'Students need to have specific skills'

A TEAM from Deakin University, Australia, was in Chennai recently, scouting for opportunities for research collaborations with academic institutions here.

Four professors led by Deakin University's Vice-President, Eric Meadows, had face-to-face discussions with institutions including, Anna University, Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore, St. Xaviers College, Mumbai, and the Delhi College of Engineering.

"There is a wide area of mutual interests. For instance, when she visited the Adyar Cancer Institute, Leign Ackland from Deakin University's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, who is carrying out research on breast cancer, found lots of potential for working together," said Prof. Meadows.

Eric Meadows,Vice-President, Deakin University. (Right)Peter Hodgson from the School of Engineering and Technology. — Photos: K. PIchumani

Eric Meadows,Vice-President, Deakin University. (Right)Peter Hodgson from the School of Engineering and Technology. — Photos: K. PIchumani  

Others who were here in India, included Peter Hodgson from the School of Engineering and Technology, and John Hall from the Centre for Business Research. Visiting India and Indian centres of learning was important to these Australian academicians. "You can read a web site, but it is not the same as knowing the people who make up the university," said Prof. Meadows.

``India's strengths are the sciences, theoretical sciences and engineering. This is where Deakin University is looking for partnerships. But it is also promoting humanities and social sciences.''

To what benefit? Prof. Meadows said the emphasis in Australian universities in general, and in Deakin, in particular, was on practical outcomes with theoretical underpinnings.

"It is not enough to simply have a fine education, students also need to have specific skills. Being able to think, and having disciplined writing skills are the basis of a good career. This is what a good arts education provides."

The arts department of Deakin University is visiting Indraprastha College in Delhi later this year to explore possible tie-ups.

The university has strong links with industry. Proof of this is Deakin Prime, an arm of the university that tailor-makes courses for industry. "We build educational components to suit training needs of employees for specific industries."

Recently, they provided training to staff of Coles-Myers, the largest retail enterprise in Australia.

"We want to equip students to continue learning," he said. With this in mind, the University has made it mandatory for every student to do at least one course online during his or her studies. Once familiar with online learning, the student would find it possible to take up courses online while working, he said.

Peter Hodgson from the Faculty of Science and Technology, whose research interests have to do with mechanics and materials, said there were good reasons for Deakin to tie up with Indian institutions. "Melbourne is trying to position itself as a centre for automotive design. However, unlike in India, there are not many degrees in material sciences and metallurgy in Australia, so we rely quite heavily on international Ph.D students, including Indian students for research," he said.

"Different cultures have different strengths," he observed. Prof. Hodgson believes that innovation is Australia's strength.

"Maybe, it comes with having to work with land and make the most of limited resources."

"Indians are at good at engineering and design and mathematical modelling."

The academic has on his trip agenda, visits to the IIT and the IISc: he seeks to expand his idea to have an international pool of researchers working on areas such as new materials. His team is already working on areas such as `next generation steel' that is robust and can take on heavier vehicles. Prof. Hodgson, in fact, wants to talk to TATA steel on this count.

Akhila Seetharaman

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