(MENAFN - Arab News) Simplicity and elegance stand out as one enters Gen. Zamiruddin Shah's home in the suburbs of Delhi.
The sense of calm that permeates the place is only replaced by the warmth of the man as he greets his visitors. What lingers though, after a long conversation, is his sheer enthusiasm for the position he currently occupies - the post of vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU)- the premium Muslim educational institution in India. Following are the excerpts from an interview conducted by Dubai-based journalist E. Shahid for Arab News.
How would you sum up your stint as the vice chancellor of AMU so far?
When I was appointed as vice chancellor there was furor over why a non-academician was being appointed as vice chancellor. But I tell people that I was elected and not appointed.
And Aligarh Muslim University members of the court felt that it was time for change. And it was high time that changes were brought about. And I may not have had a brilliant academic record - I mean I joined the army after my senior Cambridge but the army educated me. I did my M.Sc and I did my M.Phil being an army officer.
And of course I have a strong background in administration. So I said if there is a combination of both - an academician and an administrator - where is the problem?
What do you think are strengths and weaknesses of AMU as a university and have you been able to delineate its strengths from its weaknesses?
Yes, our strength is the historical character of AMU and the strong foundations on which it was built and the wonderful campus.
We have had a string of very enlightened teachers, Prof. Irfan Habib for example, who is a leading historian. And we have facilities which I don't think very many universities have. We have many sports grounds. We have a riding club which is one of its kind in any university.
And, Insha'Allah I want to make a golf course because there is adequate ground. I tell people that if our students can get the best sport in the world and the most popular sport in the world then what is the problem? We have 16 tennis courts in the campus. You name one university which has these facilities. We have the famous culture (tehzeeb) of Aligarh. So these are the plus points.
What about weaknesses?
Lack of discipline has been the problem. Over a period of time because of indiscipline the university remained closed for long periods. There was no fixed academic calendar and we were living from day to day. Important visitors were reluctant to visit AMU. Few of them were given very shabby treatment by the students. So the need of the hour was to bring things under control.
The second problem was the crumbling infrastructure. Our buildings are more than a hundred years old and it required a massive infusion of funds. Luckily, I have got the Aga Khan Foundation interested. The third problem is the inability of our students to converse or speak in English. It is a language of the 20th century. They may be academically brilliant but if they cannot express themselves that is of no use. So we are trying to correct all that. I also realize that young students need nutritious food.
The quality of food has been a problem. So we have started the process of modernization of kitchens. We have started the process of providing games facilities at the doorsteps of students. So a lot of things are under way and I am sure we will succeed. We have some very good students and all that is needed is to guide them in the right direction.
What about raising AMU's academic standard to the best in the country? Is that on top of your list of priorities?
Absolutely. The syllabi have to be modernized. It has to be so tailor-made that it meets the needs of the industry. What is the objective of education? The objective of education is to enable students to find worthwhile jobs.
But if our syllabi do not meet the requirements of the industry, then what is the point in teaching subjects that are of no use? So I am seeking help of industrialists as partners to improvise the syllabi. There are alumni students who are prepared to help in that process and we are already doing it.
Expanding AMU campuses all across India has been a contentious issue. Do you stand by the idea and would you take steps to complete the process?
I am not against expansion or spread of education.
The only problem I projected is that a vice chancellor already has his hands full in looking after AMU. I am telling you it is an 18-hour job. So can I look after five more universities?
I asked the human resource development (HRD) minister to please examine a way as it is physically impossible for me to look after so many campuses.
I am already looking after three campuses right now. If I go to one campus it means loss of one week and when I come back I have two table loads of work. So government has to find a way. I even said appoint a pro vice chancellor to each campus.
Ex-students across the world can potentially benefit AMU in many ways. Are you looking to find ways to involve AMU alumni to this end?
Yes, our alumni community is spread all over the world and they occupy very prestigious positions all over the world. First of all, it is payback time for them. They have achieved these positions because of the education they received in AMU. So it is high time for them to repay to the alma mater.
A large number of promises have been made by them and what we need is to reach out to them. There have been complaints from old boys that they were prepared to give grants to the university but the university did not reach out to them. My aim is to reach out to the alumni.
I have been invited by, would you believe it, the AMU Alumni in Thailand and I am going there. We have a large number of AMU students in the Gulf. We have large numbers in the UK and America. The moment I resolve AMU's present set of problems I will Insha'Allah reach out to the alumni and encourage them to help us. The alumni can hopefully also employ those who are passing out from AMU.
What drives your enthusiasm for the university and where do you go from here?
I am on a mission at AMU. I was not looking for a job when they elected me as the vice chancellor but I felt that I owe something to my community. I am proud of the fact that I am an Indian Muslim. And AMU is for the cause for education but primarily for the millat (Muslim community). That is going to be our aim. We want our students to have a secular education.
We want them to be capable of living in India. We want them to be capable of earning a decent living. What Aligarh needs is a renaissance. It needs rebirth. Our mission is to make AMU the number one university in the country and Insha'Allah we will succeed.