AIP at SVPUA&T – A Strategic Partnership Transforming Agricultural Education
Prof. Arvind Kumar Bakhshi
Former Vice Chancellor
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel University of Agriculture and Technology
Meerut, Uttar Pradesh
Indian agriculture today needs a radical overhaul. Along with efficient extension workers to guide farmers, the agricultural sector needs resourceful, industry-ready and competitive agricultural graduates to enhance productivity and reduce poverty among the rural farming populace. Indian agricultural universities have a significant role to play in this. Apart from its other concerted endeavors, one of the ways Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel University of Agriculture and Technology (SVPUA&T) is ensuring that it contributes towards national/agricultural growth is by working in tandem with the Agricultural Innovation Partnership since 2011.

The Agricultural Innovation Partnership (AIP) works closely with several Indian agricultural universities to foster innovations and help generate a work force responsive to market demands and the demands of smallholder farmers through trainings and improved curricula. It also promotes collaborative working relations among students, extension workers, farmers, entrepreneurs, agricultural universities, and industries. AIP focuses on producing market-ready graduates; enhancing entrepreneurial skills among university students and small/medium entrepreneurs; promoting learning among successful institutions/models; enhancing participation and voice of women in agriculture; enhancing effective technology use to support efficient, decentralized learning and sharing knowledge and resources among Indian agricultural universities, among other initiatives. In short, AIP aims at improving research and extension activities in Indian agricultural universities.

SVPUA&T has collaborated with AIP to address several challenges concerning Indian agriculture. AIP has three thrust areas – teaching, research and extension. The first and the major thrust is on fostering innovative and effective teaching. At a time when students from several educational institutions are complaining of disinterest in studies, centers for teaching excellence seem a viable option to improve the scenario. As part of this, institutionalizing centers of teaching excellence in partner universities is a unique, holistic approach adopted by AIP, to foster radical change in the educational system. It has been a major hit at SVPUA&T. AIP’s July 2012 workshop on teaching excellence inspired us to set up a center to foster innovation in teaching. The center for teaching excellence will regularly train teachers, update course contents and make teaching interactive and more fruitful.

Revamping the university curriculum is another major activity that AIP has fostered. As part of the initiative, a team of three scientists from SVPUA&T visited Cornell University, Tuskegee University and the University of Georgia and with the help of faculties of these universities developed 24 demand-driven, market-oriented degree, diploma and certificate programs for SVPUA&T. Among these, the University has adopted programs on Bakery Technology; Fruit & Vegetable; Biotechnology and Agriculture. Aimed at developing a broad range of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values to contribute towards students’ employ-ability, these courses will ensure a comprehensive array of relevant student learning experiences responsive to community needs and to a constantly changing world of work, to enable graduates achieve their greatest potential.

AIP sponsored several students from SVPUA&T for the International Agriculture and Rural Development programs in the past two years. AIP supports interdisciplinary exchange among Indian and US faculty, staff and students through the participation of AIP collaborative partners from US and Indian universities in Cornell’s International Agricultural and Rural Development (IARD) 4020 and 6020 courses. In IARD 4020, students are exposed to a series of classroom lectures, e-lectures and online discussions that establish a global and regional context for sustainable agricultural development, with focus on specific developmental challenges in India. IARD 6020 begins with a 2-week-long field-study trip to India where US and Indian students and faculty come together to observe agricultural development challenges and methods discussed in IARD 4020. The exposure to an international educational community brought a sea change in the mindsets of the students who interacted with their peers in the US, visited various educational institutions and industries across India, and exchanged ideas. The program has been a hit among the students, who have a renewed sense of affiliation with and trust in the university system. A first-of-its-kind program, it enabled students gain insights into the international programs and industry exposure. The popularity of IARD led more students opt for course at SVPUA&T. Over the past two years, students who participated in IARD won several prizes in the university-level competitions, which have boosted their morale.

AIP has created an e-learning center at SVPUA&T to integrate Information and Communication Technology (ICT) based learning into the agricultural curricula and provide e-content management and development training to teachers for undergraduate and postgraduate courses. This will improve learning environment for students by making online course materials more accessible, as well as by enhancing their teaching methodologies.

In its attempt to connect the academia with industry, entrepreneurs, farmers, unemployed youths, faculty, laborers, women and producers, AIP trained several people in producing baked products and process fruits and vegetables to prepare value-added products. Conducted by experts from US universities, these programs trained several participants over the last two years. Among the trained participants, many went on to set-up their own businesses and the insights helped many others to improve the manufacturing processes and produce safer and hygienic food products, enhancing the overall experience of the consumers.

AIP conducted several farmer-oriented trainings in association with SVPUA&T, Kisan Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), Tata Chemical Limited and US partner universities using meticulously prepared PowerPoint presentations in Hindi. The trainings benefited several farmers and trained them in natural resource management techniques. The issues faced by the farmers, sent to the research wing of the University, will develop need-based research programs. These concerted efforts made these programs very purposeful and productive. Though there were such training programs by the KVKs earlier, these never generated such intent interest and response from the participants.

In short, this program has been quite successful. The skills gained by the students helped them understand the market better and enhanced their employment prospects. The training programs improved the interaction between university and industry and opened more opportunities for students. In the future, this will benefit the companies that hire the students and these programs will contribute towards national growth. A student feedback system, developed under CTE in association with AIP will soon help improve the efficiency of the educational system to ensure a better, improved academic environment. AIP will play a crucial role in Indian educational system and transform it in the near future. AIP will cater to the need of the next generation students and create international models of excellence in teaching and learning in the coming times.

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