A Colloquy With the Dean SRICCE : Prof. Anup Kumar Panda
Research is an integral part of National Institute of Technology Rourkela. The Sponsored Research, Industrial Consulting and Continuing Education (SRICCE) centre plays a pivotal role in facilitating the faculty members and researchers of the Institute in securing sponsored and consultancy projects and it takes a leading call in assisting various continuing education programmes. Recently, Team Monday Morning got a unique chance to interview the Dean, SRICCE, Prof. Anup Kumar Panda. In the splendid conversation, Prof. Panda shares the vision of SRICCE within the context of academic research and updates the campus community of the upcoming projects that are in pipeline.
Monday Morning: Team Monday Morning congratulates you for taking up the position of Dean, SRICCE. It’s rightly stated that your Office is the crux of NIT Rourkela: of its reputation, chiefly outside the Institute, say, in ranking and visibility. Most of the academic projects of the Institute—publications, patents, conferences, consultancy projects—have an intrinsic connection with SRICCE. In fact, in short, your Office handles the intellectual output of the institute. Would you please update us about the activities of SRICCE and about its present projects that may make a difference in the future?
Anup K. Panda(AKP): The SRICCE cell chiefly focuses on financial and administrative aspects of sponsored research, industrial consultancy, and continuing education programme. As of now, there are about 350 sponsored projects being carried out under SRICCE. The total sponsorship of these projects amounts to INR 25 crores. In addition, there are 134 consultancy projects worth INR 7 crores. It’s important to recount that there are twelve departments of our institute which are executing FIST projects under the Department of Science and Technology(DST), under the Government of India(GoI). The funds allotted for these departmental projects are about INR 3 crores. I am happy to share that an amount of INR 80 lakhs is also generated from the continuing education program. The overhead money from these projects, which is nearly INR 3.5 crores will be transferred to the Institute account. But budget apart, about 125 PhD and 4 MTech (Research) students are carrying out their R&D projects under these sponsored schemes, which is, in fact, a great output. Both intellectual output and generating funds under various heads are the crux of these activities.
MM: Decades down the line, the history of SRICCE will be the future of our institute. Given the fact that your office is the crux of all research and dissemination activities, what steps are you proposing to document the achievements of SRICCE? We may mention here that there’s no official record so far about the names of projects, publications or patents that come out of SRICCE projects. Should not there be a portal documenting the same? How are you planning so that a proper database of the Intellectual output is made available to the outside world?
AKP: Yes indeed. Right now there is no official documentation being done for the activities that are carried out under SRICCE. For this, we are in consultation with the automation cell of our institute, and we are also providing the necessary data to them. This may take some time as presently the automation cell is preoccupied with the faculty recruitment work. But very soon, within the next two-three months, we are sure that the SRICCE database will be updated on the website. It is at present a tedious affair but given the fact that it is important for the institute it will also be a meticulous task.
MM: Off late numerous changes have come our way in the institute. Purchase procedures that follow GeM, the number of PhD students that the institute has limited from projects, utilization of funds, etc. Faculty members who are handling projects mention that difficulties with regard to these issues are prominent now. They mention that handling a project is no easy job under these circumstances. It has affected the time schedule of the current projects and they fear that since funds cannot be utilized efficiently, future projects will attract less budget at NIT Rourkela. What plans are you initiating so that a degree of freedom is given to principal investigators of projects?
AKP: When a change comes, initially difficulties are many. But changes come with a vision to effectively stabilize a system. Initially during the transient stage, for example, during demonetization or the implementation of GST, led to changes and modifications in the institute along with the whole nation and we came to a conclusion that our own faculty members are also facing some issues. Those issues are being addressed for an effective future. These changes are being implemented for a long-term goal and a better future. Actually, GeM is a GoI initiative and our institute, being funded by the Central Government, is proactive to follow the norms and guidelines laid by the government. GeM is in reality transparent, time-saving and cost-effective process. The paperwork becomes minimal and you are no more bureaucratic. In case a product is not available on the GeM portal, we are allowed to go through a normal purchase procedure. That would ideally consume more time than GeM. Since we are new to this system, a degree of anxiety seems to have come to our work. We are organizing workshops to educate ourselves. Additionally, we are still working on this in collaboration with the Finance and Accounts section so as to make it a smooth and hassle-free process. Very soon, there will be greater clarity and all issues will be addressed. So what I can say here is that this transparent system needs some more time before people will start looking at its merits.
MM: Would you like to update us on the challenges for which such changes are inevitable?
AKP: Most of the time, SRICCE is occupied with the purchase paperwork and conducting various audits. But with the introduction of GeM, I think, this can be made easier and we can focus on other important impending issues. Even our department has to get acquainted with the changes that are being made in the entire system.
MM: How can we develop a mechanism so that the quality of research coming out of the campus—chiefly through SRICCE projects—is relevant to the contemporary world and that is as good as a top-class university or institute?
AKP: If you are looking for a trend and pattern in funding, nowadays, central sponsoring agencies such as DST and CSIR prefer experimental projects to be sponsored. I feel that the sponsored projects need to be product-oriented. An ideal project should develop a product that may be of use to the society as well as possess some value. The dependence on foreign markets can also be lessened by this. The outcome of such projects plays a major role in deciding the rankings of any institute. SRICCE aims to undertake as many projects as possible because, more the number of projects, more is the number of productive outcomes and thus higher is the institute’s rank. On a long run, a product-oriented research will bring technological independence and our researcher scholars could target this field.
MM: It is visible that many faculty members and project staff persistently come to the SRICCE Office with numerous files. The reasons could be numerous. A small but important concern is the preparation of official documents such as Utilization certificate or advertisement for project staff. Cannot SRICCE devise a more prominent strategy employing more staff so that the procedures are faster as compared to the present schedule and the official work can be done by the Office staff?
AKP: I don’t find any such issues. Faculties and staff come in case of emergency and as per their requirements. We are doing the job accordingly and our working staff is efficient enough to tackle such issues. Recently, we requested for an Associate Dean and for the recruitment of additional staff members. This would be looked upon soon and then our work can be smoother and faster.
MM: We are told that there is a restriction on advances sanctioned earlier as in the case of travel related to projects or fieldwork? Why did the institute take such a step? What are the pressing issues and how can they be resolved amicably?
AKP: I never knew about any such case. Almost every day I am signing applications for travel grants. If anyone is facing such an issue, please bring the matter to my notice. We shall discuss and resolve it. In addition, in case of an emergency, there is a provision to avail a loan up to INR 2 lakh from SRICCE Office and many faculty members have utilized this facility.
MM: Given the fact that you are a senior academic and an administrator, what vision do you devise for SRICCE Office? How would you like your tenure to be remembered? Please update your innovative and unique approaches that you are introducing for important intellectual output.
AKP: Presently we have 350 sponsored projects. I would like to see the number of sponsored projects reaching 4 digit numbers within the next 2-3 years. This would boost the number of PhD Scholars. We have reintroduced a bonus system, i.e., if a faculty gets a project he would get an additional PhD scholar. Apparently, more projects would mean our output in terms of publication and patent would be higher and this will directly help the ranking of our institute.
There are other things in the pipeline which will soon materialize. Institute-Industry collaboration is one issue we are vehemently pushing forward. That will give us a scope to work on real-time problems. We are contacting heads of different industries and R&D organizations—chiefly where our alumni have a strong base, both nationally and globally—to collaborate with them and to work on their live problems. Initiatives for such collaborations have already started and we need some more time to come up with a draft plan. So, apart from the number of projects envisioned, as I said earlier, SRICCE Office will live in the “current times” and “current problems” and will address industry issues shortly.
MM: What is your expectation from students and faculty to realize the vision and mission of our Institute? What role can SRICCE Office play in this regard? What is your message to the teaching-learning fraternity in general with regard to the intellectual output of the Institute?
AKP: We should focus on creating innovative products and start-up enterprises. The students should be able to apply their skills in business. We should also focus on projects which should produce a finished product with some commercial value. I appeal to all my faculty colleagues to cooperate with our staff and Office in bringing these changes in the system so that the Institute goes to a greater height from here.