Exclusive Interview with Dr. Neelam Grewal, Dean of Punjab Agriculture University

  • Education and Professional Journey

Looking back at the milestones in my life, I have started believing that I am one of destiny’s favourite children. Youngest of the 3 children in the family where mother was an academician and father, an army officer, the environment at home promoted discipline and intellect, full of great amount of reading and discussions. After finishing high school when all my friends moved towards medical stream to become doctors, I went into Home Science as I would have been underage to go into medicine after finishing Sr Secondary. A topper and Merit Scholarship holder at PAU, Ludhiana in Bsc, I choose to forgo the scholarships and the comfort of home to go in for Master’s in Food and Nutrition at MSU, Baroda, Clothing and Textiles being my second choice. Another trick of destiny, I was told that I would be able to complete Master’s in FN in two and half years while CT Head said that I could finish it in two years if I cope up well with pre-requisite Electives. That’s how landed up in Ct, where I worked on a very forward looking research topic under the mentorship of Prof B Balakrishnaih. Before I could finish master’s I had 3 job offers in hand, one from a very well known textile house from Ahmadabad, another from a reputed hosiery from Ludhiana and the third from my alma mater, PAU to work as a Teaching Assistant. Goes without saying that I choose the third one, later got selected as an Assistant Professor there itself. Thus, began my career in academics. Since I was passionate about my work and a voracious reader, writing, that too creative technical writing came naturally to me.  In 1985, I got my first research project, to document and write about traditional embroideries of J & K, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, culminating into a book, The Needlelore, that was released in 1988 by Sh Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India. The field exposure gained during that project laid the foundation for putting my domain knowledge into field application, helping craft persons with their livelihood. Armed with a Ph D degree from MSU, Baroda, in 1991, the rest of the promotions were logical outfalls of the professional journey. On the way, I worked on some more research and extension oriented projects dealing with skill development, livelihood and quality of life in rural Punjab. Being an educationist, your journey in industry life and interaction. Being  a meticulous planner and good communicator, I acquired the reputation being a thorough professional, good organiser and a trouble shooter in the University, and this led to another milestone of becoming a Dean at a relatively young age.  This post opened up a lot of new vistas for me in the National Agricultural Research and Education System (NARES) in the country. I was nominated as a Member of several Committees of ICAR related to agricultural education. Also got the opportunity to be a Consultant for UNFPA and had several assignments of MHRD and Min of Rural Development. Other challenging assignments came along – Director, ICAR-Central Institute for Women in Agriculture, Bhubaneswar; Dean, Postgraduate Studies at PAU, Ludhiana; Member, Punjab Public Service Commission, Patiala and now , Vice Chancellor of Guru Kashi University, Talwandi Sabo, Bathinda.

  • Industry Exposure 

Ludhiana being the hub of hosiery industry, my interaction with textile and hosiery industry started around 1983-84, when we used to take the students for field trips to various textile industries. Then moved on to inviting experts for guest lectures, Refresher Courses, MoUs with the industry, students’ internship placements and taking help of the industry in Ph D research as well. Alternatively, in leadership roles as Head of the Department and later Dean, College of Home Science, I mentored the departmental faculty to increase their interaction with the industry. A number of industry relevant EDPs and trainings were conducted in collaboration with the Regional Centre of SMSEs. A few value chain analysis exercises were also undertaken for  the industry.

  • Quality for PhD students 

The system didn’t allow any choice to the Supervisor with respect to allotment of PG students. However, reading and analytical abilities to raise the bar of their own logic for explaining the hows and whys of what the research undertaken by them has been a very enjoyable and satisfying experience. Handholding them initially, with one step at a time, I have seen a number of shy students going on to crack national level tests. Similarly, some of the BSc students mentored by me have gone to win Overall Best Graduate of PAU Medal and have topped the national level competitive examinations.

  • Textile industry Evolvement

The industry has evolved itself technically at par with the best in the world. In fact India has been an outsourcing hub for a number of best brands in the industry. A lot has been happening in terms of upgradation of machinery, skills , automation, etc. However, Indian textile industry has restricted itself to being a manufacturing hub only. Its growth on globally competitive designing and designers’ front has been limited. As far as manufacturing is concerned, many of our neighbours have overtaken us in terms of competitive pricing and GDP growth. In this context, it is time that we undertake a critical analysis of various textile clusters, identify and fulfil the gaps therein and imbibe and integrate some of the best global practices into our own industry.

  • Latest trends in the education industry.. 

In the pre COVID times, education was moving from teacher centred lecture and notes types of exercise towards blended teaching digital platforms that are learner centric. The COVID pandemic has put this whole concept into a fast forward mode with a number of teachers struggling to pull along on various digital platforms. But it is important that the digital skill gaps on the part of the faculty and the digital divide among various stakeholders is removed for this concept to thrive.

Another feature of education that is catching fancy of the students as well as employers are very focussed, short term skill oriented courses that  have more scope in terms of employability. Such courses with multi-exist and multi-entry options are going to gain popularity rather than long term degree courses where the knowledge and skills acquired in the course of degree study may become obsolete by the end of the course.

  • New trend in Agricultural education 

In a way agricultural education in India is much ahead of  other streams. The much hyped concepts of Internship/inplant training as well as the Experiential Learning  in the New Education Policy had been incorporated into  Agricultural Education  in the years 1998 and around 2009 on the recommendations of the Third and the Fourth Deans’ Committee recommendations of ICAR. The Experiential Learning Units being run by students in various agricultural education programmes not only hone their domain specific skill but have a component of entrepreneurship also. Similarly, the Credit Transfer programme that the New Education Policy cites to promote mobility of students among various agricultural universities is also being followed.