[Editor’s Note: This interview with Vice-Chancellor Najeeb Jung was conducted by Muhammad Aarif Khan (a staff writer for Jamia Journal), as a supplement to his article titled “Jamia: The Path to Progress” that details the history of Jamia Millia Islamia from its inception to the present, by examining the lives and the work done by the men who occupied the office of vice-chancellor over the course of its long history. (Link to story). This interview was first published in the “Fiction” (2013) magazine — an annual student magazine published by the Computer Society of India – Jamia Millia Islamia (CSI-JMI). (Link to Audio)]
MAK: As an IAS officer, you’ve served as a district magistrate and now you serve as a vice-chancellor of a central university. How is administrating a university different from a district in your experience?
NJ: The fundamentals of administration always remain the same and there isn’t a great deal of difference. In a district you manage people, you pursue and follow projects. You try to do things in the most objective and fair manner. In a district, because a collector also has judicial functions, you learn to dispense justice equitably, and much is the same in a university. The emphasis can be different because in a district you’d say your emphasis is on development or on law and order. Whereas in the university, your emphasis would be on academics. But coming down to the basics, the vice-chancellor’s is really a guiding job. Much of academia is independent; it is intellectually very vibrant so you don’t need to hold somebody’s hand to tell them what to do. And in this university we get together, the Deans, the HODs get together, we decide what we want to do so therefore I don’t think it’s very much more different. Fundamentally most administrations have a great deal of commonness.
MAK: ‘Jamia’ had been built on the values of self-reliance and nationalism and today it is a bustling centre of learning with a blend of secularism, tradition, learning and modernity. How would you describe the progress it has made over the years?
NJ: Jamia is one of the finest universities that India has and it is ranked 7th or 8th in the country. If you’re talking in terms of where Jamia stands as an academic institution, we’re fine. If you’re asking how higher education stands generically in the country, I would say, not so fine. I feel a lot needs to be done in education and, as I think, it happens in other countries, the richer people are able to send their children to these so-called private schools which have much greater facilities. They are also able to attract better teachers, they are able to send their teachers overseas to learn the latest concepts of teaching and correspondingly the students there come from sophisticated backgrounds, the parents are more aware of what the children want to do so they’re taken care of. But that’s 1% of India. Schools, generally, are not delivering quality education and there is a direct relationship with universities. I do not think our university level is that good as it should be since 60% of our country is so young and 30-40 % people are ready to go to college. That’s a matter of concern
MAK: When the founders established Jamia, they must have had a vision; a dream for Jamia. What do you think was that dream and how well do you think we have lived up to it?
NJ: Times change and therefore we cannot say that a person in 1920 would have a vision that they can imagine a university in 90 years. The world is changing at such a fast pace that it is humanly impossible for me to say what Jamia will be 25 years from now. Ninety-two years ago the mission of the university was completely different. We were not an independent country and there was a concern that the Muslims should stay on the path of secularism and nationalism, so I think the thrust of education and the idea of bringing forth this university and all the efforts and sacrifices that went into building this university was to have a modern institution, to have a secular institution, and to have a nationalist institution.
MAK: The office of ‘Shaikh-ul-Jamia’ has always been held by illustrious men and has been an integral part of the story that is Jamia. How do you think it has evolved and progressed along with time?
NJ: Well, you know, things evolve. I think what the university was, when Zakir sahab was here for 25 years, was dramatically different. You hear stories that Zakir sahab would walk up to a place and he would know the students; now all that is not possible and it’s impractical. So things have changed, the office has evolved. It is, as I said, a modern university. You have 20,000 students in the university and 4000 in schools and you’re trying to equip them with the latest laboratories. The stress on sciences was not as great in the ’20s as it is today. The scientific innovations hadn’t been made. In 1920s, in the whole of Delhi, you would‘ve had half-a-dozen cars. The orientation of the vice-chancellors comes from the fact that their minds are embedded in the time that they live in. I think we’ve all evolved and grown with time.
MAK: In the recently held meeting of all the vice-chancellors with the President, the topic of 12 Innovation Universities was discussed. What is your take on this issue and what role do you think Jamia can play in it?
NJ: I want to ask, why are we not an innovation university or not considered to be one? You give me more funds and we are an innovation university. After all, what it means is better laboratories, it means better programmes, it means bringing more people from overseas and making you face the best of teachers; that is what it means to be an innovation university. It only means putting you up in a smart classroom where the lecture going on in Yale is beamed to you. So we’re all the same and that is what we’ve been telling the UGC. There was a war movie called ‘Haqeeqat’ made in 1962. The Indian soldiers are retreating and the brigadier is talking to the general that ‘Look, my soldiers are not retreating because they are running away from the Chinese; but to stand here and face I want guns, shoes and warm clothing.’ Anyone on the street can say, you’re not a Harvard; of course we’re not a Harvard and we’re not an IIT because we don’t have the same resources and that is a fact we shouldn’t hide. So if the govt wants to innovate with anything, I really believe we have the strength, the heritage, the talent, the best kids around, and seasoned teachers. We need to orient and train them; we need to send them for refresher courses. And for all that we need resources.
MAK: Jamia inaugurated a Nanotechnology Centre of late. With regard to research and development, what is your vision for the university?
NJ: I think that’s an enormous centre. There are two centres that have terrific potential for the future. One is the theoretical physics centre and the other is the nanotechnology centre. Now at the laboratory level, the Centre for Nanotechnology has made a particle that is as strong that if made at the industrial level, you can make a ladder upto the heavens and it won’t break. That is the capacity of the scientific research that you have here in Jamia. So one thing we must take away from our minds is that it’s some chap going to an expensive school who’ll do all this. These are your colleagues. They’ve got the gumption and stomach to work hard and they have very good training from Prof. Mushahid, who’s inculcated a desire in them. Last year, Sami, the director of the Centre for Theoretical Physics; his work was referred to by a person who has won the Nobel prize in Physics. So the potential is all here and we come back to the old question of innovation universities. I think nanotechnology would do very well. From the university’s part we are very committed to helping them and getting funds and talent for them.
MAK: Jamia offers educational programmes that extend from the school-level, to under graduation and post-graduation levels. We have numerous departments; all offering diverse courses, however we are yet to have a medical college of our own. Can we see that too in the future?
NJ: The problem with a medical college is that you require 23-24 acres of contiguous land before the medical council permits you to build a medical college. And now as we see around ourselves, getting even 5 acres would be difficult; there’s just no land. We’ve asked for this pahari land which is about 30 acres and the government of Delhi has acquired it for us but the govt. of UP (to whom it belongs) is in Supreme Court against us. If we win, that land will be available to us. The other issue is that a medical college will take anything between 700-1000 crore rupees. Now the money that is available for the Higher Education sector is going to be divided among all universities, including the state universities. So if the government commits 1000 crores to Jamia, then what does the engineering faculty get? What would our humanities, nanotech or dentistry get? So it is easy to say you start a medical college but when you think through, we will have to debate among ourselves that should engineering stay where it is and the money go towards medicine or should we take engineering to a new level and let medicine be? I presume the jury’s’ out on that one. We will have to take a view when we get the land.
MAK: India is known as an educational hub and yet it doesn’t have any university in the global ranking of 200 universities according to a survey. Why do you think this is so?
NJ: As I said, we need more resources, we need more funding, we need better quality faculty, we need better quality vice-chancellors and we need visionaries. The only commodity in this that is not to blame is the students; because the student will be there. It is us that have to provide you the quality education and it is us that are not providing you that level of education. So if you compartmentalise it, I will say that the students are enthused. Now in India you need huge resources for drinking water and health. So naturally, education does get a cut. I mean however important it is, it is not an unlimited amount. So it’s a long fight, it’s a long and hard struggle and we have to keep struggling to improve.
MAK: Jamia runs a Centre that offers free coaching facilities for exams that recruit for governmental services. It was opened for the Minorities to bring them at par with the society and to make them participate in activities of national development. What further steps is Jamia taking for the upliftment of minorities?
NJ: Jamia may be a minority institution and I think Jamia should care for Muslim education but that is not its only commitment. Jamia’s commitment is to holistic education to all its students and 50% of my students are non-Muslims. So we have a Muslim flavour, many of our teachers are Muslims, we start our functions with the Tilawat-e-Quran, there is a mosque; the Muslim flavour continues but the commitment is to only give good quality education to all students. Now once we give good quality education, we do not differentiate. I, as a vice-chancellor, see only in you a student. I do not see a Muslim or a Hindu, and that is my commitment.
MAK: During your tenure, the university has witnessed many changes. Can you tell us about some of the challenging tasks that you faced and successfully accomplished?
JJ: No, I do not think I have faced any significant challenge. A lot of people tell me, my well-wishers and people outside, that this must be a very challenging job. The fact of the matter is that I think vice-chancellors exaggerate their own sense of importance and acceptability and the type of job they are doing. This is as easy or difficult a job as any would be. Every job poses challenges. You can be a clerk somewhere and you can face a tremendous challenge because your boss wants everything on a computer in double quick time. It’s a huge challenge on an ordinary man. Challenges vary from job to job. It is up to you to get scared or it is up to you to take it as a part of your job process. I come here in the morning and I have no idea what the day will bring for me. But I pray and hope that I do not do anything that is detrimental to my children and that whatever I do; I, in some way, contribute to your futures. That is my only desire in my morning prayer. Now, in the process if I make a mistake, I am prepared to face my Maker that this is a bona-fide mistake, but I will not work under pressure. You cannot bring any pressure on me. So we will do what is good for you as an individual and as an institution
MAK: What does the future look like for Jamia? What are the reforms, the changes and development that we may see in the times to come?
NJ: You see, things will happen by momentum. The world today is moving at a terribly fast pace. Dentistry has come up, and the engineering workshop has come up; so these things will keep happening. The sports complex is probably the best in Delhi. These things will happen in due course; at times faster and at other times, not. But despite everything, there is a certain inevitability to progress because the momentum is there. I think that we are on a path of quality growth. As an individual, I’m not interested in new buildings and a whole lot of new courses. What I’m interested in, right now, is to give facilities to the students. I’m interested in consolidation. That is, when you go to class, you have a smart classroom. That you have a television there and then your teachers have software that they can beam in the best courses or the best lectures for you. That is my emphasis for the next 2-3 years. Let me better residence facilities for teachers and for students. The 25 crores that we got for the girls; it was a purely compassionate plea that I made to the government- that I don’t want my girls to be living in the surrounding areas. So the idea is that we should look at improving the quality of our environment, which includes our education, which includes our food, which goes side-by-side with your teachers’ training. If you have a teacher in Computer Sciences, I see no reason why he should not go off to Yale or MIT for 3 months and do some course and come back. If our teachers are jaded the fault is with the system that we haven’t been able to send them for better training or courses. As a vice chancellor I believe my intent is to give you education and knowledge.
Listen to Vice-Chancellor Najeeb Jung’s complete interview conducted in his office on Feb. 21, 2013 (Link to Audio):