As an astute academician, Prof. (Dr.) Mushtaq A Siddiqi is seen as a heavyweight on the top chair of Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST). The vice chancellor who comes from a reputed educated family of Downtown Srinagar is mindful of the different challenges that institution like IUST is facing at the moment. With his vast academic experience, Prof. Siddiqi sees IUST taking a quantum jump by 2022—when it should be ‘a centre of excellence than any other university in the state’. The varsity under his headship is already progressing, especially on the development front.
In a freewheeling interview with The Indus Post’s correspondent Marila Latif, Prof. Mushtaq A Siddiqi talks about the campus affairs and the vision to make IUST ‘first among equals’.
- To begin with, let’s talk about the campus mover and shaker.
Well, I come from Old Srinagar’s reputed family, which was a cohort of passionate educationists. My family contributed to the society in terms of growth and betterment. My grandfather was an educationist, who taught Persian in Aligarh Muslim University as well as in SP College, Srinagar.
Born in such a family was to imbibe the tradition. So, after I did my graduation and post-graduation in Chemical Science and PhD from Indian Institute of Aggregative Medicine, I went for a post doctorate to the University of Chiba in Tokyo, Japan. I had a wonderful training for two years there, which groomed me as a professional immunologist.
I eventually joined SKIMS as faculty in the Department of Immunology, and during that period spanning over 28 years, I had a 6-year stint as the professor in German universities.
I also worked in the University of Ulm which is called Einstein’s University and global universities like Chile, Polerlish, Mitsobishi University which primed me as professional molecular immunologist.
- Since you were teaching in world famous institutions, what made you to come back?
When I moved out in 1990 on a 3-year job contract to Germany, it was circumstantially bad time for Kashmir. But after a year, I realised that there was nobody in Kashmir, who could replace me—as an immunologist—at that point of time.
So, I came back with a strong feeling to serve my homeland.
But how did your foreign stint shape you as a professional?
Well, it made a huge difference to my career. I remember when I went for a post-doctorate in Japan, AIDS had started hitting the global headlines as a new disease. Since the disease was related to Immunology, I started working on it.
Eventually, I published my works on AIDS in the best journals of the world. As an immunologist, I was the first person to give a modal about reconstitution of the immune system in the HIV/AIDS infected person.
Today, we understand that such patients don’t die of HIV; they die of opportunistic infections. So, in a way, I created a new system in human beings to fight the disease and its complexities. All this and more became possible because of my stint in foreign.
- So, how do you compare that international platform with this Kashmir forum?
Honestly, there’re many things in foreign, which Kashmir lacks — not much intellectually, but structurally and physically.
First of all, we’ve a mentorship crisis in Kashmir. The mentors in the leading international institutions produce finest students. Besides that, we don’t have any physical infrastructure, like the experimental laboratories.
But if we’ve a good mentorship here, then laboratories can be created.
But isn’t our institutional mediocrity—so to say—is being mainly blamed on Kashmir’s volatile situation? Do you think it’s a justifiable reasoning?
Look, it’s a fact that from the past 30 years, we’ve been living in difficult circumstances. So the students who’re coming to schools, colleges and universities have different psychological mindsets. It’s obvious you cannot insulate students from the activities happening in their hometown or neighbourhood.
But, in order to grow and achieve better results, we need to evolve a teacher-student learning mechanism on a different pedestal inside our institutions.
Given your positive outlook, what has IUST achieved under your headship so far?
Well, IUST lately celebrated its 13th Foundation Day. And if we actually look at 13 years, it’s very small time for an institution to grow, but the varsity has progressed well.
Today, ours is the 3rd biggest university (with 4500 enrolled students) in Jammu & Kashmir, after Kashmir University (8000) and Jammu University (6000).
Before I joined, there was paucity in physical infrastructure. And classes were still being taken in the tin and bamboo sheds. Today, with pride, I say classes have been shifted to the classrooms. We’ve created a lot of physical space. We’ve also added human resources including 30 permanent faculty and 50 contractual.
What about the future course of the campus?
We’re planning to expand our physical infrastructure in future.
Our university will be the first with MBA Accreditation in Electronics & Food Technology Engineering. We’ve introduced PhD in all the engineering subjects. Besides, we’ve made a plan that IUST will work in tandem with social requirements of the state.
We’re opening up Masters in Clinical Psychology and the aim is to produce the crop of clinical psychologist because we’ve a lot of mental health issues in the society. Dr Mushtaq Margoob, the eminent Psychiatrist of Valley will be shortly our full fledged professor.
But the biggest aim is to make it a world-class university in terms of innovation, and student welfare.
Talking about student welfare, does IUST have a placement cell?
We do have it. In fact, we’ve a deputy registrar dedicated to it. But since jobs aren’t available all over India at the moment, we’re struggling to get more placement agencies on the campus. But, we’re working on various modalities to improve our student placement graph.
We’ve also established a student’s welfare counselling cell, knowing that some students are into drugs. We’ve successfully counselled five students, who’ve promised to become the campus de-addiction ambassadors for us.
But are you getting desirable official support for revamping the campus?
I’ll be very unthankful, if I do not really acknowledge the official support. When I sold the concept of converting IUST from conventional university a centre of excellence, the state government responded with funds. And when I shared my ideas with MHRD, we got a grant of Rs 20 crore. In a recent meeting in Delhi, I was asked, if I can convert IUST into an Entrepreneur University—without bothering about funds. So, yes, the official support is always there.
But, we also have an advantage of internal revenue resource generation. We’re generating a lot of revenue through our systems, whether it comes for tuitions or Department of Mathematical Science’s consultancy to state life insurance.
For curiosity’s sake, how do you look at IUST in comparison with Kashmir University?
Kashmir University is a wonderful university but Islamic University being a unitary university is not yet an affiliated university.
Unitary universities have several advantages over the affiliating universities. It can come out of mediocrity to the excellence in a short period of time because the bureaucracy has not erupted in this university as yet. So the systems are not corrupted.
I believe the progress which IUST has shown in last 5 years is fantabulous. By 2022, it should be a centre of excellence than any other university in the state.
Even then, not many have any idea about IUST’s ecosystem for academics and research?
Well, let me make it precise. By the end of March 2019, we’ll have three international level scientists that will bring us at par with global level research!
We already have one Ramanujan fellow with us—who had spent 13 years in U.S.A and has PhD in Sweden.
We’re actually creating the centre of excellence by the name of Watson Crux Centre for Molecular Medicine wherein our student Rayees, also the Ramanujan fellow, will bring research grant of Rs 1.1 crore. He’ll be supporting his own salary, as well as his research programme into this campus.
But that’s not all.
In addition to academics, we show Shakespearean dramas in the campus. We’re providing an ecosystem where we can talk about the tragedy like Macbeth and showcase how tragedy and treachery works because Kashmir is also the victim of treachery. We want to showcase it through art.
But you’ve also introduced Moral and Spiritual Studies in the campus. What for?
During these days of turmoil, it’s very important to have a form of spirituality for the personality development. With this thought in mind, we introduced Moral and Spiritual Studies in the campus. It’s already a popular subject among students.
- Talking about the institutional autonomy, how free-thinking place is IUST?
Academic autonomy is not possible until and unless universities have financial autonomy. And any organisation—be it state or centre—giving you money has always some riders on it.
Personally, yes, I believe that academic institutions should be free thinking places and academics should decide what courses to introduce and what not to. That’s why we’re trying to establish some financial discipline.
We’ve been allotted 1000 kanals of hilly land—which is being surveyed by the Solar Corporation of India. Once formalised, we can generate 25 mega watts of power, which in turn, will give us enough resources for achieving financial autonomy.
- Also, there’re reports that IUST is becoming a next sports destination in J&K. Is it true?
Yes. IUST is the first university which has bagged up the most prestigious sports facility from the sports federation of India. In this regard, a sports ground is soon coming up.
We’ve hired a German company, which is making sports facilities including an athletic tract of Olympic standard. It’ll be ready by the end of June 2019.
This will not only serve the university but the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, where you can pick up the boys of 12 years age to make them of Olympic standard athlete.
At last, Kashmir—despite housing an ‘intellectually sound’ race—couldn’t produce any reckoning intellectual all these years. Has political intervention in our institutions responsible for that?
Well, if you look at the big scientist and academics world over, it’s the institution which supports their arrogance and brilliant ideas.
I don’t know much about the other institutions, but I believe university should create an ecosystem—which can accept and tolerate individual’s new ideas and new thinking, without letting political interventions to dictate that.
Prof. Siddiqi, it was a pleasure talking to you!
The pleasure was all mine!
This story first appeared in December Print Issue of The Indus Post.