Jamia Millia Islamia’s vice chancellor Najma Akhtar is focussed on imparting 21st Century skills to her students and being at the forefront of research
Steering the central university during a turbulent phase and overseeing its emergence as third ranked university in NIRF rankings in 2022, is Jamia’s first lady vice-chancellor, Najma Akhtar. Heading the university that has a brilliant legacy of over 100 years and ensuring its role as a leading higher education provider catering to 21st Century R&D, skilling and employability needs is no mean achievement, but Akhtar has been doing it silently.
The university was born during the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1920 when a group of students and faculty had broken away from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and started a new institution outside AMU premises from tents. The university, that had the support of stalwarts like Mahatma Gandhi, was closely aligned with independence struggle and was for a long stint headed by Zakir Husain (later the President of India), has produced rich intellectual ferment in its 100 years.
Its contribution to education economic empowerment of masses is equally impressive, with its vast umbrella of departments and schools imparting education in a large range of course. Under the new VC, further new courses have started.
The ambit of courses – from bachelors to PhD – is vast indeed: Masters courses in Energy sciences, computational mathematics, microbiology, virology (which has become crucial in the wake of Covid); MSc environment science; MBA pharmaceutical management, MBA in entrepreneurship and family business; MBA tourism and travel management; hotel management; MSc banking and financial analytics; M Arch that has architecture and planning components, master of design & innovation and vocational courses.
There is a range of language-related courses, like French and Francophone studies; Spanish and Latin American studies; Mandarin, Korean and PG Diploma in English translation bachelors’ level and some Mandarin Chinese and Korean. “We have a Centre for Korean Studies. The Korean Government has shown a lot of interest in it and our students pursue it, because it would be advantageous to them when they are seeking jobs,” Akhtar tells.
The VC is keen that the courses should make students employable and adds, “There’s no use of getting a degree if you’re not able to get employed.” To that end, the placement cell works day and night to get the students placed, well in time, before the course ends. The university organises job readiness workshops, mock interviews and extension lectures by industry professionals. Further, MoUs are being signed with the CSR wings of the big corporates like IBM and NGOs like Nandi Foundation so that they can reach out through Jamia to make the needy job ready.
The Coaching Academy of Jamia focusses on preparing its students for Civil Services and has produced a number of success stories, including IAS topper Shruti Sharma.
Women to the fore
Belying stereotypes, Jamia has a lot of girl students in engineering branches and scientific research programmes. Girl students from first generation learners are making a change in their whole families. Akhtar shares she also encourages girls to join Armed forces. She informs that at Jamia, NCC girls’ wings is bigger than the boys’ wing.
The university reaches out to girl students not just on the campus but through several urban centres and a few rural ones too, with educational, vocational training and health interventions. It offers short-term courses in online and offline mode like digital marketing, embroidery, basics of beautician beauty parlours, bakery training and the university is planning to offer advanced tailoring from next year. Renowned beautician Shahnaz Husain has extended support to Jamia for its courses in beautician and Akhtar says that makes a lot of difference.
Much work is being done in research, with an increased emphasis on collaboration, joint research and multidisciplinary work.
“We are fortunate to have good researchers, who were doing their work individually; now they are doing it collectively, identifying the areas of national importance. These are relevant researches,” Akhtar shares.
The research infrastructure has been augmented. The Department of Science and Technology (DST) grant of Rs 15 crore has led to the university getting sophisticated instruments and setting up Central Instrumentation Facility. The university allows this infrastructure to be used by researchers of other universities too. The university got 11 patents granted in the current academic year.
Several Jamia students have also benefitted from the Prime Minister Research Fellowship. Akhtar informs that the very first year when PMRF was announced, eight students had secured the fellowship, seven of whom were girl students. The number of these students has now gone up to 20. This way, they are pursuing their research, while at the same time getting financially empowered.
The research and academic thrust is further enhanced by partnerships – 70 MoUs – with University of Virginia, University of Erfurt (Germany), University of Westminster (UK), Korea Foundation, among others. These ‘vibrant’ MoUs provides opportunities for joint research and student & faculty exchange, she says.
In sync with NEP
All praise for NEP, Akhtar says, “This is something we have been waiting for, for a very long time. This is a futuristic policy which understands the problems of today and plans for tomorrow.”
She informs that after much brainstorming over the implementation of components of NEP, like multiple entries and exits, Bank of Credit, switch to four-year degree courses, the university is ready for it.
Akhtar says, “We are ready with implementation plan at the earliest so that there’s no gap between the coming of the policy and actually bringing it to the field. NEP wanted us to be a multi-entry and multi-exit option which is something which has never been done in India. There was a lot of brainstorming at the national level and I was part of many of the committees, on how to implement it. And in Jamia, we are now ready to implement it.”
Talking about the benefit of multiple exit and entry points she says, “Students can take up their credits, put them in a digilocker and also go away and do the work they have to do at that time. Maybe somebody’s getting married or somebody’s going abroad or be occupied with any other work. They can come back, use the credits and start from there onwards. So, the student does not lose his year.”
In Akhtar, the University has an able administrator to take the brilliant legacy forward.