12 March 2022 11:22:57 IST

Shiv Nadar University prioritises fundamental research over applied 

Shiv Nadar University Delhi

Dr Ananya Mukherjee took over as the third Vice-Chancellor of Shiv Nadar University, Delhi-NCR, on January 31. Dr Mukherjee, who held senior positions in two of Canada’s largest universities in Ontario and British Columbia, obtained her doctoral degree (political economy & public policy) from the University of Southern California and her BA and MA degrees (Economics) from Jadavpur University.  

Ananya Mukherjee, Vice-Chancellor, Shiv Nadar University, Delhi-NCR

An interdisciplinary scholar of development studies, Dr Mukherjee’s work focuses on inclusive and people-centred development. In this interview, she talks about her agenda for SNU and how she intends to bring research to the forefront. 

In what way is a Shiv Nadar University education different from other comparable university?   
Many things are different, but to name a few, the multidisciplinarity — to think beyond the disciplinary boundaries. Secondly, the focus on research. Building research focus right from the undergraduate and retaining a commitment to basic and fundamental research. At SNU, research is not limited to masters and doctoral students, it extends to under graduation as well. There has been a tendency, globally, to shift towards applied research, but we prioritise fundamental research even though it is difficult to do and does not yield results overnight, as it helps develop new knowledge.   
The varsity was granted an ‘Institution of Eminence’ status by the UGC last year. What has changed?  
The multidisciplinarity, the research commitment, and the global partnerships, all played a part in getting the IoE status. This process requires the signing of an MoU between the university and the government. We need to submit a plan that lays down the milestones we will fulfil. One of those is retaining a student-faculty ratio of 1:10. We have to constantly recruit faculty to maintain this ratio. Another requirement is that our faculty remain global. Then, there are very strong research commitments that have been made in terms of exploring new research areas. 
We recently established a Centre for Research in epigenetics; another centre for Himalayan studies is coming up. Additionally, the notion of sustainability is woven into the academic fabric of the institution. There is going to be teaching and research work in the areas of climate justice and climate change. How we conduct our day-to-day operations as a green campus will be aligned to that. 
Apart from the engineering disciplines, you have three other schools within SNU. How are these schools faring in terms of admissions, learning outcomes, placements, faculty and research?   
Faring very well. The School of Management and Entrepreneurship is the youngest, which is doing quite well, both placement-wise and the kind of students it attracts. It has an absolutely stellar international advisory board from top universities in the world and great faculty. There is a lot of very good quality academic work that is coming out of the School of Social Sciences and Humanities.
The School of Natural Sciences is engaged with the new areas of research in epigenetics in green chemistry, in studies of molecular biology, and so on. When it comes to faculty, one of our professors, Bimlesh Lochab has recently been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), UK. It’s only a 10-year-old institution and to see four quite distinct schools, where faculty and students are faring this well on such a regular basis, is quite a feat.   
There’s a transformation in engineering education taking place. One is, of course, more multidisciplinarity, but also veering more towards deep tech courses. How has SNU taken to these courses?
We are taking what is historically considered to be quintessential to the engineering discipline — the domain knowledge — and trying to create a balance with new deep tech fields.
Training students in the continuity of the discipline, and at the same time in the cutting-edge developments are important in placements as well as attracting very good students. And we’re also being able to attract good, research-driven faculty who believe in the multidisciplinary nature of engineering, and not simply focussing on the latest trends. We’re trying to develop more holistic knowledge for the students. 
Students from all kinds of disciplines of engineering get sucked into software as that’s the growing sector and also offers better compensation packages – does that mean other sectors such as civil and mechanical are starved of talent?  
What you described is a global trend that we are also seeing at SNU. At the undergraduate level, we see a disproportionate interest in computer science engineering. But then in the higher levels, particularly at the PhD levels, the trend is kind of reversed because just as more of those who were trained in these new fields are in the industry, whereas some others are showing the interest of coming back into research and scholarship. And certainly, there is a lot of appetite at SNU to nurture research interests in students whenever possible.
SNU has inked partnerships with nearly 20 universities abroad. So, what do these partnerships bring to the table for SNU?  
Traditionally, the partnerships have just been student-faculty exchange but I would love to develop joint programmes through our partnerships. If we truly believe in a global community of shared knowledge, then there should be a two-way equal partnership, with students travelling to India as well. And, that’s what I would like to see happen. I would very much like SNU to be home to that kind of a mutual exchange from different parts of the world. The time for an equal global partnership has come.