Deeply engrossed in ‘Mission Quality’

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 04 Jan 2017 09:51:42

The Hitavada Team,

The task of a leader is difficult. For, he has to ensure the best output of an institution he is heading, irrespective of the limitations imposed by availability or non-availability of resources. This holds true for Dr Sidharthvinayak Padmakar Kane, Vice-Chancellor of Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University (RTMNU).
Dr Kane has to run the university with whatever material available to him. He has to initiate his plans with whatever staff he has. He has to get going to improve the status of the university with whatever the stuff of students available. He has to pursue his aim of taking the university to glorious heights despite the chains of politics in some dark corners of the institution. But, he is a man well aware of these factors. A true leader, he knows how to get going and lead RTMNU.

“There are certain limitations which I am aware of. Despite those, being the head of RTMNU, I have to ensure that it runs efficiently,” says Dr S P Kane during an interaction with ‘The Hitavada’ editors during the weekly ‘The Hitavada -- Confluence’ on Tuesday.
One can understand the high degree of difficulty and challenges that Dr Kane faces, from the fact that he heads seventh biggest university in the country catering to 4.5 lakh students of around 600 affiliated colleges, 38 departments, and conducting 1,100 examinations twice every year. Having served as the Controller of Examination previously, this brilliant academician knows the intricacies of conducting the mammoth exercise called examinations.

“People always compare our examination system with that of matriculation examination. This comparison is wrong. Multiple boards conduct only two examinations as compared to our 1,100 examinations. It is like a railway station. One station has only one train to be monitored and another has to keep track of 1,100 trains,” explains Dr Kane, who as a young man of 23 years had joined the Department of Statistics as lecturer after completing his education in the same university.

Since joining the university as a lecturer, Dr Kane served as an academician for long years. In his own admission, he was completely away from the university hierarchy, administrative work, elections, politics embedded into university functioning. He gained knowledge of all these factors for the first time during his tenure as Controller of Examinations.

Speaking about that experience, Dr Kane admits candidly, “I was a bit apprehensive. I knew my limitations. Basically, I am an introvert. In administration, one needs to be an extrovert. Secondly, I was absolutely unaware of hierarchy, system, lobbies etc. Since I was entrusted with the task, I took up the challenge. I studied the rules, laws, hierarchy, examination system etc. I came to know about political under-currents, who king-makers were etc. Unfortunately, apart from requisite educational qualifications, one must be aware about these things. My background of statistics helped a lot in analysing the situation and shaping a well-calculated response.”

Being a teacher of Statistics, Dr Kane is well-versed with handling of a huge database. In fact, having specialisation in Operational Research, he learnt how to give optimum results despite the odds. In due course of time, the university got full-time Controller of Examination, and Dr Kane returned to his department. But, this journey of his as Controller of Examination and later as Director of Internal Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) made him more confident.

Fortune favours the brave, it is said. On this count also, Dr Kane feels that Destiny has been kind to him. A person of his temperament could not work under the influence of pressure groups. But, Destiny conspired and provided him the congenial atmosphere, as all bodies got dissolved as part of preparation to implement new University Act, and full powers were vested in Vice-Chancellor. That enabled Dr Kane to run the university in his own style after taking over as Vice-Chancellor.
Since taking over the reins of RTMNU, Dr Kane has ushered in some changes. Under his leadership, the university has adopted technology by starting on-screen valuation, on-line delivery of question papers to avoid irregularities in the examinations. Still, there are certain issues that are causes of concern for him.

Dr Kane recognises that teachers and students are basic components of a university. However, he laments, 65 per cent students coming to the university are much below average and remaining are above average. Then, there are systems like Allowed-to-keep-Term (ATKT) and non-zero score. And, even with these given, a university has to admit students with just pass-marks and also the ones with more than 90 per cent marks. “Students cannot be deprived of admission, irrespective of marks they score.” With this kind of raw material, he has to deliver the goods, he remarks.

This creates problems. For, when overall picture of the student-base with a university is formed, much is left to be desired. The problem is compounded when affiliated colleges tend to give better marks in practicals to their students. And, when this chunk goes out in the job market, the debate over employability starts. Dr Kane has given a deeper thought to the issue, and is trying to address it.

Now, RTMNU has given the task of conducting 50 per cent of the examinations to affiliated colleges. But, won’t this be an opportunity to colleges to be liberal with giving marks to their students? He is not worried about this. For, he has put in place a mechanism of filter. The first semester examination will be conducted by colleges, and students will be evaluated through second semester examination conducted by university. Next few semester examinations will be conducted again by colleges, and the university will conduct last two semester examinations.

“If a student gets more marks in college examination and less in the one conducted by university, then he will himself realise the damage caused. Besides, by the time last two semester examinations are conducted, a student is in final year without any subjects ‘back’ in ATKT,” RTMNU Vice-Chancellor explains.

Isn’t it a compromise in favour of mediocrity?
“One may say, it is a compromise in favor of mediocrity. Or, one may look at it as a chance of judging students,” Dr Kane replies with a smile.

In his capacity as Vice-Chancellor of RTMNU, Dr Kane has been addressing problems. Still, he is pained when Indian universities are compared with foreign universities. Having been to universities in Hungary (where he was a visiting professor), Indonesia, Britain etc, he has a good study of systems there. “In India, we have to run a university with whatever resources available to us, with all constraints. No top-class academician can think of running the university in India the way universities in London or New York are run,” he says. He lists difference of eco-systems, infrastructure availability, quality of students etc as reasons.

To comparison of university with IITs and IIMs, Dr Kane says that it is also based on flawed premise. Because, students with high scores in entrance tests are admitted to IITs and IIMs, and the universities have to accommodate students with differential score. There is a great difference between food cooked in coconut oil and that cooked in groundnut oil, he comments.
Often, there is comparison on the basis of ranking of universities by various agencies. He dislikes it. When the matter was raised in an official meeting, he made his stand clear. “I promised to ensure better ranking for the university, provided Rs 1,000 crore was made available to me for infrastructure development, apart from powers to admit only the students with 90 per cent or more marks. Else, I wanted powers to conduct entrance test in my own way,” he recalls. Of course, that is his idealistic demand.

Dr Kane’s mission is not restricted to improving quality of students alone. He wants quality of teachers also to be enhanced. The process starts at award of PhD to teachers. Realising this, he has sent a proposal to University Grants Commission (UGC) seeking evaluation of PhD in a transparent manner. Only the bare thesis, without any reference to identity of a candidate, university, guide should be sent to UGC for evaluation, he feels. The step is needed to ensure quality of research being done for PhD. At present, in his assessment, only 30-40 per cent of PhD degrees are useful to the society at large. “With stringent norms being put in place, change will definitely come,” he says with an element of positivity and hopefulness in his voice.

Dr Kane’s initiatives are not restricted to examinations and academics only. He is well aware of the importance of sports. He has taken some measures to expedite procurement of blazers and track-suits for sportspersons representing the university. Also, he has streamlined the process of railway reservations for players. And, he feels that there is enough motivation available within the university system for the sportspersons to flourish. “Of course, a student interested in sports finds his way,” he adds with optimism.

Optimism, by the way, is a key value of his life. It helps him keep smiling, enables him to shape response to situations, and motivates him to move ahead. Though an expert in statistics, he is not unaware of the need for teachers and students to have better language education. But, for language of a person to be good, he expects schools to be better equipped in this regard.
Talking of equipment, Dr S P Kane is grateful to Mathematics and statistics. “My subject helped me develop an analytical brain. I can form a picture of a situation in my head and then act accordingly,” he adds while signing off.

Being at the helm of affairs of an institution consumes a lot of mental and spiritual energy, irrespective of the odds. But, this statistics professor knows how to play even with odds, and how to solve seemingly complex equations. And, this quality makes Dr S P Kane an able administrator, a good leader.