Murugesan Ponnavaikko, vice chancellor, SRM University, focuses on research and innovation while taking the university to new heights
In June 2011, Murugesan Ponnavaikko took over as vice chancellor for SRM University. Under his guidance, SRM University became the first self financing university in India to design, develop, construct, launch into the space and monitor a Nano-satellite as a student project. “Fifty four students from different streams worked on this project and completed in a record time of two years. They have taken the university to new heights and I consider this as the biggest achievement for the university.”
This is just one example of the research ambiance created at the university by Ponnavaikko. He worked with the university for four years from 2003 to 2007 and returned in 2010 as Provost. Ponnavaikko took over as vice chancellor in 2011. “During the last fourteen months my concentration has been on the strengthening the research ambiance at the university. Revised Ph. D. regulation and the establishement of a Tamil academy for propagating Tamil culture, literary values and rewarding Tamil scholars, are few of the changes.” Ponnavaikko has established an interdisciplinary school for Indian medicine. This will develop herbal based Ayurvedic medicines for curing disease, such as, diabetes, cancer and obesity.
With huge achievements in a short span of time, expectations from SRM University are on a rise. Ponnavaikko’s feels that the university is in the right direction of growth towards achieving
Ponnavaikko on the Kattankulathur campus with students international excellence. A research institute is also being established to give more focus on industrial research for creating innovative products and patterns. “The basic requirements for a world ranking university are, teaching, research, citations, industry income and international outlook. My focus is to enrich these activities qualifying SRM University to secure a world ranking”.
The vice chancellor feels that the standard of the education depends on well trained and qualified teachers and the quality of teaching plays an important role. Faculty members should be qualified, competitive and should have a good temperament for teaching. The teacher should understand the psyche of students and teach them in a way that would strengthen their strengths and reduce their weaknesses. “My main strategy is to strengthen the quality of teachers; strengthen the research ambient; and strengthen the curriculum with skill based industrial training to make graduate students, employable or employment providers.”
Discussing the drawbacks of the Indian education system in comparison to foreign universities, Ponnavaikko says, “the teaching system in Indian education mostly aims to coach the students for university examination. They are spoon fed and are made to memorise without understanding, to get high grades. Qualities, such as, independent thinking, problem- solving ability, initiative, leadership skills and social competence are not given importance in the Indian system. Sadly these are the very qualities that our youth need to succeed in life.”
As a vice chancellor at the state affiliating University, Ponnavaikko faces challenges, such as, maintaining a good standard of Ph. D. research works and the unrest amongst teachers to cope up with research regulations. Managing political pressure in an academic administration is yet another challenge. “At SRM University my main challenge is the faculty development. Most of the faculty members are young and fresh for teaching. They need orientation and refreshment in the teaching- learning methodologies and research.”
The university has adopted innovative ideas in the teachinglearning approaches, such as, development of learning materials using information technology concepts and development of web based learning materials. For the accountability of teaching, the university requires submission of a teaching plan at the start of the semester and course report at the end. SRM University introduced new concepts in student evaluation process to ensure assessment of knowledge and skill acquisition. “The university has created an environment for the students with all facilities to innovate and shape their career, by acquiring knowledge, skill and human value.”