ABDUL LATHEEF NAHA speaks toVice-ChancellorK. Jayakumar.
In less than 10 months after Chief Minister Oommen Chandy laid the foundation stone for Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University, an institution with potential to take the Malayalam language, literature and culture to new heights is born, thanks to the efforts of a small team, led by Vice-Chancellor K. Jayakumar.
Apart from constructing a temporary building in just 100 days, Mr. Jayakumar and his team have succeeded in prioritising the functions and actions of the institution. They identified the courses, prepared syllabi, built the basic infrastructure, set up a library, appointed teachers and nearly completed the admission of the first batch of students, all in quick time. Ten months, no doubt, is a small period for the establishment of a university.
“In fact, we could have waited for a year,” says Mr. Jayakumar, chatting with The Hindu-EducationPlus . “But we did not, as we didn’t want to lose our precious time. And we spent considerable energy for it.”
The student response to the courses offered by the university has been “inspiring.” The number of applications for admission to the five postgraduate programmes was six times more than the 100 seats available. “It has been a matter of great satisfaction that a new university, which is relatively an unknown entity, could attract so many students and fill all the seats,” the Vice-Chancellor says.
Mr. Jayakumar believes that he has succeeded in translating his sense of responsibility into action in the initial phase.
The university, he says, will have the best curriculum and the best syllabi. It will not be a one-timer. It will be a dynamic syllabus. “We will have periodic reviews of the syllabi. Continual updating will make it more resilient,” Mr. Jayakumar says.
The Vice-Chancellor says that no compromise was made in getting the best faculty for the programmes. Most of the 22 teacher’s posts have been filled, though there have been allegations of bending the rules to show favouritism. Mr. Jayakumar denies the allegations. “All appointments have been completely transparent. Quality was the sole criterion we followed. And we have gone for the best.”Disgruntlement and disappointment are natural especially when there are 900 candidates for 22 posts. A couple of posts, he says, will lie vacant till they get the right candidate.
Search for Professor
For example, the selection committee has opined that the right kind of person to be appointed as the first Professor of Malayalam in the Malayalam University is yet to be found. “In fact, I am looking for someone like Sukumar Azhikode for that post,” said Mr. Jayakumar, admitting that it will be wishful thinking. The university will advertise again for that post. Those who did not apply the first time may be tempted to apply now. “Kerala is not bereft of talent. Talent may be hidden. Some may be comfortable in their zones and will not want to be disturbed.”
As part of turning it into an academically vibrant campus, eminent scholars and writers from outside will be brought regularly to interact with the students. Mr. Jayakumar says there will be no compromise to accommodate mediocrity. It will rather be an inspiration for excellence.
“I want my children to aspire for excellence. We can achieve it only by exposing them to higher levels of excellence,” says Mr. Jayakumar, adding that Heike Moser, Koodiyattom scholar and Indologist from Tubingen University, Germany, will be the first foreigner to offer classes at Malayalam University. The university will have one major seminar every month, in which scholars from outside will be brought to discuss topics of an interdisciplinary nature.
There will be another symposium by the students every month, in which one will present the topic and others will take part in the academic discourse. There will be a lecture by an invited speaker of good repute every month. A list of speakers is being prepared.
The university has also chalked out one major cultural programme every month, aiming at exposing the students to the best of artistic talent. The students will be given an opportunity to distinguish between good and great artistes.
“By exposing the students to great artistes, what I am trying to do is to disturb their internal comfort level. They should aspire to become great, to be the best,” Mr. Jayakumar says.
He finds it said that the campuses are missing such exposure. There is no restlessness to become the best. “I want my children to be restless to be the best. It can be created only by exposing them to the best,” says Mr. Jayakumar, who had rubbed shoulders with such great artistes like Sonal Mansingh, Ravi Shankar, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, and Balamurali Krishna. “There should be creative discontentment.”
The university will also introduce a writer-in-residence programme, especially for its creative writing course. Writers will be brought to the campus for interaction with the students in an informal and enriching atmosphere.
Mr. Jayakumar agrees that Malayalam University has a different mandate from that of other universities. It is not only a place where postgraduate programmes will be offered but it also has a responsibility beyond classrooms. “It is the responsibility to our language, our literature, our cultural tradition, and our intellectual heritage.” The Vice-Chancellor says better employability will be a distinguishing feature of Malayalam University. “Students who pass out of the university will not be found wanting in capability. They will be job-worthy. We will make them employable,” he exudes confidence.
The university has chalked out five job-oriented diploma courses, which the students can take up along with their Master’s programme. Every student of Malayalam University can do two one-year postgraduate diploma programmes in parallel.
“It is a major policy departure in our university. No university in Kerala is offering such a facility.”
The five diploma programmes soon to be started at Malayalam University are in new media studies, advertising with special focus on Malayalam copywriting, writing for television and television presentation, scriptwriting and videography and Malayalam for the media, including commercial translation.
Mr. Jayakumar says the general perception that studying Malayalam will not help students procure a job will change soon. The job market in Kerala has solid demand. Employability is what matters, and not language.
“Equipped with a high-quality postgraduate degree on a dynamic syllabus and armed with two diploma courses having job potential, I am sure my first batch will have 100 per cent placement,” he says.