Thursday, October 16, 2008

Finally, a research institute in a university campus

For those who care about Indian science and who haven't already heard the news, I must share with you this link from the Times of India, Hyderabad. It informs us that TIFR is to set up a second campus in Hyderabad, within the campus of Hyderabad Central University. (Thanks to Raju Bathija for sending me the link while I'm away in Obama-McCain-land).

In general I feel constrained not to blog about anything that I know only by virtue of being a TIFR faculty member, and certainly about faculty meetings, but as this information is now in the papers I can freely point you to it.

In the course of previous discussions on this blog, the idea had come up that a good way to integrate high-level research with teaching in India was to connect research institutes and university departments. A detailed form of this idea can be found on the blog of Rahul Basu. While there can be some variations on the theme, one key factor is physical proximity - with the research institute ideally being placed within or adjacent to the campus of the University. This seems like the right way to get researchers to interact more with university students and be involved in teaching them, while retaining the structures that are essential to a high-quality research programme.

So here it is. I personally think the TIFR second campus idea is a fantastic one and I very much hope it will fulfil this ideal and set a new trend.


Ramanan said...

There is another article on The Hindu Business Line which says that the Karnataka government is going to allot land to TIFR!

Sunil Mukhi said...

This is also true but the land is for a different purpose. More details were given in DNA newspaper where it is stated that 19.3 acres near Bangalore have been allocated by the Karnataka government for TIFR's "International Centre for Theoretical Sciences".

The land in Hyderabad is over 10 times as much, and is for an entire second campus of TIFR that would have research groups in a wide variety of disciplines, much like the existing TIFR.

Sukratu said...

There was a TIFR Poona University
programme several years ago which
wound up some years after it began.
I am sure somebody will have pointed this out before a venture which looks to be similar gets started.

So does one keep fingers crossed? Maybe it is too soon to wonder or maybe it is not. University academic culture is way too different. The emphasis on pedagogy is bound to be the stumbling block. To cultivate scholarship one needs a different attitude and a significantly different culture than what one encounters in research institutions that have remained secluded from the university set up. It is important to bear in mind that universities DO have interdisciplinary interaction (even if that might not be to a commendable extent). My own experience suggests that it does contribute to a balanced outlook within scholarship of individual disciplines, especially when students are involved. I further feel that it is perhaps essential for those who would like to achieve good scholarship at an early age.
Such a multi-disciplinary exposure may not be suitable for a
young mind which is to be trained for highly specialized research activities as distinct from scholarship. In fact, a multi-disciplinary 'distraction' may not be advisable in such a case according to many research guides!

All this is only on the academic side. On the non academic stumbling blocks......lesser said the better!

Shanth said...

This is really good news. It may be just what is needed to encourage students into research programmes, and improve our university systems.

@sukratu: Are you talking about NCRA (which maintains GMRT, and is still running) or was there some other TIFR Pune University programme?

Sunil Mukhi said...

Shanth: Sukratu is not talking about NCRA but about a tie-up between TIFR and Pune Univ sometime in the mid-1980's. From what I remember, TIFR conducted an M.Sc. programme at Pune Univ wherein TIFR faculty would teach at Pune. Students of that programme would be given exposure to TIFR and offered graduate admission there if they did well.

I know some students who entered TIFR through this programme and they did well. So the programme itself was a success. However it did not prove sustainable and was closed down some years later. I can't go into all the reasons for that, partly because I don't know them. But I feel excessive physical separation was definitely a problem. TIFR faculty would have needed to live in Pune for a few months in order to teach a course.

In additional to proximity, it's also true that any Research Institute - University collaboration needs a certain professionalism and sensitivity, as well as a win-win mentality on both sides, in order to succeed.

Neelima said...

Speaking as a former Pune U hand, the whole TIFR- Pune University experience is really one of my bad memories! However, I hope everyone has evolved since then, and the current venture does not meet with the same fate. One thing the research institute types need to remember, is that universities have a broader mandate than providing cannon fodder for research programs, whether their own or those of other people. However, this venture can work, provided participants on both sides take trouble to maintain some respect for the other parties' concerns. I wish this attempt every success, at least.

Sunil Mukhi said...

I must point out that TIFR has merely decided to set up a new campus in Hyderabad and has been allocated land for the purpose in the Central University campus. No "venture" has been announced wherein TIFR will be involved with teaching University students etc. As far as stated official policy goes, the second campus of TIFR would merely be an extension of the first one with some novel and some overlapping research areas.

In my posting I thought I had only observed that by virtue of its physical location, the second campus will have the possibility to fulfil the role we are all talking about. The subsequent discussion thread seems to have morphed into a "news item" on the lines of "TIFR starts joint venture with University". That's rather premature to conclude at this stage, so I suggest people defer giving their blessings to the "current venture" until there really is one!

Shanth said...

Oh, I see. I didn't know about this Pune university tie-up. Anyway, the new campus should be a welcome respite from the space crunch that the Mumbai campus is facing.