Inaugural speech at International Conference on Transformations in Engineering Education, RKU.

April 23, 2017

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentleman.

Its  an extraordinarily special day for me. Educational transformations and  learning experiences, be it engineering or otherwise take up the  entirety of my waking life. As a member of RK University, I am honoured  that we have the privilege of hosting this conference. And as someone  who cares about education, I am filled with hope seeing you all here  thinking, talking and finding ways to build better institutions. But I  am also deeply aware that our collective work here is a constant  struggle with resistance to change and a constant endeavour to keep  learning.

I  want you to think about RKU and what it represents from a perspective  that I want to present. I think RKU and things happening at RKU are  highly UNLIKELY. Why do I use the word “unlikely”? Unlikely means not  likely to happen, be done, or be true; improbable. I’ll share a few  anecdotes and hopefully it will be clearer.

Founding of the institution by an unlikely visionary

We  are all gathered here in an institution which was founded by the  singular vision of one man, our President. Just imagine the unlikelihood  of this happenstance. Picture this: A young boy of 10–11 years in  1970’s; living in a dire poverty, pulling vegetable cart and polishing  shoes at railway stations supporting a family with 9 siblings. Fast  forward 3 decades. We have a global conference aiming to nudge the  narrative of engineering education of this country. How unlikely this  journey, how unlikely the outcomes.

Oasis in the desert

While  you are here, I encourage you to walk around the campus. Take in the  sights, colours, sounds and smells of the campus. Count the different  kinds of trees you can find. Or the different kinds of flowers you can  see. Sit in the shade of the massive Neem tree or walk the long trail  from University plaza to the Highway Entrance Plaza and see the climbing  vines and flowering shrubs. Then stop and think: We are practically in a  desert. Perpetually water starved. Monsoons without rains and rivers  running dry, we dig holes in the very ground that we stand. We salvage  every last drop. In the hopes that one flower blooms. One tree gives  shade. One more colour to see. Some more oxygen to breathe. How unlikely  the story of the Oasis in the desert.

Small City Blues

I  am sure Krishna would have had a few sleepless nights mulling over  whether to host this conference in the little town of Rajkot. We are an  unlikely choice, if you measure us by the standard parameters of size of  the city or its connectivity or just being there, historically, on the  map of academic affairs. How unlikely that a small, young university  manages to have these amazing inspiring people here together for these  two days. How unlikely this happenstance that what we are doing here  must be something special that warrants your presence here.

Struggling with admissions, talking transformations

As  most of you know, higher education sector, specially, engineering, is  in a state of turmoil. Enrolments have seen massive drop. Competitive  landscape keeps getting more and more dense. All this in an environment  which is over-regulated and under-governed. Stifling the conditions for  innovation and original thinking. How unlikely that we are here talking  about building institutions based on deep and meaning learning  experiences. How unlikely that we get this opportunity to nurture the  intellectual curiosities while outside a burning forest fire is kept at  bay.

I  mention these unlikelihoods to you for a reason. And it is that we, I,  value what RKU is doing for its students, for its faculties, for the  community. This event may just be one conference in many more such  conferences around the world. But for us, it matters. Your presence  matters. In a way all these “unlikelihoods” represent interdisciplinary,  deeply human problems. Now, more than ever, we need to bridge the gulf  between the two cultures of the Sciences and the Humanities. What CP  Snow told us 60 years ago remains true today, perhaps more so. In my  personal journey from the hard sciences to social sciences I have  realised that if we are going to solve the world’s most intractable  problems we need to be more humane in our scientific pursuits. Isn’t  that what this conference is about? Isn’t that what engineering is  about?

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