Professor Shabbir Ahmad Bhat started his career as an Assistant Professor in the Department Management Studies, University of Kashmir more than 30 years back. While holding several top positions in the University including Director Business School, Dean School of Business Studies, Director Distance Education, Director UGC-HRDC, Director Centre for Career Planning and Counseling, Head Department of Urdu, Dean Academic Affairs, Prof. Shabir has enormously contributed towards academics, research and corporate life of the University during his 34 years of meritorious service in the University.
He has presented his research papers in more than 20 top notch universities of the world including Harvard University, Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University and Haaga-Helia University Finland, National University of Taiwan etc. and has attended more than 60 national and international conferences across the globe. He has authored eight books in his area of study. He has extensively researched and written and his work has appeared in various national and international journals.
Currently working as Dean Outreach of the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST), Prof. Shabbir talks to Rising Kashmir’s feature writer, Insha Latief Khan about various programs and activities of the newly established office of Dean Outreach at IUST, which is also the first initiative of its kind in the region, taken by IUST.
How did the idea of setting up Dean Outreach Office at IUST come into being?
Vice-Chancellor, IUST, Prof.Shakil Ahmad Romshoo is a man with vision and he thinks out-of-box. The position and office of Dean Outreach is his brainchild. When I joined his team, he shared his vision of establishing the Dean Outreach office with me, with an aim of establishing strong communication and connectivity with academia and industry, enhance corporate relations, international networking, community outreach and extension activities at IUST and thereby transfer the benefits of academic research to the local communities with a view to make our research need-based, locally and socially relevant and context specific at IUST. It is a novel idea and no university across the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has taken such an initiative as yet. Teaching and research is the soul of any university but there is something more that needs to be done. We need to create linkages and reach out to all the stakeholders and see to it that our education and research is relevant to society. That is how we can establish a connection with society. This is a totally new concept and challenging as well.
What are the areas where community outreach will focus on?
Office of the Dean Outreach has four main verticals of career counselling and placements, alumni networking, community outreach and corporate relations.
Through career counseling and placements, we will help our students in making appropriate choices in their career and in finding suitable jobs. Since the global job markets are changing very fast and posing new challenges, our students require new skill sets and we will be offering those courses and skills to our students that are relevant and demanded by the industry nowadays. We will also help them find internships, fellowships, scholarships and industrial collaborations. We have to create an industry-academia interface to make our students employable, which is also envisaged under the New Education Policy, 2020 which is a very powerful tool to revolutionize our education and has the potential to change the destiny of this nation. We want to connect with the industry and invite experts to restructure our course curriculum as per the present-day needs as well as future demands. Eminent people from the industry as well as acclaimed academicians from other universities will be involved in our activities through our statutory bodies. Internships are also very important for students. Last two semesters of every course should offer internships, during which students should be sent to various companies to work and learn on the spot, while they are pursuing their degrees. It will help them to improve their project management skills as well as communication skills.
Another important vertical of Dean Outreach is the networking with our alumni. Alumni are the ambassadors of our university. We will be utilizing their expertise and experience for students and scholars. Our alumni are working in various companies and industries across the globe at top positions. We want to partner and work with them for sustainable relationships. They can help us in many ways.We are giving them golden cards so that they can avail university facilities like libraries. They can mentor and hand-hold our students and guide them in various opportunities for higher studies, scholarships, fellowships both within and outside the country.
Our third vertical of community outreach and extension activities is very important. Our university is located in a rural area. We want to address the issues faced by the communities in our vicinity. We would like to handhold and promote the domestic bat-making, food and other industries in our neighborhood. Our health center, nursing college and media centre are organizing several programmes on a regular basis as part of their community outreach activities such as organizing health camps, drug de-addiction programmes, cleanliness drives, environmental awareness campaigns, sustainable ecosystem campaigns and green campus initiatives.
What other programs will be offered under the ambit of Dean Outreach?
Student and faculty exchange programs with other universities will also be our focus. These exchange programmes can broaden the insights and improve the confidence levels of our faculty and students. Further they enhance their acceptance of different cultures and perspectives. In a post-pandemic world, internationalization of education will be a need of the hour.
IT innovation and e-governance initiatives will be encouraged in all the departments and sports competitions will also be held on a regular basis. Entrepreneurship and skill development, industrial tours, science exhibitions and fairs will also be held. Innovation, incubation and entrepreneurship development programs will be conducted at a greater pace and strengthened further. Over the next five to six years, you will see the impact of the office of the Dean Outreach all across the spectrum, among the students, scholars, teachers and the community.
What will be the structure of the Office of Community Outreach?
The four verticals of the office of Dean Outreach that I mentioned earlier are headed by chief coordinators and each department of IUST is represented by a departmental level coordinator in all the verticals. Every faculty member of IUST apart from his/her own duties will be actively engaged in all the activities and programmes of Dean Outreach. All of us sit together and participate in brainstorming sessions to evolve our programmes and standard operating procedures. I believe that listening to other people is always very important as other peoples’ ideas could be richer than mine.
Have you established local industrial connections to achieve your intended goals of community outreach that you mentioned?
I am new to the system and don’t want to take any credit. IUST has already done remarkably well in a short span of time in terms of community outreach, academia-industry interaction and extension activities. We have recently signed more than 20 MOUs with various industries through CIED and it has already entered into collaborations with various universities and scientific institutions at national and international level. My efforts will be towards leveraging the progress made so far and taking it forward with a greater vigor, planning and execution in an integrated manner.
Talking about students, what are the new areas that students need to explore?
Information technology, artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data analytics, internet of things, block-chain revolution, digital marketing and other areas in science, engineering and technology where there is huge demand these days, need to be explored by the students apart from emerging areas in all other disciplines. IUST offers robust science and engineering programmes and is the only university in J&K with 14 patents registered and huge funding under TEQIP.
A student from humanities should try his hands on information technology and artificial intelligence and vice-versa because we are living in the times of multi-disciplinary education. These courses shouldn’t be restricted to engineering students only in the emerging scenario. We intend to tie-up with Avantgarde Digital Media which is an innovative digital marketing agency based in Durban, helping small and medium-sized businesses to grow. It is accredited by the American Management Association and DMI Australia and can offer ad-on courses to our students which will enhance their employability in the international markets.
Your focus has always been on teaching methodology. What changes have you brought in the teaching methodology?
It is important to see how a course is delivered because I believe that the way we learn doesn’t always match with the way we are taught. There is so much that goes into the teaching-learning process. The competitiveness of our economy in the future will largely depend on our innovations and the role of higher education is pivotal to this process. How we educate our future generations is therefore very significant.Teacher has to play the role of a mentor and help students to explore themselves, who they are and what their actual potential is. At Kashmir University I got a group of professors from Harvard, MIT and some other top-notch universities of the world and organized training programs where faculty members trained our students. We tried to bring the real life situations into the classroom through role-playing, problem-based learning, flipped classes, presentations and students were given an opportunity to speak about the relevant topics, do research and critical analysis of various situations. Learning is a lifelong process and that’s how I see the management courses. There is always a scope of improvement in learning methods and teaching pedagogies.
How can we help students so that they get placements in the industry?
My role as Dean Outreach is more at a macro level rather than at micro level. I work with different departments, coordinators and faculty members to restructure things and to create an atmosphere where teachers and students work together for a common goal, which is the overall development of a student in every form and shape. The students are gifted with all requisite potential but it needs to be channelized properly in the right direction. It has already been very well stipulated under NEP 2020 and all we need is to give them guidance and freedom to work and stay focused. Students are the heartbeat of a university and what matters is their proper education. Looking at the core values of the National Education Policy, it gives enormous freedom to provide unique opportunities for the student development in all possible ways and how we implement it to their advantage and make them employable is very important. I am disturbed by the degree of unemployment and it has a drastic impact on society. What we can do for students is always at the back of my mind. NAAC is aligned with NEP 2020 and if the course and program outcomes are effectively and meticulously implemented, students should be able to find a suitable job once they pass out from the college or the university.
Do you think universities should have skill development centers?
We want to collaborate with industry and let our students learn all necessary skills. In due course of time, all the universities will have their own skill development centers but that may take some time and till then we may utilize the opportunities for internships in the industry. Most of the courses taught in our university are primarily designed to enhance their skills and competencies and foster a critical, creative and analytical mindset among our students.
Is there collaboration within various universities across Kashmir so that students of one university can avail the benefits of other universities too?
I believe universities do not exist in vacuum and we have a responsibility to work together and in collaboration for the benefit of our students and scholars. Initiatives being taken at IUST will certainly result in fellowships, internships of the students in the industry, Government institutions of repute and will help the students come up with their own ideas for start-ups and entrepreneurship development. Dean Outreach would certainly encourage and facilitate such collaborative activities and extend full support to all the departments in this endeavor. NEP-2020 necessitates academic credit banks and transfer of credits among universities and colleges and therefore higher education institutions have no choice but to encourage collaborative and integrated learning for their implementation. IUST has already taken necessary steps in this direction.