‘Kindle desire to learn, reason and give priority to research’
Pioneering geneticist and academician Jai Rup Singh, 73, is of the firm belief that research should get priority and education needs to be freed of its British feudal legacy.
“The British knew a divided population would not question foreign rule. Unlike earlier when people studied for knowledge, they introduced the system of rote learning and did not allow the development of reason and skills. Today, most of our graduates are unemployable for they have a degree but no knowledge or skills. They are white-collared terrorists who can do anyone’s bidding,” says the founder vice-chancellor of the Central University of Punjab, Bathinda.
“Successive governments have withdrawn from contributing their share in education, both at the primary and higher levels. Who will go to a government institution if a private one offers better quality education even if it’s for a higher fee? Who owns these private institutions? Those who have power and money. The divide is only growing,” says Jai Rup Singh, who served Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, for 34 years and headed it from 2006-09.
FOLLOW YOUR HEART
A soft-spoken teacher and keen observer, he says his aim was always to kindle the desire to learn among students. “It’s the basis for research and development. I tried to make the subject understandable for the entire class. I wouldn’t prescribe a single book. Once concepts were clear, students were free to consult any book in the library. In the end, everyone’s answer was different. There was no cramming. Unlike today when most exams have a rigid format, there was flexibility.”
Education was far more flexible when he was growing up, too. He completed his BSc in agriculture from Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana in 1967 and did post-graduation in human genetics. “Follow your heart when it comes to higher studies. The then PAU dean advised me, and even met my father, Punjabi scholar Pritam Singh, so that I pursue research in plant breeding instead of genetics. But I found human genetics fascinating. My father was supportive. He used to say that if you’re interested in a subject and know it well, you can even explain it to a rickshaw-puller.”
Jai Rup Singh spent months at the National Medical Library in Delhi, reading journals to understand the latest developments in genetics. “I drafted my proposal for research before meeting the dean at PGI, Chandigarh. He not only gave me the green signal but also a fellowship in 1969. But six months later, I chose to move to All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, to research on genetic factors in human infertility,” he says.
In 1973, he joined GNDU as a lecturer in its biology department. “It went on to become the School of Life Sciences with six disciplines, including the department of human genetics that I headed. In 1990, I established the Centre for Genetic Disorders. We hosted international meets that included visits by foreign delegates in the peak of militancy in Punjab,” says Singh.
It was because of research projects in collaboration with institutions of repute that delegates arrived in droves. “Quality education and infrastructure are a must. You can collaborate only if you are on a par with other institutions.”
He describes the trend of youngsters going abroad to do menial jobs after selling off property in Punjab as unfortunate. “It doesn’t make sense. Rather, develop a scientific temper and go abroad to learn more,” he says.
COURAGE AND CONVICTION
Asked about the challenges he faced at the helm of two universities, Jai Rup Singh says, “You need to discipline yourself first, rise above your likes and dislikes and do all that it takes to uphold the dignity of the office.” He credits his wife Pushpinder Kaur, who headed GNDU’s department of zoology thrice and turned an author after retirement in 2009, for the support and guidance. Like a tenacious fighter by 2014, he had transformed a factory premises into a university campus that ranked 12th among 44 varsities of the country. “It was number 1 in research output.”
LAW FOR A FEW
Of changes he wants to see in the tricity, Jai Rup Singh says the growing lawlessness in Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula is a concern. Commuters don’t follow traffic rules. “The moment they enter Mohali from Chandigarh, they unfasten seat belts or remove helmets as though they’re meant for the cops and not for their safety.” He says the stray animal problem also needs to be addressed. “But there’s a bigger issue. It’s the lack of respect for senior citizens, which again boils down to education.”
Be disciplined and punctual. You can be strict yet soft-spoken.
Be a keen observer and listener. Don’t open your cards immediately.
Be open to suggestions but only merit should matter.
Follow your heart, be bold and take challenges in the stride.
Be a tenacious fighter for a cause.