAST-K under NAHEP has committed itself to a broader target of becoming the first innovation-led farm university in the country. Under the project, we fostered an enabling ecosystem for innovation by physical, financial and technical backup as well as matching incubation environment by linking our faculty and students with some of the leading innovation culture superpowers such as Western Sydney University, GIMI Israel, IITs, NAARM and many other business schools nationally and globally. This resulted in more than 100 innovations, out of which five startup companies were set up with innovations having definite commercial value and the potential to provide innovative solutions to farm issues.
Improving outreach and engagement
Under NAHEP, SUAST-K reached out to and connected itself not only to people and institutions across the world but also to the alumni that could help us realise our broader goals. During the last three years, SKUAST-K signed more than 50 operational MOUs with leading educational, research, innovation and management institutions across the world to create a mechanism for the exchange of faculty and students as well as improve our education, research and innovation portfolios by bringing the ecosystem changes. We created a dedicated and dynamic alumni portal that will help the university create a mechanism for getting alumni contributions towards developing SKUAST-K into a model higher education institution. We have also initiated joint research collaborations with leading institutions across the globe as well as put in place mechanisms for the exchange of faculty and students.
Promoting diversity, equity, and environmental sustainability
We have taken definitive measures to promote diversity, equity and environmental sustainability. As part of our commitment, we have created mechanisms for enhancing diversity in faculty by appointing visiting and adjunct professors as well as Professors of Practice. We are committed to enhancing student diversity from 10 percent to 20 percent. We have created institutional mechanisms to ensure equity in all areas of operation as well as the creation of physical infrastructure towards promoting equity. The university, as a socially and environmentally responsible organisation, has set itself to promote the concept of green business on all campuses by taking measures that promote environmental sustainability. We have already drafted relevant policy frameworks for all these aspects as our stated commitments.
With our institutional commitment and team efforts and leadership support, SKUAST-K has marched ahead in diverse operational areas to be a leading institution in the country that is locally engaged but globally networked. In the last few years, SKUAST-K has achieved a number of milestones, from improving its all-India ranking from 27th in 2019 to 6th best state agricultural university in 2021 to being categorised as Band Excellent Institution under Atal Innovation Ranking. The university has been successfully re-accredited for all its programmes with Grade A, besides being awarded second position in securing JRFs at the national level in Animal Sciences. SKUAST-K is the only agricultural university that has bagged five BIRAC BIG grants and two IIGP grants from GoI for its innovations and startup ideas. During the last three years we have been granted more than six patents, and many more have been filed. We are on track to establish the first university-owned company to promote our novel innovations in functional foods.
Leading the Change
As part of our stated commitment, we challenged ourselves to become a model SAU in the country by spearheading reforms in education and research that can strengthen the existing SAU system in the country. As part of that, we envisioned the reforms and led the development of the implementation framework of NEP-2020. As an institution, we found ourselves in a comfortable position vis-à-vis the provisions of NEP-2020, and our institutional development plan was a stark reflection of our vision and commitment to changes envisioned in NEP-2020. While most of the SAUs have found it tricky to manoeuvre the existing structure of ICAR’s 5th Deans committee, SKUAST-K came up with an innovative restructuring framework that encompasses certificate and diploma programmes, multiple entries and exit system, multi-disciplinarily, and flexibility of choice, as well as front-loading of skill-based courses. While appreciating our action framework, ICAR has tasked us with leading the development of broader contours of the implementation plan during the forthcoming 6th Deans Committee to be held at SKUAST-K.
A Lookout Institution
SKUAST-K has gone a long way to poise itself as an institution to look up to in terms of the visible and quantified achievements under NAHEP, with recorded appreciation from ICAR and the World Bank as a model partner in the country’s NAHEP family. Today SKUAST-K is looked at as an institution with promise for excellence in education, research, outreach and reforms. We have been quite successful in pushing our case of reforms that are ambitious, innovative and are likely to bring about the required dynamism in the SAU system to help the country become a global knowledge superpower.
Riding on our successful journey under NAHEP, we as an institution have set broader and ambitious goals for us. We want to become the first innovation-led university in the country and help J&K become the first model bioeconomy of the country. We have poised ourselves to be among the five best SAUs in the country, improve our standing in global institutional ranking platforms and develop into a preferred destination for higher education in agriculture.
Prof Nazir Ahmad Ganai is the Vice Chancellor of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Kashmir
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.