Professor Shakil Ahmad Romshoo, Vice Chancellor, Islamic University of Science and Technology has done his Ph.D. in water resources engineering from University of Tokyo, Japan and M.S. in Remote Sensing and GIS from the Asian Institute of technology, Bangkok Thailand.
Having 33 years of research and academic experience, he has worked as a scientist at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Tokyo, Fellow at the Energy and Research Institute (TERI), New Delhi India, Dean of Research at the University of Kashmir and has headed a number of Departments at the University of Kashmir.
He has guided 24 Ph.D. and M.Phil students and has published more than 230 research articles in renowned national and international journals.
In a candid talk with Rising Kashmir’ Insha Lateef, VC talks about the developments happening around the IUST campus.
Q. Talk about the initiatives taken by the university viz a viz it’s development?
IUST has significant footprints on the technology. We have 7 engineering departments, 2 nursing colleges, one medical lab technology course and more than a dozen departments in science, arts and humanities subjects. Apart from giving formal education, we have been at the forefront in taking community initiatives.
Under the Reach Out and Mentor (ROAM) tutoring program started by the Mantaqi Center for Science and Society, children from schools in the vicinity are provided modern education. The center has drawn volunteers from students and faculty who teach students of a nearby seminary basic computer courses and other subjects that are part of the formal system of education.
With the support from the Ministry of Food Processing, Government of India, University has established a Food Processing and Training Centre (FPTC) for training of educated unemployed youth of the state to facilitate them to start their own processing units in rural areas.
Lately, for the first time we have started a scheme called IUST interns. The fresh graduates from any stream can apply and will appear in the entrance test. We shall engage about 70 people for one year and pay them as well during the apprenticeship. They will do work related to the office, IT and media department. This will bring efficiency in the system and enhance their skills.
Q. What are your further plans for the university?
I have completed six months of my appointment. It is a challenge and also an opportunity to steer the university because Islamic University of Science and Technology as compared to the other universities of Jammu and Kashmir is younger but has young talent also. It is an opportunity to build up and give it the right direction.
I joined here in August, the first thing that I did was to develop a strategy document for the university that provides a roadmap for the overall development of the university during 2021-2026. It details every aspect of the university system, particularly the promotion of academics, research, innovation and entrepreneurship. The important thing that is ignored all over the country is outreach, which means how do we connect to the community. If you look at the national level, this is my belief that we have more than 950 universities in the country and none of them exists in the first 250 universities in the world. One of the reasons for lagging behind is weak outreach of the Indian universities. IUST is going to take a big leap on outreach front and would connect to every segment of the society such as community, industry, alumni and others stakeholders
Traditionally if you look at the growth of the Indian higher education system, it started teaching in universities, colleges and giving degrees. But after some time, people realized that research is important and a lot of emphasis is now given on research. If universities here concentrate on the third aspect, that is the outreach aspect, it will give us recognition among the leading universities of the world.
Q: How can universities help in creating outreach with society?
Universities cannot be separated from societies. There is a disconnection between universities and the government. There is a disconnection between universities and society. We are just operating in our own spaces and sometimes feel that we can steer through without taking other stakeholders along but in my opinion, we have the best intellectual resources available in universities and that needs to be used for addressing the problems of the government, society and country. However, not much is being done in this direction. The impressions of the academia among the different stakeholders may not be very good because we have not been able to take up issues which the society is facing and give solutions to them.
In universities, research should be done on public issues and provide solutions to societal problems through innovations, incubations and entrepreneurship. We should build capacity of the industries, common persons, horticulturists and orchardists, agriculturists and handicraft person to enhance their efficiency and improve livelihoods of the masses
Q: What innovation, incubation and entrepreneurship is taking place in IUST?
IUST has very tremendous potential for innovation, incubation, entrepreneurship and from the last six months, my significant amount of time has been devoted to set up a Center for promoting innovation and entrepreneurship called CIED- Center for Innovation and Entrepreneur Development and we are trying our best to strengthen it so that it emerges as a centre of excellence in the UT for promoting of innovation incubation and start-ups in the UT. It has 25 members who are working there under six verticals which deal with every aspect of innovation and entrepreneurship. It draws human resources from other departments in the university. If you see, very few universities in the country will have such a type of institution set up in place for promoting innovations. As a result of our handwork, we have got offers of collaborations from Indian Institute of Technology Ropar, National Innovation Foundation of India, GIAN and several other national agencies.
Q. How can the researchers in university solve the problems of community and government?
It is important to introspect how we build and enhance the livelihood of people. Similarly, how do we take care of the common masses and connect with the community. We have signed an MOU with the Lassipora industries and we want to connect with the industries, communities and government. We are establishing strong connections with the government, community and industry. Government has a lot of issues. Universities should come forward and take up research to address these issues. In many universities in the country, the academic research in the form of PhD is not very effective. Students do write their thesis and these thesis stays in the library only and never sees the light of the day. In every department, there is a Department of Research Committee. They decide what the student should research about. If we will have a government nominee in these research committees, who tells us about the important issues which need to be addressed and researched. Such a mechanism would make research relevant and useful in addressing common issues facing society.
Q. Is this the model of academia followed in other countries as well?
I am trying to adopt that idea here in IUST and I feel it can give a lot of visibility to this university. The university will be able to solve societal problems and would get attention at the national level. The way we have planned the growth and development of IUST under the strategic plan, you need to watch IUST for the next 5 years. I am confident that when people talk of good universities, IUST will also figure among them. The attention can’t come through seminars and advertisements but we need to walk the talk and do something worthwhile which makes an impact on the society so that people start recognizing it.
Q. What are the other core areas that you are considering to work on?
We are trying to attract more and better students to IUST. One important criterion is placement record. We have to make students employable. We have to impart good skills among students including communication skills. This is one aspect where I want to increase the employability of our graduates. Automatically people will come here when they will see pass outs of IUST have 100% placements. This will happen by introducing skill-oriented courses and industrial training. I have asked the departments to take a major revamp of the syllabus. Each student should spend the last 6 months of the semester somewhere outside within some IITs or big industries so that they will have first-hand exposure of working in industries and national institutes
Q. What is the contribution of IUST in the field of technology for the state of Jammu and Kashmir?
Every year we take about 1500 students at UG, PG, Ph. D. etc. In engineering, we are doing very well. We have two nursing colleges where demand is high because they have 100% employment. One indicator of IUST’s importance is that during the last 5 years, the IUST has filed/published 16 patents and a few more are being registered. Many of the universities have zero patents during the same time. We have connected all the colleges of the state for promoting innovation and skilling in the UT. Just a month back, we invited the principals of all the colleges and interacted with them. We told them we want to build your capacity in innovation, incubation and entrepreneurship. If you give the right atmosphere to the youth and students, I think nobody can stop them from innovating, incubating and turning their ideas into start-up and then into big industries. In the 14th century, people from Central Asia came here and gave us skills. We learnt a lot of skills from them. Shahi Hamadan and his disciples taught us many things. I think every university has to be a Shahi Hamadan here. We have to upgrade the skills of the people and this is possible through massive innovation capacity building of youth and people. The reason I got connected to colleges is to increase the IUST footprint.
Q. There is intellectual migration. People get skilled and move to other places in order to get a job. How can we deal with it?
One solution to this problem is to promote entrepreneurship. A bright student doesn't get a government job. Instead of seeking a job, if we train him and make him an entrepreneur who shall provide jobs to others instead of running after petty jobs. Recently we floated an expression of interest under CIED inviting ideas from the public. We received 120 ideas and applications. We earmarked about 2 crores rupees for this scheme in CIED out of our own resources. We wanted to encourage and provide a platform to people to innovate and incubate their ideas. We have decided to support 30 best ideas and would provide them financial assistance to further develop their ideas. Out of these 30, if only 5 could reach the startup level, I would feel satisfied. We will incubate their ideas for one or two years here and then help them to establish industries and also connect them with industries, national institutes and investors.
Q. Tell us about any innovation your university has done and how it can lead to the development of the university too?
This university has developed several innovations such as anti-COVID chambers. It is used for restraining covid infection in hospitals. If there is a covid positive patient in hospital and as there are chances for others to catch the virus, the chamber is used for preventing the infections. The chamber is installed in CD Hospital. To make it an industrial product and do mass production, we will connect the innovator to the industries and banks. The university and the innovator will both earn with this startup. The leading innovative countries have more patents and more developments. Similarly, there are 15 other innovations that we have registered during the recent years. You need to visit the university and different labs to know about all these inventions.
What reforms can we get at an academic level to change these ideas into reality?
We have a potential to grow in several areas but for innovation and entrepreneurship development, our achievements have been recognized. So, we want to take a leap in this regard. For example, we have a huge horticulture industry in Kashmir valley. Government is promoting the high-density variety. If the government promotes mass production of fruits, they need to create matching efforts on marketing, storage and transportation fronts. There is a need for using Science and Technology to provide solutions to some of the problems facing the sector. We are going to build the skills of the students in areas that would help us to promote this important sector in the Kashmir valley. Leather industry can be another opportunity. If you have a diploma or degree in leather technology, this place can become a very important center for export of leather goods. We all do consume meat and the hides are being thrown away. Likewise, there is a huge scope for promoting the cultivation of medicinal plants and using recent advancement in adding value to the products. If we promote the relevant industry which uses these plants, we shall add value to it and enhance the livelihood of the dependent people.
In this university, we are extracting an aromatic oil named Seher. We have earmarked 200 kanals of land in the campus-II for cultivation of aromatic and medicinal plants and would demonstrate the usefulness of local medicinal plants and aromatic plants for extracting essential oils and perfumes. Unless and until we do it here, impart skills to youth, we will continue to suffer at the hands of the middle men. This place has potential to grow in this sector and be the center of economic activity in an environmentally friendly manner.