‘IUST focused to promote Machine Learning, AI, Disruptive Technologies’

Varsity encouraging a culture of innovation, entrepreneurship: VC Prof Romshoo
‘IUST focused to promote Machine Learning, AI, Disruptive Technologies’
GK Photo

Emphasising that the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) would witness a new dawn of academic excellence and the varsity would ensure to transform the knowledge into a community outreach for overall growth and benefit of the society, noted academic and newly-appointed Vice-Chancellor of IUST, Prof Shakil Ahmad Romshoo, in this comprehensive interview with Greater Kashmir’s Senior Editor, Nazir Ganaie, shares his vision for the varsity, plans of the outreach programmes, academic calendar, student activism, foreign student exchange programmes, and much more.

Greater Kashmir: At a time when the world is witnessing a boom in the educational sector, how do you see universities in Jammu and Kashmir going with the trends?


Prof Romshoo:
IUST is committed to shouldering the responsibility of quality education, pursuing research in important areas, and engaging in activities that advance the good of society to find solutions to societal issues. At IUST, we are guided by the 2021-26 strategic plan to make this university a leading university in the country. Our mission is to foster a capable human resource that can make the university a place of intellectual curiosity and inquisitiveness and bring together bright minds to address the issues of today while taking their rightful place in shaping the future.

Greater Kashmir: You talked about a strategic work plan. How are results being achieved under it?


Prof Romshoo:
We have to analyse why out of 950 India’s universities none figures in the world’s top 200 ranked universities. The 251st is the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. There are many factors and one vital factor we have ignored is outreach. But at IUST we are tirelessly working on establishing a link between the two vital components of knowledge. And under the Dean of Outreach – we are working under several verticals. Meanwhile, the biggest challenge for us is that we are the last option for the students. The cream of the student influx is taken by the other universities including the University of Kashmir (KU) and Central University of Kashmir (CUK).

Greater Kashmir: You joined IUST a few months back. Being an ace academic and having served KU in various positions, you must be having a definite vision for the IUST. Has it started getting transformed on the ground?


Prof Romshoo:
I joined in mid-August 2021. After assuming my charge, I immediately started working on a strategic document, a roadmap. This is how our university is going to function for the next five years with an emphasis on academic research, innovation, and promoting entrepreneurship. The National Education Policy (NEP) also guides us in the same manner. Whatever reforms have been reflected under NEP, IUST is working tirelessly to implement them on the ground. In fact, during my first few months, I along with my team developed the master plan to help implement the campus vision. The strategy document of that plan will be modular and would comprise how to promote the plan, the teaching, how to make the university governance efficient, and majorly how to promote the outreach of this university among the masses.

Greater Kashmir: There is a strong disconnect between several highest seats of learning and community. What is IUST doing to provide genuine community stakeholders with their say in the varsity?


Prof Romshoo:
We are involving community stakeholders on a large scale. In this regard, we have established a strong communication and connectivity with academia and industry to enhance corporate relations, international networking, community outreach, and extension activities at IUST and transfer the benefits of academic research to the local communities to make our research need-based, locally and socially relevant, and context-specific at IUST. In all our universities, we have failed to work on the outreach programme. Another major area is innovation and incubation startups where we are focusing tremendously. My other core area is developing artificial intelligence, machine learning, and disruptive technologies which have not been covered in any university in Kashmir. It will also be my focus.

Greater Kashmir: Do you see NEP guidelines changing the ground story of the educational sector?


Prof Romshoo:
Just imagine out of 950 universities, lakhs of students graduate every year and there we have to establish a link so that our efforts do not go haywire. AT IUST, we have established a centre that promotes entrepreneurship and it is doing exceptionally well. Recently, we received some 20 fresh ideas from the community stakeholders who have been granted some assistance by our university and they are working on these ideas. If provided with sufficient facilities these ideas can revolutionise the startup ecosystem of J&K. Regarding the role of NEP in changing the ground story, we have to overhaul our educational system accordingly under the guidelines framed and recommended by NEP. The NEP 2020 has the potential to completely change the organisational framework of the Indian educational system because the new policy covers all levels of education from primary to higher education and vocational training in rural and urban India. It is also outlining the vision of India’s new education system and aims to transform it by 2040. The primary focus areas include K-12 education, post-secondary education, career training, lifelong learning, technology integration into educational discourse, and promotion of Indian languages and culture.

Greater Kashmir: How will IUST ensure to provide a vibrant and diverse and supportive campus environment to its students and stakeholders?


Prof Romshoo:
IUST has an illustrious past. My predecessors have done remarkable work to bring this university to par with other universities. After I assumed that, I took that legacy ahead and also added some innovative interventions. We are keenly linking the university's past achievements to its future and will continue to make the utmost efforts to contribute to society through the creation of new and innovative programmes and the cultivation of outstanding human resources to provide a vibrant, diverse, and supportive campus environment.

Greater Kashmir: Are there any major issues threatening the growth of IUST?


Prof Romshoo:
Currently, several issues are threatening the lives of all people locally and globally which include climate change, natural disasters, environmental degradation, employment, conflicts, widening disparity, and infectious diseases like COVID-19. We at IUST reaffirm our commitment to seeking solutions to these complex issues faced by society. We have a very vibrant faculty that is always free to take on new challenges.

Greater Kashmir: And are there any roadblocks confronting your vision of development?


Prof Romshoo:
Financial resources are a major concern for IUST. Although the government has been very supportive and whatever development and infrastructure boom you see at the IUST, it was only done with the immense support of the J&K government. The development and promotion of solar and biodiversity parks on the campus will be a significant step toward reducing carbon footprint and transforming the university’s campus into an energy-efficient and environmentally-sustainable place of learning.

Greater Kashmir: What changes are on cards for the overall development of IUST?


Prof Romshoo:
I have been here for the last eight to nine months and I have set some priorities. We want to promote education in areas that are contemporary and tremendously important for us from every aspect like job prospectus and knowledge generation. It is my concern to generate and address some of the societal issues through courses like artificial intelligence, machine learning, renewable energy, climate change, sustainability, and disruptive technology. Our focus is to establish a Skill College that will impart training to almost 6000 people from Kashmir. They will be skilled in trades and techniques which will provide them job opportunities. Skill College will have 36 courses. We are planning to start college this academic year only.

The problem with the Indian education system, not to speak of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh is that the postgraduate and graduate students are not employable. They do not have the skills to attain the jobs. So, we are revamping. The mandate of NEP is to make students employable and skillful so that the rate of employment which is 27 percent can be reduced.

We have established a scheme here wherein we want to attract youth so that they contribute to research and knowledge generation and help us solve some of the major problems regarding the environment, disaster management, horticulture, agriculture, and much more.

Greater Kashmir: Over the years, we have seen universities produce thousands of degree holders who don’t transform their knowledge into career opportunities. Why is this so prevalent in J&K?


Prof Romshoo:
We have already written to the government some six years ago and have identified a place for Skill College. It is a Rs 16-crore project. Besides, we are submitting more proposals to the National Skill Council and National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) where they will be calling for the recurring cost. As of now, there is some infrastructure available that can be used for the time being. I am straightaway starting the Skill College now without wasting time and energy. I will start with the existing infrastructure within the campus.

Greater Kashmir: Many departments are yet to come up at the IUST including your parent department, Geology, and Earth Sciences. When are we seeing the induction of new departments here?


Prof Romshoo:
Honestly, I do not want to introduce the Earth Sciences Department here. We are planning to recruit some people from the Environmental Science Department. These people will be from different backgrounds like Earth Sciences, Geology, Environmental Physics, Chemistry, and Biotechnology so they will talk about biodiversity, climate change, and energy conservation. Meanwhile, we are the only university that will have a full-fledged Department of Philosophy.

Greater Kashmir: Having a vibrant research area gives wings to any university. How is IUST coming up to this?


Prof Romshoo:
Emphasis has been laid on the infrastructure of the campus. Now we have a good infrastructure and the university is ready to jump into research. In the past year, IUST received the maximum number of research projects from the J&K’s Department of Science and Technology (DST). For all 11 universities, there were 60 projects of which we got 22. It is in some ways better than other universities. Right now, we have 160 scholars and the number is increasing. We provide every facility to the scholar, be it the lab chemicals or equipment. All the facilities are being provided at no cost. We are trying our best to improve the research part but it remains up to the grants and funds that we receive to improvise the research sector. We have also introduced the Student Aid scheme. The university has funded about Rs 30 lakh from internal resources and has asked people, faculty, and others to contribute to research scholars who deserve 100 percent funding for their proposals.

Greater Kashmir: The government has ordered the implementation of a uniform academic calendar with the national academic calendar. Has IUST followed it?


Prof Romshoo:
We have absolutely no issues in switching to the national academic year. Implementing it was not a challenge for us because we already have the August session. Now we have to switch to the June-July session.

Greater Kashmir: In a democratic setup of any educational institution like IUST, how important is it to have a vibrant student’s union?


Prof Romshoo:
We have both a teaching and non-teaching association at IUST. But they are not as active as the association of other universities. We don't have a students’ union here. Rather, we have an IUST’s Student Council. I believe for any vibrant educational institution, the vibrancy of students is equally important. We give our students their due share to speak and represent their grievances in a free and democratic manner.

Greater Kashmir: Is IUST marching toward the path of academic and industrial excellence?


Prof Romshoo:
IUST was established in 2005 and from 2006 we started some activities, be it the development of academics or infrastructure. There is a visible development of infrastructure provided by the support of the government and the active participation of VCs. IUST has been doing well in many courses like journalism and engineering. Our alumni are working all over the world. We recently had an alumni meeting last week wherein more than 100 people were from abroad, especially from Europe, North America, and South America. Most importantly, my efforts will be to utilise the existing infrastructure to promote academics and research in the varsity. We have to think out of the box to take IUST to new heights. There is a need to convert the challenges into opportunities so that IUST can achieve new heights in academics and research besides addressing societal issues at large. I am firmly focused on promoting cutting-edge research, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Disruptive Technologies, which none of the 11 universities of J&K and Ladakh is currently covering.

Greater Kashmir: Are you inking any MoUs for International Student Exchange Programmes anytime soon?


Prof Romshoo:
It’s a very important area where we have to work in close coordination with other universities and educational councils. It is equally important to send students to other universities where they can enhance their skills and upgrade their knowledge. The first step that I took after I joined here was to constitute a committee to implement NEP-2020. The policy focuses on student exchange programmes.

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