PROF (DR) PREM VRAT
PRO-CHANCELLOR, PROFESSOR OF EMINENCE & CHIEF MENTOR,
THE NORTHCAP UNIVERSITY
Research breakthrough inspired by a casual comment of a participant in an Executive Development Program at IIT Delhi
I was conducting an Executive Development Program for senior central government officers on ‘Materials Management’ in early 1980’s.The issue was how to estimate the cost of carrying inventory and as usual I listed all the cost components that are found in a good textbook on inventory management.However, a senior engineer who was participant asked a question –What about the increased material consumption by virtue of having them in stock?This casual observation stirred my thought process and we developed an inventory model called by us as ‘stock dependent consumption’ phenomenon.The first scientific model based paper was published jointly with my research student (Dr. Rakesh Gupta; Senior Technical Director NIC, Government of India) in OPSEARCH in 1986; which has become a path breaking research model globally and has enables researchers globally to take lead from this very first research paper.
It can be seen that our first paper has been cited by more than 215 research papers published globally. I have guided three PhD students in this area and there are more than 500 research papers published globally based on Stock Dependent Consumption model first conceived by us. We are still working by linking it with Waste Control because any stock induced consumption is an un-necessary resource consumed and hence a waste. Recently my current research scholar who examined through a case study that about 20% extra water is consumed over legitimate requirements in DDA Colonies due to huge storage tanks residents have installed in their houses because ‘just-in-case’ phenomenon.This paper has recently been awarded the best student research paper award and by The Indian Institution of Industrial Engineering at the National Conference at Nagpur.All this is due to that casual question my course participant had asked which gave me an extra informational input resulting in such a major research outcomes.
Resuscitating the Legacy of First Steam Locomotive at Roorkee
When I joined IIT Roorkee at its first director in 2001;I came across through the Librarian Mr. Yogendra Singh about a book written in 1860 by Sir Cautley, published from London which gave a graphic, technical details of ‘Solani Aquaduct Railway’ which had 2 coaches and steam a engine called ‘Thomason’ from Roorkee to PiranKaliyar, a distance of 10 miles at the speed of 4 miles/hour. This was the first steam engine train that ran on Indian rails;though the Railways had been celebrating 150 years of first train that ran from Bombay to Thane; which was 2 years later than the Roorkee train.
I found great historical value in this information to project Roorkee-PiranKaliyar as the first train on Indian rails and not Bombay-Thane as railways had been assuming.With strong conviction, I pursued it with press. Ministry of Railways and then HRD minister Dr. MM Joshi, who supported my finding; but Railways were reluctant to accept.May be they were in the midst of celebrating 150 years in 2003 and it could have upset it. However through my constant persistence and proof given in that book of Sir Cautley (then Chief engineer of Ganga Canal Project);finally in 2005; railways accepted it and put a line-diagram of ‘First Steam Locomotive’ in India called ‘Thomason’ at Roorkee Railway Station.Eventually through kind support of then chairman Railway Board, Mr. R.K Singh; a working model of India’s first steam Engine which ran in Roorkee was fabricated at its Amritsar Railway workshop. Mr. R.K Singh then CRB travelled by a special train to Roorkee to ‘install’ that engine infront of Roorkee Railway Station.This inaugural plaque also mentioned my presence on the occasion. That gave a new recognition to Roorkee, not only the first engineering college but also the first steam engine that ran on Indian rails. But it all started with a casual glance of Sir Cautley’s book.
Data Based Analytics at UPTU to augment Student Performance
When I had joined as the Vice-Chancellor of UP Technical University, Lucknow in 2006;
I noticed that everyday a huge queue of hundreds of students across the entire state will assemble to collect their provisional mark sheets. I felt it was unreasonable to make them travel and wait when information technology can do the same job at their own place. I discussed with the Controller of Examination (COE)-Prof. V.K Singh, if we could reduce the misery of our students leveraging technology but ensuring fool-proof arrangement on the credibility of the process. Eventually it was decided to electronically transmit these provisional marksheets to their respective colleges with authority of the COE and then the college Principal/Director could get it downloaded; countersign it and give it to those seek this information. This simple step led to almost zero queues which were a daily routine earlier. UPTU Examination Cell would be generating 25 million data points on examination results every semester but it was not analyzed to gain insightful information earlier. I used this in a variety of ways to improve the examination efficiency by analyzing this data every semester. Some initiatives based on this information which led to breakthrough improvements were:
I used Pareto’s Law by analyzing the examination data to observe that in the First year of B.Tech Programme, 7% subjects were resulting in 91% of the total failures. I used this information and shared it across all colleges so that they could focus on these 7% courses to control 91% of student failures by maintaining the teaching effectiveness;special attention to these subjects; field their best teachers to teach these subjects, also examine the syllabus and question papers for any improvements needed.This process of sensitization about very few subjects critical to reduce failures resulted in very substational improvements in student performance.Encouraged by this many other data-based initiatives were taken which will perhaps require a book to document.
From State University to State of the Art University
When I was appointed first director of IIT Roorkee; it was an honour, an opportunity-cum-challenges to ‘transform’ the oldest and reputed state technical university into a newest IIT. I redefined my transformation goal as-from state university to ‘State of the art university’-IIT system. In a single tenure such a massive transformation was a wild wired imagination because more than minds; the transformation of mindsets is more important. I used a strong logical appeal to all stake holders of IIT Roorkee to accept my vision as their shared vision. The idea that clicked to motivate positive action was my managerial version of Eiensten’s Scientific equation.
But in my equation E=Excellence that IIT system requires; m=Motivation and c= Commitment of all stakeholders to achieve excellence. I used this to motivate faculty, staff and students of IIT Roorkee. Choosing this equation was because it had a brand value but with a solid motivational appeal to quantitative oriented scientific minds.
I demonstrated that if c=0.5 then we are doing our job in a half-hearted, laid back indifferent style. This will result in E =1⁄4 m. However if we have to the passion, zeal enthusiasm with c=2 then E=4m. Thus no excellence will ever be possible if we do our job with indifference and lack of passion. With passion and Zeal no one can stop the attainment of excellence. If IIT Roorkee were to join elite group; excellent has to be its sole aim which requires passion and zeal by all. I extensively shared this equation every semester among faculty staff and students. They became owners of the change agenda and a major transformational, overall academic, infrastructural and systemic improvement was accomplished when I demitted office on 31st May 2006.
Design of UP Technical University Academic Excellence Award Model
In 2006, I had an opportunity to lead UP Technical University as its Vice Chancellor.
This was anti-thetic to my challenges at IIT Roorkee. IIT’s have quality but fewer quantity. UP Technical University had quantity but all did not perceive it to be quality numbers.Thus ‘quality’ became my sole objective in giving leadership to UPTU.
I had to carry with me-throughout the state all engineering and other professional colleges in this journey and sensitize them all that only-quality will survive in the long run.I wrote and lectured extensively that ‘quality is relevant for anything worth doing’ and ‘if quality is not relevant then it is not worth doing’. To remove apprehensions I debated that quality and numbers are not necessary anti-thetic. I said numbers are immaterial if these are quality numbers and numbers have no meaning at all if these are not quality.Thus growth of UPTU concurrently with quality enhancement was possible.With a missionary zeal, I focused in improvement of quality of colleges affiliated to UPTU and used techniques of TQM and statistical process control extensively leveraging my background of industrial engineering. One idea that became a great success was ‘design of UP Technical University Academic Excellence Award’ model designed and developed by me leveraging quality award model framework but in a technical higher education context. In 2007 it was launched with the full blessings of all stakeholders including the Governor – Chancellor.It energized these colleges to focus on total quality as measured over ten parameters and assessed out of 1000 points. To ensure its perfect implementation; an eminent jury-headed by then AICTE chairman and members who were drawn from famous institutes and industry. No one from UPTU or its colleges was associated with it so that it is also perceived to be a credible assessment. It required courage to accept that in 2007, none was found suitable to be given ‘academic excellence award but some ‘star performers’ were honoured. Second and third year of its implementation spread the quality message through the entire spectrum of these colleges. Eventually-the success story of UPTU Academic Excellence Award found inclusion as a case study in Indian version of a prestigious American Book in a chapter related to quality.
Human Values & Professional Ethics in Technical Education
I had strong conviction that technological growth without good human values and professional ethics can indeed be a curse to the society rather than a boon because technology does better whatever we want it to do for us, but it does not say no if we want to use it for nefarious anti-social things. It does even those things more efficiently.Hence technological development must go on hand-in-hand with human development.We cannot be engineers/managers unless we are also good human beings.This imagination led me to initiate a project of introducing a compulsory audit course on ‘Human Values & Professional Ethics’ in all degrees to be awarded by UPTU.To effectively implement the idea, a number of sensitization workshops at different regions of UP with college chairmen, directors and faculty were conducted where I delivered lectures on the need to do it and how it will be good to the collegesas it will improve placements; reduce indiscipline and lead to better work culture.With enthusiastic colleges’ response, a team of role models in that subject was persuaded to develop an optimal curriculum for that. It deliberated the issues extensively and evolved a curriculum including the pedagogy and delivery mechanism.Without clearing the course one would not get a UPTU degree and one has to sit through again in the course if not passed as an audit course.It resulted in a very popular text book co-authored by Prof. RR Gaur, Prof. Rajeev Sangal and Prof. Ganesh Bagaria. On successful implementation in UPTU; over 7-8 other state technical universities have adopted that model in addition to Royal University of Bhutan. Punjab Technical University has even got this book translated in to Punjabi Language. Thus a wild imagination resulted in major breakthrough.
Striking out a reasonable correlation between theory and practical marks
I have always held that we, in general; have lots of data but do not drive information/knowledge or wisdom out of it. With this perception I looked at a paradox in UPTU Examinations results. I analysed that about 97% of B.Tech students in UPTU graduated with 1st division. Yet the general perception in the society was that the quality of engineering graduates is declining. To analysis it further, I found a major variation in the centrally conducted UPTU theory examinationswith 70% marks and 30% marks to practical or sessional examinations given by the colleges as a part of their academic autonomy. It was very revealing. A student who may score 30% in the theory was getting 98% in practicals and almost every student would score more than 90% in sessional. This was distorting ranking perception of the colleges. A thorough statistical analysis was presented to the colleges to prove that there was no correlation between theory and practical marks.Hence it was decided to filter out the practical marks while academically ranking the colleges.Since a common examination and centralized evaluation was done by the university;it was decided to use only examination results data by the COE on theory papers to rank the colleges. This way the distortion in ranking could be reduced.It also revealed here that the autonomy given to colleges in practical evaluations was not being used effectively and lot of interactions was done with them to have a reasonable correlation between theory and practical marks. Some initiatives were taken to reduce the imbalance.
Curation of Locale Specific Indigenous Metrics to Evaluate Student Attainment
A very innovative measure of academic performance termed as ‘GAIA’ Gross Average Intellectual Attainment was evolved in UPTU which almost transformed the way we look at academic performance. The genesis of this was an observation that colleges result analysis was based on the conventional style-% distinction; % first class and % second class. My under- standing of statistical inference led me to believe that an index which does not use complete data available on the subject cannot be a good index.Hence, we should develop an index which is holistic and uses 100% of examination related data available with the university to compute academic performance index.I was also curious to know why some colleges though not generally perceived to be quality driven, yet had some university level gold medalist in it.I was told that a strategy was to select one a two stars and focus all resources and attention on them so that they top the university examination and then leverage this attainment in publicity of the college. GAIA was an answer to all that. GAIA= (Sum of marks of all the students in all the subjects in all the semesters)/(Total number of answer books evaluated.) Fortunately all the above data are available in university computer system. Upon merits of this case; it was adopted as a holistic measures of academic performance and was used in academic ranking of all colleges and for UPTU Academic Excellence Award model. GAIA had a hierarchical structure and GAIA can be computed at a college level, at a department level; at a subject level; at a teacher level etc.! The benefits are enormous. To rank high; colleges have to focus on all the students-not on chosen few stars only; in all the subjects; in all the years and also in selection of students for admissions. If good students are selected GAIA will be higher and Vice-Versa.Inter-batch comparisons; inter-subject comparisons and inter-teacher comparisons can be done more holistically using this academic index.I have introduced GAIA but called it even in my current university-The NorthCap University and MSES where I served as chairman of Academic Committee. GAAP means Gross Average Academic Performance and is easy to pronounce.
Relocation of the Agricultural Farm
This case is a non-academic change brought about while I was director at IIT Roorkee;which many felt was a long standing problem but note attempted to address it.Since it was amicably resolved by my proactive efforts; hence it is worth sharing.I was intrigued to observe that next to faculty housing and academic buildings;there was a 10-15 acre farm growing various crops as a part of experimental research in the famous WRDTC-Water Resource Development and Training Centre.The Idea was to experiment on crop productivity with varying intensity of irrigation.In summer there was harvesting/threshing at the same venue which manyresident faculty complained that it was eroding air quality and even contributing to ailments such as asthma. I realized it to be an important problem to be resolved. I learnt that there was only one faculty in WRDTC with 1-2 research scholars in undertaking this research.I persuaded the faculty if the farm could be shifted away from faculty residence and academic buildings. Rest of the departmental faculty was willing except the concerned professor. I believe that if individual interests have to be sacrificed for a greater public good; then it is worth doing and hence a decision to shift the agriculture farm was taken ensuring that the place is used for developing it as a park and hockey stadium which was also needed. The outcome of this bold decision delighted almost all in the campus and that area is now a place of pride in the campus. Temporary unhappiness of the affected professor vanished when I corrected what I perceived to be injustice to himin denying him the headship of WRDTC as with a perception that he may not be able to carry the department because of his strong stand on some issues. This opportunity to him to lead the department created a great enthusiasm in him and he turned out to be a very good head and also appreciated my decision to shift the location of the agriculture farm.It was an out of box solution to two persistent problems/issues which got resolved simultaneously.