Interview | Mr. Sanjay Kumar, Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute


DTU Times interviewed Mr. Sanjay Kumar, India Country Director, Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, Harvard University, who was in DTU for a talk session organised by Let's Talk.

How is living in India and how has the culture you were brought up in shaped your ideologies today?

I think more than culture the practice which I did helped me. The more practice I did on the ground, the more I became who I am today. Like I mentioned, when students are young in their undergrad and they go to the market for jobs or to become an entrepreneur, they get to see how the real world is. I worked with Seva, which is based on Gandhian philosophy, and that is why a lot of my ideas and beliefs came out of my practice and participation there.

You mentioned that the number of PhD applicants from India is decreasing year by year. Why do you think this pattern is emerging?

I think one possible reason could be that they are applying to other countries. Maybe the other reason could be that these students feel that there is no scholarship available so they don't understand the real situation. They think that there is not enough funding for students but it's wrong, we encourage students to apply because it's a completely funded program. Somehow I think the other possible reason could be that those who are coming back to the country after doing MBA and engineering, they think that it can be more rewarding in terms of money as compared to doing a PhD. They believe that getting into research is not financially viable.

You mentioned that India's youth needs to be encouraged to pursue science whereas India has the largest army of engineers all over the world. Why do you think that teenagers today are not as interested in science?

Engineering is more job-oriented but science is more research-oriented. 

What we promote is the general interest in science which is not increasing somehow, so the reason we are organising these events around science is to get the fear of science out of people at a younger age. There's a fear that science is intimidating. There is no culture of research in the country as of now and I wish that it would change.

Can a reason behind fewer scientists in India be that the Government of India does not give enough financial incentives for research?

I think that we need to change that since it's a major issue, and other western countries invest a lot in their research. Even China is investing a lot in science and building institutions because they have understood that science is the future and it can solve all of their problems. We see science only in science but they see science in everything. There needs to be more coordination between industry, academia and government. So these are the things where we are trying to work with some of the government agencies and companies.

Indian institutes charge nominal fees from the students as opposed to higher fees charged by foreign institutes. Can this be attributed as one of the reasons why we receive less funding?

I think Indian institutions receive good grants but somehow scientific institutions need to improve their administration and they will have to be innovative in terms of collaboration with industries and other institutions. For example, there is a system in Ivy League universities that if you don't find a book in a particular library, you can request for the book and if it's available in another library of some other universities, the book can be provided to you. So, in terms of that, we can also collaborate and we can also start initiatives like this and I think educational advancement is not a priority in our institutions. They should focus on the quality of education for students and teaching rather getting into things which are not so important. The students are doing fantastic I must say. They run clubs and societies and learn so much leadership through various activities. So similarly, teaching can be improved and the quality can be improved and exposure can be increased it all depends on the administration of the college.

What is the one thing you love about our education system and one thing you love about theirs?

Our system is very reasonably priced and easily accessible, unlike other countries which charge a lot and are out of reach for a lot of students. 

They see education as an investment which we don't see as of now. We don't have many visionary leaders who can think beyond their times as to how they will change the face of the country. We are missing a lot and I found a lot of people there who think beyond their tenure and that's how they have made these massive institutes there. To think beyond oneself and for the greater good of the institution is a practice our administration needs to take up.

A growing number of countries are coming to very unconventional methods of education. Is there a problem with standardized testing that needs to be re-evaluated?

I think standardized testing does not bring out the best in every child because every student is not standardised. Merit cannot be standardised but in a populated country like India, I don't see how we can test merits. The way foreign countries engage in education with children is more about opening up and making the best out of their inherent talent and the inbuilt talent of the student so the education system works as a facilitator than determining who you are, what you do and things like that. So I think India can learn from different countries in how to get rid of rote learning and how we can teach students to learn beyond exams and learn beyond books. 

How has the experience of publishing a book been so far?

I wanted to capture my journey and how I dealt with failure. I wanted to organise all these messages from my life in a book. It has been a good journey so far. I get to see a lot of people and youngsters and learn a lot from them so I think there is mutual learning which is happening. As an author, meeting a lot of people and getting to know what they think of me, what I'm doing and how the book is, is a great experience. This has also ended up in making a community and bringing a lot of people closer and be a part of my volunteering campaign. My organisation currently works at rejuvenating the public schools and state-run educational institutions and some of the students in DTU have been part of the campaign which is helping them learn leadership abilities. This has happened because of the book and I am very happy that I could do this. 

How do you manage the time between working at your job and for your social cause? What message do you have for people who also want to pursue several different things at once as you did?

I think you always find time for the things that you are passionate about. You need to prioritise and need to find time during the weekend, after office hours etc. I think that you have to compromise on your time of enjoyment and your time of togetherness with friends and families and if you are chasing your passion and a bigger cause, you will have to find the time to run your career and your passion while making time for your friends and family. You do have to make compromises but I am sure that people who care for you and the nation at large, they understand what you are doing and why you are not available to your friends and your family. 

Posted by Parangat Mittal