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Excellence as goal

Published : Jun 15, 2012 00:00 IST

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The imposing building of Gujarat University in Ahmedabad.-PICTURES: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The imposing building of Gujarat University in Ahmedabad.-PICTURES: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The unique initiatives of Gujarat University to provide education to all have made it a leading centre of learning.

GUJARAT UNIVERSITY was set up in Ahmedabad in 1949 after India attained Independence. But the idea of starting a university in the region had been conceived by men like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Kasturbhai Lalbhai and Dada Saheb Mavlankar long before that. The spirit of learning that these men inspired was passed on to the university. Today, 63 years later, Gujarat University is recognised as one of the leading centres of learning in the country, providing education in a wide range of disciplines. The university endeavours to keep abreast of the times without compromising on the spirit of the past.

The stately university building stands on an expansive 104-hectare campus in the sylvan Navrangpura area of the city. However, it is the new Convention Centre covering an area of 2,50,000 square feet (22,599 square metres) that gets pride of place on the campus. The centre has a mega exhibition hall spread over 60,000 sq ft with a seating capacity of 2,500 people, two seminar halls with a seating capacity of 2,500 people, a cafeteria and a large parking space. The halls are equipped with modern technologies for holding all types of conventions, seminars, exhibitions and events.

At one point of time, part of the extensive estates of the university was occupied by squatters, and the rest of the land was in a state of neglect. It was an act of great daring to evict the squatters and spend as large an amount as Rs.40 crore to build the convention centre. The convention centre has already generated nearly Rs.6,000 crore for the State of Gujarat during the Vibrant Gujarat-Golden Jubilee celebrations of the university.

In keeping with the tradition of innovation in education, the university has started several new programmes. One of these is the choice-based credit system in semester mode. This was introduced by the outgoing Vice-Chancellor, Parimal H. Trivedi, and is unique to Gujarat University. It has been the main focus of the university in planning for a systemic shift in its postgraduate and research programmes from the next academic year.

After detailed studies of the working of the semester system, a decision was taken to shift students from the annual examination pattern to the semester system in arts, science, commerce, law and computer science streams. From the academic year 2010-11, all postgraduate programmes of the university were shifted to the semester system. Then efforts began to convert the undergraduate programmes into the semester system.

This was a more complicated exercise for a number of reasons. But even this proved successful and the semester system was introduced smoothly at the undergraduate level as well.

Computer on Wheels

Another interesting and unique initiative of the university is the multimedia mobile classroom, popularly known as computer on wheels, or just COW. The programme fits in with the university's special efforts to increase the information technology infrastructure and provide extensive access to students and teachers alike. These facilities are mostly located within the campus. With the availability of a 10-mbps (megabytes per second) connectivity from Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), the university has been able to extend intranet connectivity to all affiliated colleges in Ahmedabad. But its main focus is to extend the educational facilities to far-flung rural areas. This is where the role of the COW becomes important.

The COW is a specially modified vehicle. It houses 17 computer terminals, including one main server connected through a local area network (LAN) with the Internet facility. It works as a classroom and a laboratory and provides Internet access. A public address system broadcasts information about the availability of the facility in the areas to which the mobile classroom travels, announces its schedules and provides important information about the university's activities, such as examination schedules. The COW was created at a cost of Rs.13.5 lakh, donated by Kirit Solanki, Member of Parliament.

Upasana School of Performing Arts

India has a unique heritage of dance, music and culture. In order to propagate and preserve this heritage, the university established the Upasana School of Performing Arts in 2011. The school offers postgraduate degrees in performing arts, covering drama, Hindustani vocal, Hindustani instrumental (percussion and non-percussion), Carnatic vocal, Kathak and Bharatanatyam.

Study abroad programme

The university has introduced Kadamb, a one-of-its-kind study abroad programme (SAP), with a world language laboratory. It has started a Department of SAP with three programmes, namely, Semester in India, India Courses, and International Programmes. Foreign/non-resident Indian (NRI) students are given admission through the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), the United States Educational Foundation in India (USEFI), the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) and various embassies and consulates.

Gujarat University is the only university in the country to offer such study programmes for foreign/NRI students and students in the persons of Indian origin (PIO) category. Moreover, the university is the only one in India to have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Educational Consultants India Limited (EdCIL), a public sector enterprise under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, undertaking to invite foreign and NRI students under SAP in all the faculties. The Ministry has sent senior officers and diplomats on study visits to other countries.

The ICCR has selected Gujarat University to assist Afghan students under the Prime Minister's special scholarship scheme. The SAP department has emerged as a progressive one with nine other programmes: research programme in Indian diaspora and foreign language programmes in French, Spanish, Arabic, German, Chinese, Japanese and Russian languages. It also conducts courses for corporates under organisational communication and voice modulation studies. Its world language laboratory is a fourth-generation, state-of-the-art facility.

At present, 277 foreign students, besides NRIs, are studying in the university, and 339 foreign students are already its alumni since 2006. The countries from which the students have come include the U.S., the United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Iraq, Egypt, Japan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Russia, Maldives, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The foreign universities and institutions with which MoUs have been signed include Otemon Gakuin University, Osaka, Japan; Birmingham College, U.K.; University of Regina, Canada; British Petroleum, U.K.; the University of Granada, Spain; the University of Wroclaw, Poland; and Fairleigh Dickenson University, New Jersey, U.S. GOPIO, a global organisation founded at the First Global Convention of People of Indian Origin in New York in 1989, has opened its Gujarat chapter in association with Gujarat University.

GURU FM Radio network

Gujarat University Radio Unbound, or G.U.R.U., is the FM radio network of the university. It was inaugurated on March 30 by State Governor Kamla Beniwal, who is also the Chancellor of the university. The radio has already started regular broadcasts covering all student-related news such as examination and admission schedules, and programmes on a variety of subjects in order to enable students to expand their knowledge beyond the syllabi.

Kshitij hi-tech computer lab

One of the special initiatives undertaken by the authorities is reforms to bring the examination system online. This was possible with the establishment of Kshitij, the hi-tech computer laboratory, with financial support from the State government. This laboratory has 400 terminals with suitable servers and power back-up systems and is financially supported by the State government. It operates on a secured closed network. This facility was inaugurated in May by holding an online examination for students doing MSc (Information Technology). Nearly 350 students appeared for the examination simultaneously from Kshitij. The unique feature of the examination was that the students downloaded even the question papers from the Net. Another laboratory on similar lines is under construction.

Higher education is not viable today without the use of advanced technology. Gujarat University has established an optical fibre network to connect each and every corner of the campus electronically. The network extends even to affiliated colleges. The best part of the network is that it provides access to e-books and e-journals. At present, the university subscribes to 11,680 e-books and 120 e-journals at a cost of Rs.3.27 lakh.

The motto of the university, Yogah karmasu kaushalam, which roughly translates as Yoga is where work is done to perfection, motivates the teachers and students who pass through its portals to achieve excellence. The university's mission is to enhance students' knowledge through an up-to-date syllabus and innovative teaching methods.

It also promotes research and consultancy so that the fruits of education can be extended for the benefit of society, and students can in turn improve their skills and be able to compete at global levels. The university's vision is to be a centre of excellence and provide value-based quality education efficiently, with financial sustainability, thereby leading to socio-economic welfare of society through enrichment of human capital. Given its achievements so far, there can be no doubt that it is well on the road to achieving its objectives.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jun 15, 2012.)

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