Professor Talat Ahmad was born and brought up in a small town of Giridih, (earlier in Bihar, now in Jharkhand). He did his schooling from Giridih Higher Secondary School. Owing his interest in rock formation, he moved to Aligarh in 1977 to complete his M. Sc in Geology from Aligarh Muslim University. He completed his M. Phil in Geochemistry from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in 1979 and got selected in UPSC. He joined Geological survey of India and worked for a year, but left it because for him, it was more of a survey and less of research. He then returned to JNU and completed his Ph. D in Petrology & Geochemistry in 1985. He did his Post Doctoral Fellowship with University of Leicester and University of Cambridge in 1988-89 and 1997-98 respectively. In 1999-2000, he did another Post Doctoral Fellowship under Japanese Society for Promotion of Science (JSPS) with Nagoya University, Japan. Meanwhile, he also worked as a scientist in Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Under DST, Dehradun in 1984 – 2003.
He has presented papers in several National and International symposiums, edited volumes and reviewed peer journals. He is also the fellow of Indian Academy of Sciences Bangalore, life member of Mineralogical Society of India and the recipient of the prestigious National Mineral Award, from the Government of India in 1994.
He joined Department of Geology, University of Delhi as Professor in October 2003. There he started project in central India and Rajasthan, in addition to the work in Himalayas. He got another project, Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR) after coming to the valley. He took over as Vice Chancellor of Kashmir University on June 1, 2011.
Professor Talat shares his expertise and concerns with MERC students, Souzeina Mushtaq and Sheikh Saleem.
You have moved from academics to administration, how has the transition been?
I have not actually moved; I’m in transition. In evenings, I do my research and also on weekends, whenever I get time, because my students are still working with me for their PhD’s. Even after coming here, I went for two days field work. I’m just trying to explore where I should start my work in the valley. So, I’m saving time for research. But sometimes in life are has to do something for the people, because up to now, I have been working for myself. I thought it is a good chance to work for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. And I am trying my best to help students in whatever way I can.
How do you see Kashmir University in comparison to other Universities of the Country?
Before coming here, I thoroughly researched about the university. I wanted to see if I will be able to do something for it. You have a modern library and good facility of Information Technology. Also there are people who are doing good work. So compared to many universities where I went as an expert, Kashmir University is much better.
In an era of global competition, where do you see your university on global academic standards?
Presently it is at lower level and even at national level, it is not satisfactory; it should have been much better. But I know there are local problems. Students here have immense potential and we are going to make them aware of the importance and weaknesses of university. I’m going to invite foreign collaborations. In addition to that, I am encouraging my colleagues in different departments to initiate an open door policy where people will come and see Kashmir. Then students may get a chance to interact with them and learn something. Another thing is that I don’t see any foreign student here. If you don’t have a foreign student, you are not on global scene. So I am going to have some arrangements for foreign students who want to come here. We need to show case our university in a better and liberalized way, so that people from outside will be attracted.
What steps would you take to enhance the quality of research in Kashmir University, so that society at large is benefitted?
We had the NAAC team visit recently. There were problems that they pointed out and the biggest weakness was research. What we have done is not enough. From the day one, I have insisted on research work and to go in research mode, we have to have some mechanism to encourage people to do research. There are many people who are doing good work but there are lots of hurdles for them. If they want to do serious work, they have to run after administration for help. Similarly, if they want to import something, it becomes a hell of an affair for them to get anything from abroad. So I am going to simplify things for them by appointing Dean Research. It will be a separate cell which will look after all the research activity and projects and will also try to help those teachers who have less exposure by encouraging them to make proposals and approach various funding agencies. Once things are done the way we have planned, people will definitely come forward to do quality research.
Who will be the Dean Research?
Somebody who has a good experience of research. Dean Research will be from our own teachers, who have good publication records. One can see the CV and pick somebody to fill the requirement.
Kashmir University will be signing MOU with Delhi University in September. How will it benefit the student community? Are there more such MOU’s in the offing?
Yes, that will be very much there. We are going for some sort of understanding with DU and many other institutions, where our teachers and students will interact with outside people so that the wrong notions about Kashmir are cleared and people come here without fear. This will open up new avenues of research as well as student exchange programs and resources between the two universities. We will have joint collaboration and joint supervision; everything is possible under this. I have also talked to National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI). We are doing programs like INSPIRE to help students to come closer to science. I am also in talks with Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur and Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) at Ahmedabad. In addition to that I have requested my colleagues from social science and arts background to identify some centers of excellence in their fields, to approach them and get them interested in Kashmir. We will sign MOUs with them. But Vice Chancellor cannot do things alone; teachers have to be proactive and supportive in this regard. Together, we can do things effectively.
The university produces a good number of post graduates and scholars, how do you see their future for employment? Do you have any concrete plans for their placement?
If we are providing them good education, they should be in position to get jobs for themselves. For their convenience, I have started a placement cell. In addition to this, we have put a proposal with the central Govt. to have a big coaching centre for all the competitive exams in the campus. The centre is going to coach them. We will also have lot of experts coming, giving advices and encouraging students to make use of the facilities but students should know to struggle for themselves. They should keep an eye on big fellowships like CSIR, UGC. When you have earned a fellowship, it means you have proved your worth.
There has been a recent hike in the student fee structure much to the disappointment of the students. Can they expect a relaxation in the same during your tenure?
Inshallah. But I cannot say that I will make it half. We are in the process of working out whether we really need to have such fee hikes. Since I have inherited these things from the predecessors of this university, so immediately everything is not possible. There might be reasons why they did it. But I am trying to cut down many of the unnecessary expenditure. So whatever comes from the student will go back to the student. I have my own policy; don’t buy cars, give fellowships to students.
Kashmir University does not have a publication house of its own. Since many publications are brought out from various departments, do you have any plans to centralize the activity?
I do have, but these things will come only when I am satisfied with improvement of the academic environment. Making buildings and creating a publication house will be my next priority. First priority is that we have a good teaching and good atmosphere for learning.
In the present education system, Information Technology’s role is significant. Are you planning to introduce online examinations in the near future?
At present it is not possible but in future we have plans to do that. At least, entrances can be done online. We are already in the process of having e-governance, and students are already filling forms through internet. From that perspective, university is doing much better than many other universities. But still there is lot of scope for improvement and we will try to do what best we can do.
Many students complain that the food available at the campus cafeteria is heavy on their pockets. Can they expect the staple food at subsidized rates on student I-cards?
I am going to look into the matter also. I feel the number of canteens is less and the area is also very small. All the time it is crowded. Obviously we need to have a better and a subsided canteen. A structure was constructed to house the canteen in it but now that is to be handed over to Information Technology Department. But definitely we will have some alternative arrangement for a better canteen place.
There is no internal transport available in the campus, though promises were made in the past about the same. What is your take on that?
We are very fortunate that we do not have buses running within the campus (laughs). It is always good to keep the campus clean. We may have the small carriers for disabled people. But given an option, I believe bicycle is the best. Young students should do cycling.
We have a good number of women participation at all levels in the varsity. But the women working here do not have working women’s hostel or crèche facility for their children. How to create that women-friendly atmosphere for them?
Since my first day here, I am happy to see that we have nearly 50% of female students here. Even Dean Social Welfare is headed by a woman. We should encourage more women to come and work. I will be happy to provide them facilities of all kinds. But women have to come and take lead in that; I can only encourage them.
What are the steps to enhance the sense of responsibility among the teaching and non-teaching staff?
They can take me as a model for them. The way I am doing things, they can follow me. And if they do not want to work, they should look for some other place and leave this place for somebody who wants to work.
Where do you see Kashmir University after the completion of your tenure and twenty years ahead?
The way we are working, I see it as one of the top universities in the country and even on the global scene. If everything goes the way we are planning and trying to do, we will definitely make a mark.
Your message to students in one line.
I wish them all the best for their career and all support from my side.