Interview with Dr. P. Sathyanarayanan in Higher Education Plus online

Date: April 23, 2018

Practice-oriented Studies is Always Our Focus, Dr. P.Sathyanarayanan, President, SRM university

SRM University is best known for its engineering programme. What do you think are its salient features?

Since the outset, we have kept our eyes focused on one thing- to deliver 21st-century engineers who are driven by passion, innovation, and imagination. Engineering is not just a science. It is an art as well. Students at SRM University are taught to think beyond the four walls of the classroom and their textbook binders.

If you ask me specifically as to what are the salient features of our School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), I would say:

  • International Collaborations: We have collaborated with 105 universities in 20 countries – University of California, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Delft, Warwick, and Wisconsin- Milwaukee University, to name a few; enabling B.Tech. students to study a semester abroad.
  • Accolades and Recognitions: SRM Institute of Science and Technology is India’s only multidisciplinary university with a 4-star QS world rating. We are NAAC “A” grade rated and fall in MHRD “A” category.
  • Placements: Students are trained to be industry ready from day one on campus. 469 companies offered 5684 jobs to SRM Engineering students in 2016-17. Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Siemens, Hyundai Motors, Fuji Xerox, Bank of America, Honda, SAP Labs, Michelin, Cisco, Shell India and Vestas, to name a few.
  • Top class faculty: At our newly established SRM University-AP, Amaravati, we have 100% Ph.D. faculty with international exposure at some of the best institutions across India and internationally

How do you impart practical learning in students? What are the teaching methodologies used to make students learn practical aspects of engineering fundamentals?

I have been delving into methods of ‘experiential teaching’ for a while now and at the forefront of our pedagogy is Interdisciplinary experiential active learning (IDEAL). We at SRM University have been reaching out to globally renowned academicians and think-tanks to design pedagogies that are primarily practice-oriented and multidisciplinary in nature. Our students attend multiple workshops, conclaves, conferences, field-trips and industry-interface sessions which help them bridge the gap between classroom and industry. These initiatives do not just end here. All SRM graduates are trained through role plays, case studies, and simulation games. They attend 45-90 days’ internships in various organizations, across challenging profiles.

To make the learning process even more dialogic and interactive, teachers often become students and students are asked to take classroom sessions around interesting topics or subjects. Initiatives such as these help them spend a considerable amount of time delving into the depth of various topics and research extensively around them.

What is your vision for students in all branches of your university?

SRM University was built around the vision to emerge as a world-class university in creating and disseminating knowledge and providing students a unique learning experience in their chosen field of scholarship that would best serve the society.

How do you think inter-college/university events/activities expand the horizon of students?

At SRM University, we have 100+ clubs across campuses helping students to do what they want to do, post their academic hours. While few passionately practice drama in the theatre society, others are seen in the music or dance room, rehearsing throughout the evening. While the football or cricket team of the University is representing SRM in inter-college competitions, students are returning with trophies from various events ranging from quiz, debate, case presentations, gaming, coding, to name a few.

It is mesmerizing to see the kind of energy these activities infuse in them. They are young. They are magical and a little bit of extra-help enable them to do wonders- in both academics as well as extracurricular activities.

Do you think there is an industry-academia disconnect among the young graduates of today? How do you think universities should resolve this?

No, not anymore! If you had asked me this question a few years back, yes, there was a huge disconnect between classroom and industry but with time, the gap has been bridged significantly. Last few years have seen Indian Universities and colleges walking extra miles to bring India depth and global breadth to higher education.

At SRM University, we use the following techniques to connect our students to the industry, right from their classroom days:

  • The curriculum in itself is designed by academicians and practitioners of global repute
  • We have a career linked cap-stone project in the final year for students across schools
  • Last academic year itself, we had more than 200+ industry stalwarts interact with our students at SRM University
  • The University counts among its strengths a stellar faculty body, 100% of which has international teaching or industry exposure.
  • The internship opportunities help them get the taste of the real world working culture right as students.
  • The University plans field-trips, student exchange programmes, study abroad semesters, research projects and assignments which help the students stay ahead in the game

Most of the professors at colleges and universities are academically trained. Do you think there is an urgent need of industry trained teachers in practical disciplines such as engineering, law, and medicine?

My answer to this question is an absolute affirmative. You might be academically sound but if you come with narrow industry experience, you will be unable to impart complete education to your students. Teaching the theory is important but to help students know the realities of the corporate world and its survival strategies, even more.

What kinds of reforms are required in higher education at large these days?

I strongly believe we in India are not backing education with innovation the way it should be. Yes, we are doing our bits individually as institutions and universities but with innovations such as Cambridge Analytica, Crypto-currency, developments in AI, the culture of start-ups, global political changes, new policies, critical laws, etc. it is becoming increasingly imperative to develop students who can think out of the box. At SRM University, we say “get an education, not just a degree.”

Universities got to come together to build a strong ecosystem of research and creativity driven education culture. It is not a move that can be taken in isolation. It has to be a collective effort if we are meaning to achieve revolutionary, path-breaking changes in the world of academics.


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