DR. G. PANKAJAM became the Vice-Chancellor of the Gandhigram Rural Institute in 2001. She was brought up in Gandhigram and she received her doctorate from Madurai Kamaraj University. She has 33 years of teaching experience, including 16 years as the Principal of Lakshmi College of Education, Gandhigram. Dr. Pankajam's research on child development earned her a Fulbright Fellowship in 1995. She has guided 52 M.Ed. and M.Phil., and two Ph.D. students.
"Gandhigram is getting plenty of funds from a lot of agencies because we are proving that we can perform," she said without a trace of boast.
A development profile of this deemed university, situated near Dindigul, for the past three years shows that it has in fact performed. It received five-star status from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC); introduced 13 new academic programmes; started five part-time and certificate courses; began 27 refresher courses; founded the Distance Education Centre; and revamped the choice-based credit system for students. It did all this without losing sight of its basic objective of "motivating its students to work for rural uplift".
The GRI insists that every student spend a week every year in a village, study a problem and find a solution. Introduced in April 1998, the Village Placement Programme has four objectives: providing opportunities to students to understand the different facets of rural society; enabling them to relate classroom learning to field realities; sharing development information with people; and facilitating projects that will benefit villagers. On an average, about 1,000 students and 90 teachers take part in every Village Placement Programme. Their activities include shramdhan (voluntary service), conducting surveys, popularising science, chlorinating drinking water, and constructing soak-pits and roads.
"We have taken up extension work in 100 villages around Gandhigram," Dr. Pankajam said. The GRI has taken up participatory sustainable agriculture development in 65 villages to propagate organic farming and agro-forestry.
Besides conventional courses, the GRI offers M.Phil. in Gandhian Thought and Peace Science, Rural Industries and Management, Development Sociology, and Futurology. It offers M.Sc. courses in Dairy Science and Geo Informatics; diplomas in Khadi and Handloom Technology, and Building Science and Technology; and a certificate course in Medicinal Plants.
The curriculum is a combination of both theoretical foundation and extension experiments. "The Geo Informatics course will be oriented towards rural development and identifying research projects in rural areas," Dr. Pankajam said.