Chief Guest’s Convocation Address – XXXI Annual Convocation

Delivering his convocation address, the Chief Guest, Dr. Anil Kakodkar stressed that Sri Sathya Sai Instsitute Of Higher Learning has a strong spiritual basis and social foresight that enables students to remain rooted in India and her value system even as the students scale new heights in terms of higher education.

Prof.J. Shashidhara Prasad, Vice Chancellor, members of Board of Management, members of Academic Council, members of faculty, students, their parents, distinguished invitees, ladies and gentlemen.

Let me at the outset thank Prof. Shashidhara Prasad, Hon. Vice Chancellor of the University and authorities of the University for their Kind Invitation to be a part of this convocation. Shri Satya Sai Institute of Higher Learning founded by Bhagwan Shri Satya SaiaBaba is special in many ways. Apart from catering to needs of modern higher education for a large number of students, the institution has strong spiritual basis with social foresight that enables students to remain rooted in India and her value system even as the students scale new heights in terms of higher learning. As a University this institution does incorporate several features that are considered important. I am planning to deal with some of these features in general terms in this address.

Convocation is a special day in the academic calendar of a University. It marks the culmination of a phase of learning. Having satisfied that the student is now ready, as a worthy citizen, to face and contribute to the world at large; the teachers deliver the final advice and blessings for further journey that student is embarking upon. It is a solemn occasion for the students and also for the teachers. The bond between the teachers and the students that is supposed to have been built through years of mentoring brings in an emotional content to the Convocation day. I wish to use this occasion to thank all teachers who in their own way have contributed to shaping the young minds while they are with the University.

I congratulate all students graduating today. Some of you who are being specially recognised deserve our highest appreciation. All of you have gone through your respective courses of studies and have been adjudged to be worthy of the degrees that are being awarded to you. You are now ready to face the exciting world out there. You have to be an important part of the nation building process through your respective capabilities that you have acquired here and elsewhere. Today there is ample scope for innovation and entrepreneurship. The way our country is evolving, the opportunities for the capable ones will continuously expand. I wish all of you graduating today a very successful career ahead. May all your dreams be fully realised.

Higher Education and Socio-Economic Transformation
Education is the key ingredient in character building and socio-economic transformation. Done properly, education can empower our huge human capital to be a major constructive force to propel inclusive growth of the nation as a whole. High quality higher education that empowers our youth, has the potential to cause a quantum jump in socio-economic status of poorer families in a single generation. Inclusive access to such higher education can thus transform our strong demographic advantage into significant enlightenment of the society and wealth generation being added at the base of the pyramid.

The socio-economic scene around us is transforming itself at an accelerated pace as a result of demographic shifts, impact of new technologies, the growing economy and several other developmental initiatives. Knowledge is now an important factor in economies world over, a trend that is likely to be increasingly dominating the global and national scene. We thus need to quickly align our education system to the needs of changing knowledge driven paradigms in the best interests of our socio-economic development; while remaining consistent with our cultural values and traditions. The so called A3 (Anyone, Anywhere and Anytime) connected society, that is fast emerging on one side and the digitally illiterate across the digital divide on the other, both constitute major socio economic challenges that can be handled only on the basis of widest possible access to appropriate education delivered urgently.

While future holds great potential if we are able to manage the challenge of providing quality education to all, there are serious threats on the horizon if we are not able to do so quickly. Urgent actions are thus necessary on this front to quickly reduce the disparity gap as we move up the economic growth path, lest serious problems as a result of frustrated aspirations surface and create potential threats that might become difficult to contain and our youth force, which is a powerful engine of growth and development could well turn in to a major destructive force. Our large youth force must be provided with opportunities for constructive engagement in a manner that fulfils their aspirations.

Luckily the possibility to widely use modern technologies in education does provide an opportunity to create such wider access to good quality education at a fast enough pace to overcome these challenges successfully.

New Education Paradigm
There are even more fundamental reasons for seeking to change our education system. A new paradigm where an earlier era of education being driven by intellectual culture of enlightenment and economic circumstances of industrial revolution is expected to transform to an era of education through group learning and collaboration taking full advantage of information available to students through multitude of information technology platforms all around us. In this context, I would encourage all of you to take a look at an interesting video on the changing education paradigms at [ ] which effectively brings out the need for change. The challenge before us is to be able to make the necessary transitions at all levels in our education system. Clearly this would require sustained efforts on part of a large number of individuals and institutions.

Some of the key challenges that we need to address are:
# To create and nurture a holistic learning environment that enables structured and curiosity driven learning as well as problem solving abilities and skills through participative experience.

# To make education student centric with broader choices in terms of courses, their content and teachers with teachers increasingly playing the role of mentors.

# To embed education, particularly higher education in an ambiance of high level research; deliver education all the way up to current frontiers of knowledge; nurture research to push frontiers of knowledge and nurture an innovation eco-system that facilitates quick translation of new knowledge to value for moving towards a better quality of life.

# To bring to bear ICT technologies to simultaneously handle the twin challenge of rapidly enhancing the quality and improving the access to quality education.

# To prepare our youth to be effective participants in the emerging A3 connected society, be integral part of lifelong learning and value creation through commons processes and be able to address problems with an interdisciplinary approach.

A lot of ground work needs to be done to realize these objectives. Since there is a large diversity in our institutions, we would need to adopt a differentiated strategy and adopt those measures that are most suitable for a particular situation. There is also the question of developing coherence within and across institutions regarding the approach to management of desired change.

Nurturing Research and Innovation Environment
High quality research in our Universities must be emphasized for a variety of reasons. Such research should span a wide spectrum of disciplines ranging from basic sciences and engineering to humanities, economics and management. Aim of research should be to push frontiers of knowledge as well as to evolve technologies and to implement them for development. This would require several dimensions to be incorporated in the research domain in our Universities. Our research should become comparable to the best in the world. So we should be able to identify individuals and groups who do research that can be compared with the best in the world and preferentially support them in a liberal way. We should engage ourselves in some grand challenge activities of importance to the nation. Several faculty would need to come together to address such grand challenges through their coordinated research. We should have an environment that incubates industrial enterprise making use of the R&D carried out in our laboratories. We should have the presence of industry research on the campus in the form of research parks where our students and faculty have the opportunity to participate. Similarly, there should be presence of our national laboratories engaged in key national programs on our campuses. In my view, all this would make our education more holistic and also create an ecosystem that nurtures the spirit of innovation that we so desperately need to inculcate in our younger generation.

While such enrichment on the campus is a very desirable feature, for this to be realized, we need to bridge a considerable gap in the mutual confidence that exists between our academia and our industry. We need to reach a condition wherein both sides see a win-win situation while collaborating. Considerable credible work is necessary to create confidence in both sides to invest in each other. We need to explore opportunities to work together in a variety of mutually beneficial ways to create conditions of mutual trust and confidence.

As we engage with the industry, we should also explore opportunities to engage in R&D of relevance to society. In this context, I strongly feel that, treating education and development together, would bring in a lot of synergies that would benefit both domains. While this approach facilitates hands – on activity based learning and empowers students to boldly address the challenges they would face in real life, the process of development becomes more robust by involvement of a knowledge institution, an attribute that would become increasingly important in the emerging knowledge dominated era. That we would produce experts rather than just activists in the process would be an additional advantage.

In the context of rural development, this is even more important. A larger part of our population still lives in rural areas. There are serious issues related to greater development deficit and livelihood in these areas. This is leading to large scale migration to urban areas, a phenomenon that appears inevitable. Creating enhanced livelihood and improved conditions for better quality of life in rural areas, could at least slow this trend, if not reverse it and reduce strain on the urban infrastructure which is unlikely to keep pace with growing needs. Comprehensive higher education and research campuses in rural areas that are well equipped with modern amenities and are engaged in world class research that is also oriented to the problems of the neighbourhood could well become fountainheads for innovation and technology led growth in the region while creating better access to higher education right in rural areas.

Our students getting exposed to such activities would not only give them a good problem solving experience but also emotionally bind them with the society around. We need to recognize that the above approach would invariably involve interdisciplinary efforts involving sciences, technology, engineering, medicine, humanities, economics, management and others depending on the objectives of a particular development effort. Opportunities for students to participate in applications of such interdisciplinary efforts, to address a particular challenge, enable a holistic learning experience for them. This builds the capability to focus R&D to solving real life problems rather than looking for problems that can be solved through research one is engaged in. Quality of education as well as of research improves considerably in the process.

Nation Building in a Changing paradigm

We Indians have a great heritage. India was a premier country in the world till about five or six centuries ago. We had great Universities and centres of learning that attracted scholars from many parts of the world. We have our time tested value system. After a long period of oppression and foreign rule, India is now bouncing back. Democracy has taken roots in independent India. We have an unparalleled demographic advantage with the largest youth force. Indian youth have demonstrated their capabilities through their impact both in technological as well as in economic terms, here as well as in countries abroad, for example in USA. As mentioned earlier, the world is now highly interconnected and A3 (anyone, anywhere and any time) connected society is fast taking shape. We are fast embracing knowledge driven economy worldwide. Technology is changing our lives faster that we would have imagined.

We need to be conscious about the impact of these rather rapid transitions around us. We need to prepare our societies to benefit from these transitions while preventing their ill effects. Opportunities and threats created by increasingly competitive interconnected world, the potential for greater disparities if the policies are not managed well and threats to time tested Indian value system, are some of the major challenges before our society today.

While there may be several drivers to this evolving situation in our country, we must also acknowledge that apart from people who engaged themselves in mass movements at different times, a very large number of individuals have made key contributions to shaping the evolution in a healthy manner and in the right direction, through their wisdom, sustained work and passionate contributions. For example, there have been people who pursued mathematics and astronomy and made new discoveries ahead of others. Others pursued social reforms in spite of several odds. Then we have had far sighted pioneers who established key industries within the country in much adverse circumstances. We need such people, in large numbers, who can guide and shape the society as it evolves through knowledge and technology driven transitions on one side and rapid mixing of cultures driven by instant communications that take place today on the other. Such people, through their research and analysis can present an authentic assessment of the transitions around, create innovative approaches to maximise the gains and minimise threats and prepare our youth with capability to effectively deal with the evolving situation. The very fact that Indian traditions and culture have survived through centuries of external influence gives us the hope about our societies responding correctly to the changing paradigm. Our Universities as centres of learning have a special role in this regard.

All of us have the opportunity to be a part of such people both by ourselves as well as through the students whom we teach and mentor. Through our teaching, research, development of technologies and nurturing a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship; with strong commitment to our time tested value system, we have the opportunity to be an important part of people who can shape the destiny of our nation. At our Universities we need to create a holistic learning environment that could be a fertile ground for nation building in today’s context. We all must resolve to make that happen through our respective pursuits of scholarship, research and engagement with society and industry around.

Let us look at today in this backdrop. We are in a way passing through a critical phase in our country. Are we well prepared for this transformation? How are we to respond proactively to the emerging situation? You will all agree with me that quality education that prepares our young people to embrace the changing scenario, would be the key to success in this regard.

Our Universities and more particularly the teachers should prepare our youth to play a key role in creating, sustaining and enhancing the relative competitive edge of our country. This would become more important as country moves up on the economic ladder. Our Universities and the faculty must therefore shape young people who can confidently engage themselves with the real life world and make an impact through their innovative capabilities. They should be able to do so in today’s context as well as be ready to deal successfully with the emerging change. This task is crucially important to the future of India and all of us connected with education have a special role and responsibility in shaping that future.

Closing Remarks
I do wish that all of you would give some serious thought to these issues and decide your respective course of action. It should be our collective efforts to progressively move towards making the world a better place to live. Through a lifelong learning process and maintaining university, industry and society interconnected with each other, each one of us, regardless of career we decide to pursue, can meaningfully contribute to this objective. After all we are all in this world to play our respective roles. Our happiness and joy of life depends on how well we play our roles.

To dear students, I once again wish all of you well in your respective further pursuits. I am certain you would rise progressively in your respective careers. I do hope that as you rise, you will retain in you a spirit of trusteeship and contribute substantially to your roots, the society around, the institutions that brought you up and the nation at large. It is this spirit of trusteeship and the desire to support others who were not as fortunate or successful as us that makes this world a better place. We must remember that our happiness depends on the happiness all around us.

Once again my best wishes to you all.

Thank you.