NITR's Feat on Foreign Ground: IGP Higher Education
William Thackeray once said:
Make the horizon your goal; it will always be ahead of you.
When it comes to achieving on big platforms, NIT Rourkela has always performed exceptionally, both on domestic and international platforms. Recently, two faculty members of our college, namely Dr Debayan Sarkar (Principal Investigator) and Professor Rupam Dinda (Co-Principal Investigator) from the Department of Chemistry (CY) and Professor Burkhard Konig (German Investigator) from the University of Regensburg added their names to this virtually never-ending list of achievements.
In collaboration with the University of Regensburg, they bagged a prestigious International Collaborative project of 1.92 crores INR under the Indo-German Partnerships (IGP) in Higher Education for the years 2020-2024. This was one of the nine projects that got accepted by this educational program. The title of the project in which they both worked was Chemical Innovation for a brighter future. This programme enables institutions to develop joint research projects and upgrade study programs to enhance their internationalization strategy.
What is IGP?
IGP or Indo-German Partnership is a joint venture by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to intensify the cooperation between Indian and German institutions of Higher Education. This programme was initiated in the year October 2015 and invited proposals from eligible Indian and German institutions.
They launched the call for proposals for the second phase in December 2019. The Education ministries of India and Germany invested 3.5 million Euros each over four years from 2020 to 2024.
The program is funded by India's Ministry of Education (formerly Ministry of Human Resource Development, MHRD) and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The University Grants Commission (UGC) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) are the implementing agencies for this programme.
The application, selection procedures, and the financial support for the Indian universities are organized and managed by the UGC, whereas the DAAD operates the same for the German universities.
The eligibility criteria for this program were as follows:
- ln India, all public institutions are eligible to receive development grants from the UGC and all the MHRD funded institutions may apply.
- In Germany, all state and state-recognized German institutions of higher education may apply.
The program was open to all disciplines.
The selection criteria involved a 2-step process;
- In the first step, the proposals are evaluated by independent selection committees comprising of experts both in Germany and India. After independent evaluation of the proposals, the proposals' ranked/graded lists are exchanged between the UGC and DAAD.
- In the second step, the UGC DAAD joint committee finalizes the proposals to be funded.
The project selection criteria were based on factors like:
- Scientific quality of the project
- Innovative ideas for teaching and research development
- Feasible funding and action plans
- Description of achievable goals in compliance with the program's objectives
The allocation of the funds is made as per the funding regulations laws of the respective country.
A TALK WITH THE MAN BEHIND THIS GLORY
Here are the insights of Monday Morning's interaction with the man himself, Dr Debayan Sarkar, the Principal Investigator of this project, who shares his experience and gives some pointers from his experience in this programme.
Monday Morning (MM): What have been your projects and field of research until you bagged this collaboration opportunity?
Dr Debayan Sarkar (DS): I bagged the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)- Department of Health and Research (DHR) long-term fellowship last year. ICMR and the Department of Health and Research came up with an advertisement, and I applied for it with the help of German Host Professor Burkhard. Professor Burkhard was in NIT Rourkela in April 2018 for the GIAN course. We applied and got selected and went to avail this fellowship at the University of Regensburg, Germany.
The project primarily focused on the disinfection of pathogens using visible light.
During the tenure of my visit, Professor Burkhard informed me about an advertisement from German higher education and asked me if the Indian Government had an ad under this. So, I found a similar advertisement type under the UGC from the Indian Government side. This marked the start of our collaboration. But the project which we were pursuing at that time is different from the one which we applied for this programme.
MM: Brief us about this IGP program's technicalities. How did you bag this golden opportunity of collaboration with the University of Regensburg, Germany?
DS: I was told that I needed an Indian partner for this program. So, I wrote a letter to DAAD in pursuit of getting an Indian partner for this program. I was at the University of Leipzig for three months in 2018, which helped me know the officials at DAAD. The DAAD officials informed me that the Indian Government would start advertising on their front as soon as possible. When the advertisement came, we sat with Professor Burkhard, the Principal Investigator on the other side, to discuss the programme.
Professor Burkhard had already visited our campus and was happy with the GIAN course hosted by our college faculties, and he preferred NIT Rourkela instead of IISc Bangalore.
There were various times I talked with the Registrar and Director sir for the signing of the MoU. But somehow, and we couldn't get a sign on MoU before the deadline date; but, we got a Letter of Intent that worked fine for the application. Professor Dinda helped us to get the letter of intent signed on time.
It was a collaborative effort and there were clear instructions that everything needs to be precise. They also had an official circulation regarding their main target area of collaboration. We had a meeting with Professor Burkhard's secretary regarding the formalities like the number of visits, time of visits, etc and finalized that students, Master Students, PhDs, Postdocs, and our scientific staff will be a part of this exchange programme.
MM: Brief us about the project(s) and the fields of research that will be a part of this programme?
DS: This is a huge project, and it will involve a vast number of students and faculty members. They have also informed that many faculty members will visit in the next four years. Currently, we need to have a good lab and a right sitting place for them.
Our current research primarily focuses on Chemical innovation like visible light catalysis, energy storage, and many more.
If any set of students or faculty members find a suitable group at the University of Regensburg which whom they want to collaborate or have a project proposal, we will take that into account. It is an open project, and we can collaborate on any topic.
MM: What are the other purposes or different plans that have been made, apart from research funding, where this amount of funding (1.92 crores) would be disbursed/used for this span of 4 years?
DS: The original call that we made was of 3.2 crores on both sides. But finally, a sum of 1.92 crore rupees was sanctioned for this project. Apart from scientific researches, we currently have every type of mobility, be it, staff, students, faculty members, and even our Director's. We discussed the movements in length with the officials of the University of Regensburg.
On their Side, we have received requests that the German students will be enrolling in some courses of ours for two months. We have kept 3 PhD student visits, 2 Post Doctorate, and every year 3 Masters student visits. But we need to work on the mobility issue in a meeting with Director Sir.
MM: What are the significant advantages of this programme, and how will it help our students and our institution?
DS- The best part of this collaboration is mobility. Our students will get great exposure at their labs and by interacting with their faculty members. This will help them in achieving their dreams of higher studies at the University of Regensburg.
But there are small limitations in the number of students that we can send. But still, we have an assurance from the German Side that they would help us if such a problem arises.
We are planning to organize two conferences in India and 1-2 conferences in Germany. They will fund the German conferences, and they will take care of our stay in Germany.
Considering the current COVID situation, German students are not sure of visa protocols. But once the issue is sorted, there will be a lot of mobilities on both sides in forthcoming days. There will be an exchange of culture and knowledge which will be great and help our students a lot.
MM: Since you have been a DAAD Associate Professor, how different was the experience of pursuing the research at a foreign university from that of pursuing research in the institutions within our country?
DS- The biggest perk of pursuing research in a foreign university is the tremendous amount of support one gets there. Everyone is dedicated to their work, and they will help you a lot whenever you need help.
But in our countries, it is difficult to get the basic requirements like data for the research, funds for the scientific equipment and other facilities.
So, the most significant difference is the dedication with which the foreign universities work. That is the sole reason why they publish very high-quality research papers.
MM: Considering the current Coronavirus pandemic, what are your plans to progress with different aspects of this collaboration?
DS- We had started the research there and planned to use the concept of visible light in photoinactivation. Under this, small visible light exposure in the presence of photosensitizer kills the microbes in no time. This is a published work by the officials of the University of Regensburg with the University Hospital, Regensburg.
We planned to use Vitamin B12 as a photosensitizer to inactivate the virus on food items/packs as they are short carriers. So the best solution is to kill the germ with a non-toxic solution like Vitamin and then exposing it to light. We have also written an article on COVID-19 research and have submitted it to the Department of Science and Technology, but the results are still awaited.
MM: What would your advice for our readers and young budding researchers aspiring for opportunities at International University be?
DS- There are ample opportunities if one wants to work in the research field in foreign universities. I did my Postdoc from Stanford University, and I used to meet many Indian students at Stanford University. Going there and studying in good international universities can provide a vast amount of exposure. The only thing required is the dedication to work hard from your side, stay positive, know, and understand the subject in-depth.
Team Monday Morning wishes Prof. Debayan Sarkar and Prof. Rupam Dinda the best for all their future endeavours and hopes that they keep bringing laurels for our institute.