RAZA R. HOQUE
A few years back, I had some visitors to my Tezpur home at the Tezpur University (TU) campus. Since my guests did not know the way to the campus, I went down to the city to catch them there, so they could map me to my residence. There is a perception that the university is situated in a secluded location far from the city. And, this is true. Napam is a nondescript village where the university is located.
I kept an eye at the ‘guest car’ following me to be sure that my guests do not miss the trail. At times, one may not find anyone on the roadside to ask for direction in these villages, especially during the night. There are of course direction signs for the university by the road, however, for the first timer it may not be easy.
It so happened that as I parked my car at my residence, the ‘guest car’ was not to be seen behind me. I was sure that the guest car made it to the campus. I waited for a few minutes. On not seeing the car I got confused whether they actually made it to the campus. I drove down to the ‘university main gate’ again to confirm with the security. The gentleman there assured me that a car did follow my car, which did not return to the gate again. That means that the car was inside the campus. The security also assured me to help provide with directions to my residence if the car returned to the gate again.
I got home. The tea was ready for the guests and was getting cold. Also, I returned home after the days’ work. So, I decided to sip my tea and wait for the guests to come.
My kids were getting restless as they were looking forward to meeting the guests. After an hour, they reached my residence looking happy and invigorated. “Oh, what a beautiful place” – they started off! “We have been taking spins in the campus. It’s so beautiful! Beautiful buildings. We were then watching a football match in the sports arena. We never saw football under the lights,” said my guest.
People generally get amazed looking at the TU campus. My guests were not exceptional to be overwhelmed! Beautiful buildings, manicured surroundings, variety of trees lined down the lane and it’s all there in place.
It’s in the air. Over the year TU has become a destination for visitors. But that’s not all. The university has developed other attributes which are not physical, and we do not actually see them with our eyes. Which means, we do not know the university well yet!
The young university celebrates 25 years of its existence with a series of events through 2018. With the various ranking coming one after the other where TU figured decent positions, both nationally and internationally, it’s time that we knew more about the university; more so, the intangible assets the university has acquired over the years. Recently TU has figured as one of the top 100 universities of Asia in the Times Higher Education Asia University Rankings (2018) and the news received tremendous media attention. This media coverage could be indicative of the fact that there are aspirations of the people of the region associated with the university.
So, what is there in the attributes of TU, which fought disadvantages of being placed at a remote location without having a dedicated airport and rail connectivity, to reach such a stature?
Over the years, the academic environment of TU has been nurtured with dedication and consistency by the people involved in the university. One, there has always been a constructive pressure on the faculty to spend time in research besides teaching and to fetch external funding through research projects. All members of the faculty in the Science and Technology streams have their individual research labs, most of these labs have externally funded research projects running. A culture of research and publishing grew within TU which is now strengthened by several layers of collaboration. Publications and patents are important indicators to rate the ongoing research in an institute. And, this is where TU has made the dent. The citation indices which quantify the quality/strength of research tells us that TU is fast moving towards making a tall research hub of India. Our students now discuss “impact factors (IF)” and “citations” and they emphasise to publish their research in high IF journals. IF could be a misleading parameter, yet to talk about it is not a bad thing! This develops a pressure, I would say a healthy pressure, on the researchers to perform better.
The university follows an academic calendar in letter and spirit. During my stint in university of over a decade I have never witnessed if at any time the university had ever missed an academic date – examinations, results, entrance tests or admissions. Examinations and grading are all handled by teachers and the students have the access to have a look at the scripts of each level of tests conducted in a semester. The administration, of course, keeps a watch about this whole thing, but, it’s taken a form of a habit among the faculty now to do things this way.
The Tezpur University Entrance Examination (TUEE) is held across Indian mainland and large number of applications are received from the regions outside of NE. But, this is not interesting! The interesting part of it is that many of the applicants hail from the NE region and some of them make it through, and choose to come back to graduate from TU. For decades thousands of youths migrate to the mainland India for higher education. Many of course do well and come back to the region and work here. And, many don’t return too. There is a huge financial loss to the region due to this outflow of youths as this process is fuelled by drainage of huge resource from this already impaired NE region. The success of TU is that TU has been able to grab at least some of these youths from going out and have been able of pull back some. Needless to mention that the number of application from international candidates are also growing.
The university obliviously behaves like a family. I say ‘obliviously’ because this attribute has been achieved without much conscious effort. Anyone can meet anyone, anytime at TU. This affable nature of the university is unique and healthy, when you compare with the colonial ‘red tapism’ that prevail in many institutions, not necessarily academic institutions alone. Teachers here know the students by their names and which is why the students are at ease to ask questions. About anything. Questioning is the most important attribute of learning no matter there is an answer to the questions. Questioning is vital when there is a search for knowledge, which is valued at TU.
This university has a well-coordinated teaching and non-teaching departments, which makes things easy for maintaining the pace. So, TU of today is a product of concerted efforts from all members of the “TU community”.
The university went through ups and downs in the last 25 years. That is but natural.
(Raza R Hoque is Professor at TU and Fulbright-Nehru scholar at University of Rochester, New York, USA)
(Pic courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tezpur_University)