First biotechnologist to head varsity, will ensure ‘merger is smooth’

One curriculum, uniform administration and placement policies as well as 535 colleges — the new Vice-Chancellor (officiating) of Anna University, P. Kaliraj has many things to worry about, but his priorities are clear. “The merger will ensure that students from the city and villages have access to the same resources. It will not be about getting a job alone, because the students will be given the best resources and training to be innovators.”

On Wednesday, when Anna University regained its status as the sole affiliating technical university in Tamil Nadu, Professor Kaliraj assumed charge as officiating V-C. The senior-most faculty member, Kaliraj is also the first biotechnologist to head the university. He is a professor at the Centre for Biotechnology and heads Alagappa College of Technology.

Translational research will also be important, he said. “We will urge students to take their research to the society, by way of designing tangible products. The government is spending so much on research and the society needs to benefit by it.”

Managing the recently merged institutions will not be difficult, the new V-C believes. “We are not closing down any infrastructure. The regional directors and officers will supervise and operationalise processes, and we have registrars and deputy registrars as well.”

The priority now, Prof Kaliraj said, will be to ensure that the merger is smooth and students have no problems. Recently, students pursuing part-time courses in Anna University of Technology, Coimbatore had complained that they were facing issues getting a PhD admission in Anna University, Chennai because their course was not accredited.

“Theirs is a two-year course which is unacceptable but that would not deter their admission. We will make sure they are given some extra training and additional courses,” Prof. Kaliraj said.

The 59-year-old professor hails from a family of farmers in Virudhunagar district, and says that right from his school days through his post-graduate course at University of Madras and his Ph.D. in Immunotechnology at Nagpur University, he has always sought to address the immediate needs of society.

Prof. Kaliraj has worked in the development of diagnostics for filariasis, a parasitic and infectious disease. Over the past 30 years, he has worked as a biotechnologist focussing on recombinant filarial proteins.

A member of the World Health Organisation’s filarial genome project, he was instrumental in the development and characterisation of several vaccine and drug targets for the global elimination of filariasis.

He has been elected a Fellow by the Biotechnology Research Society of India and by the National Academy of Biological Sciences.