The history of Ravenshaw is the history of modern Odisha. A veritable Methuselah of learning, this “monument of un-ageing intellect,” the cradle of the warriors of modern Odisha is a renaissance of wonder that proudly proclaims to the world its vibrant spiritual presence and physical entity, where time stands still. The age-old institution recently witnessed a transition from a college to a university. Professor Ishan K Patro is now its Vice-Chancellor. Prof Patro holds MPhil and PhD from the Kurukshetra University. He had his Post-Doctoral research from the University of Cologne, Germany. He is a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and Indian Academy of Neurosciences. He has completed 13 major research projects from DBT, DST and ICMR; published 85 papers in National and International journals, organized 23 conferences/ symposia/workshops in neuroscience and has guided 26 successful PhD theses. He was instrumental in opening up of research studies in Neuroscience at the Jiwaji University, Gwalior. Honours and accolades came cascading down upon Prof Patro. He is Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, India, Fellow of the Collegium Internationale Neuro-Psychopharmacologicum, Fellow of the Indian Academy of Neurosciences. He has been decorated with academic and scientific awards like KT Shetty Memorial Oration of the Indian Academy of Neurosciences, Defence Research and Establishment Award (Best Paper Award for Biological Sciences), AV Tilak Award of the Association of Gerontology (India) for the best research paper-1988, Late Prof RK Shrivastava Memorial Oration, Indian Science Congress (Sagar Chapter), 2017, BK Bachhawat Lifetime Achievement Award of Indian Academy of Neurosciences, 2018. In an interview to The Pioneer, Prof Patro spoke to Sugyan Choudhury on vital issues concerning the Ravenshaw University.
How far the tradition of excellence of the Ravenshaw College has been transmitted to the students of the present Ravenshaw University?
It has been a great pleasure to lead the country’s elite and Odisha’s oldest institute. Ravenshaw College definitely has a glorious past. As a university, the college has transformed to a knowledge generation hub. It is now better than before. I am sure we are doing well which is reflected in the performance of our alumni. Ravenshaw has all possibilities to be a centre of excellence and opportunities galore to lead higher education in Odisha. We have some prudent, many active and growing as well as some internationally acclaimed faculty. To me, it appears they have been waiting to be empowered to excel.
What are your plans for galvanising the academic environ of the varsity?
Academic environment in Odisha is certainly better. Our students are awake and desire to achieve but are less aware. Now, there has been a shift in teacher-student relationship. We need to bring in changes in our attitude as elders to accommodate them. I feel the students in Odisha need to be motivated and encouraged more to take up challenges and stimulate them to think beyond. The faculties are capable. We are exploring all possibilities for interdisciplinary research. We need to converge and prove our worth. We are concentrating on Odisha, its history, literature, tribes, ethnicity, biodiversity, public health, commerce and so on with a global perspective. We have initiated several activities to keep our students and faculties well-informed of the latest developments in respective subjects. The Ravenshaw-150 Lecture series has helped our students and teachers know the mantras of success from the achievers of the country and abroad.
How do you contemplate to enrich the research atmosphere of the varsity?
Ravenshaw has been and is a centre of excellence. Earlier, we had no or a few institutes to compare. Lack of total strengths of faculties is a major issue. We expect the available 170+plus posts to be filled soon. The university has started supporting teachers with seed grant to write research projects/ grant applications. We are initiating a teaching-cum-research fellowship for the youth. In keeping with the tradition of responsiveness to the needs and aspirations of the wider community, we have initiated two Centres of Excellence, Odishan Studies and Environment & Public Health. A Centre for Neuroscience and Cognitive Studies, a Centre for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, a Centre for Women’s Studies, a Centre for Sri Aurobindo Studies and Futurology, an Arta Ballabh Centre for Digital Humanities have been established; and, I must admit, the response is gladdening.
We have now established a Central Research Facility with state-of-the-art instrumentation with barrier-free laboratories for scientific research including cutting edge areas like neuroscience, biotechnology, public health. Internationalisation of the campus; help ideas are to be converted to products; besides, employability-oriented credits in teaching; providing an environment that could convert the university to a knowledge factory; open doors for collaboration for better research; concentrate on health and wellbeing in an ever youthful human population; “Idea to Innovation Campus”, etc.
What’s your vision plans to have Ravenshaw among the top 100 universities of the world?
Our mission is to make Ravenshaw a transformative learning community such that students realise their dreams; faculties create new knowledge, and alumni become global leaders. The university envisages a dynamic, progressive, interdisciplinary culture leading to path-breaking academic innovations and researches. This is central to the endeavours for excellence as far as the needs of the contemporary knowledge society are concerned. The university aspires to achieve a distinctive global identity in the fields of collaborative practice, extension, resource development and social literacy. Our strategic goal is to transform Ravenshaw into a research hub par excellence by converting the institutional potentiality into performance at all levels.
What will be your memorable contributions to this grand old institution after your superannuation?
A second campus and at least a 100 young and able faculties.
What are the impediments you are confronting from the State and Central Governments on your mission to catapult the varsity to your cherished ideals?
Most who think the university has deteriorated have not even cared to visit or even read its annual reports. There has been a general decline in higher education in the country. We need to look into reforms at several levels. I must clearly mention it is only the people who have been creating hurdles in the process of selection of faculty. For every small issue, they bring in litigations. Some of the alumni are responsible in hampering the progress of the institute as they are not forward-looking and suffer from identity crisis while a majority believes in our hard work and achievements. The transition from college to university certainly affects and demands more. Looking into the available faculty strength, the kind of results we get in national level educational tests like NET, Gate, CAT, our students are performing better than most other universities in Odisha. The per-capita publication is way ahead. Nowadays, the youth is more interested in corporate jobs than civil services. This has resulted in a drop in the number of our alumni joining IAS, OAS, etc. Our placement status is also quite encouraging.
The university needs to be self-sufficient. Nothing comes for free.
The causative factors for any decline we see are: (a) lack of faculty, now we have the positions available and will appoint teachers soon, (b) financial status, and (c) the need for a second campus, which is being developed. We should consider getting at least 30% students from other States. This is likely to bring about academic, cultural as well as social uplift of our students. It is not the Government but the faculty that should aspire more. There are issues in execution. There should be ease in utilising funds. I see some people are reluctant in taking risk. As I said earlier, we get satisfied quickly. More academic freedom should be offered to teachers so that both students and teachers are benefited in the long run. The State Government has taken an initiative to revamp the old examination system; and this is a welcome step which will prove fruitful in general.