The new Malayalam university will help students acquire multiple skills, empowering them in the job market, its Vice-Chancellor
The Vice-Chancellor of the new Thunchathu Ezhuthachan Malayalam University, K. Jayakumar, has set an ambitious course for himself. In an interview to The Hindu-EducationPlus, the former Chief Secretary says he wishes to make the institution, inaugurated in Tirur on November 1, academically, functionally and culturally relevant and that he will strive to bring back the honour in learning Malayalam.
What do you think is the single-most important reason for setting up a university for Malayalam?
The demand for a Malayalam university has been there for quite a while. For more than two decades, we have been talking about a Malayalam university. For the first time, the election manifestos of both the political combines in Kerala had one common item; both the Left Democratic Front and the United Democratic Front have promised to set up the university.
That means there is a felt need somewhere in the psyche of the Malayali that we need such a university. Not just to satisfy ego or vanity but to meet a definite need. What is that need?
On the one plane, the fact that Tamil, Kannada and Telugu have their own universities, but Malayalam has not; so, on one plane, there is a compulsion like that, but at the same time, we feel that the younger generation is moving away from Malayalam.
English is a wonderful language, no doubt, but we are trying to make a statement. That to learn Malayalam is not at the expense of your success in life, your utility in life or rather utilitarian values in life. You can be successful even after learning Malayalam. That is the challenge. So when I was asked to conceptualise this university, I had extensive discussions. Two strands of thought emerged which I have synthesised in my report.
One, they say that our language and literature should receive deeper learning, so there should be a university where Malayalam language and literature are addressed at a greater level of intellectual application. The second strand is that Malayalam university cannot be one where only Malayalam is taught. It has to transcend language and literature and go into other areas of Kerala culture.
My report says that the university will be a place for higher learning in Malayalam language, literature, Kerala culture, cultural studies, intellectual heritage and modern cultural issues and for equipping the language to meet the technological challenges of tomorrow.
Would not all these have been possible by working to strengthen the teaching of Malayalam in existing universities without attempting to create yet another institution complete with all the administrative structure from the Vice-Chancellor down?
I have thought about this. Sure there will be the study of language and literature in this university, but it will be different from what you obtain from other universities. For example, every university teaches you Malayalam MA; the history of the language, study of great personalities… Here it will be a super-speciality. A person passing out of from here (the Malayalam university) will be an MA Malayalam in poetry, fiction, or drama. This super-specialisation will be the USP of the Malayalam university.
Do you think there will be the expertise to teach these kinds of super-speciality courses?
You see, expertise is the outcome of a demand-and-supply situation. If there is demand, there will be supply. There are eminent people… Only thing the course should be so designed that this super-speciality is achieved.
Are you saying that this expertise will not be available immediately?
No, the course should be designed in a flexible manner, there should be openness. You need not depend on academic scholars alone. If somebody is eminent in a particular field, you can let him (teach).
What mode of academic study will the Malayalam university offer? Will it be in the credit-and-semester mode?
I do not want to comment on that now because it is matter for the experts to decide. But I can only say that this university will not be conventional. Universities all over the world are passing through lot of changes. Changes are happening. Unfortunately, Kerala’s higher education system has been slow to respond. We have responded, yes, but the pace of response has been rather slow.
That is the challenge. Our structure (the new university’s) should be such that we have the alacrity, we are nimble-footed, to respond to change. We should not create our own rules which become shackles. That is my biggest challenge; to keep going the vitality of the institution, to get the best talent from all over the world, with very little bureaucracy, with very little bureaucratic intervention for which universities are notorious.
There is this view that Malayalam is under threat from multiple corners. What according to you are the threats to Malayalam? Is English one such threat?
No. We ourselves are our own threat. We ourselves choose not to send our children to learn Malayalam. We create situations wherein they cannot learn Malayalam and still pass the 12 standard and go on to professional courses and come out without learning a word of Malayalam. That is bad… So we are our own enemies.
On the functional aspect … we might offer the best of courses but if those courses have no relevance or value in earning a livelihood those courses will not survive for long. So this university should be very careful in designing courses in such a way that, though you may be an expert in Malayalam, there should be some application…some skills… The university should equip you with the skills to take up a particular job. The design of a course should be flexible enough to allow a student to access multiple skills. If we offer a course which would equip a person to take various works I think we will be doing justice… functionally.
On the cultural front, younger children do not have any grounding in Malayalam. I do not know that what the university can do about that, but the university can bring back a sense of honour in learning Malayalam and Kerala culture. Many non-resident Keralites are worried that their children will not get an opportunity to learn Malayalam. I am quite sure this university will think about ways to address that lacuna.
Has a disservice been done to Malayalam by the way it has been taught — many say, in a very conservative, traditional manner — in the State’s institutions?
I think at some point of time we became very orthodox in teaching Malayalam. Made it so difficult. We are reaping the dividends of such an approach. I think we have to change that. The university can also consider what changes need to be introduced so that the learning of Malayalam becomes lighter. People are moving, more and more, towards English not because they do not like Malayalam but because English is easier and because the Internet understands English so well.
Personally, I can write Malayalam well. But when I use the computer I have to use only English. To use Malayalam on my computer is so difficult. This is an area where the university will and should focus in research. There are any number of brilliant Malayalis and Indians who are willing to do research to help use make Malayalam computer-savvy.
If Malayalam is made computer-savvy, a major revolution will take place. That will also have its implications on your employability.
It will dispel the notion that “Oh, I have learnt Malayalam and so I have no opportunities…”
What is your blueprint for the new university for its first decade? What are your immediate priorities?
My challenges are too many. First, I have to anchor this university to the ground. Once the graduate course results of the universities come out in April-May, we will offer the first batch in June-July. To begin with, we may offer five courses. We will offer only postgraduate courses. There will be five faculties, one each for language, literature, performing arts, cultural studies and traditional knowledge systems, including Kalari and Vaastu. There will be schools under each faculty.
For the first three years, we will create a temporary structure on 20 acres of land given by the government where the courses can begin in July. Some PSUs have agreed to construct this by March 31, 2013.
By 2015, we may move to our permanent campusBut then, we will not offer any course that is not in our mandate. It will not dilute its vision. Our courses will be relevant and functionally sound.