News on Sunday

Prof. Dhanjay Jhurry : “We will collaborate with industries to work on our innovation”

Next month, 10th November, we will be celebrating the World Science Day for Peace and Development. We hardly connect Science with Peace, but these two factors are intertwined. The theme for World Science Day for Peace and Development 2019 will be devoted to “Open Science, Leaving No One Behind.” I met an expert, none other than the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Mauritius, Prof. Dhanjay Jhurry, to get an insight on the topic of science. 

The development of any country depends on innovation. Mauritius stands 82 out of 129 in global innovation index. How do you perceive this rank?  
For that, it was very important to reposition the University as a research-engaged entrepreneurial university. I am coining this vision: It is a blend. That is what is called inclusive growth, leaving no one behind. I am championing the concept that universities need to adapt to their context. People suggest that we should develop ourselves as an entrepreneurial university. I agree but first, we should support innovation and research to provide some solid ground. 

What exactly is your vision?
When I joined the university in early March 2017, what I had in mind was: “What would be my vision for the University as a Vice-Chancellor?” UoM was created in 1965, more as a developmental university and operating as a teaching university. We developed lots of undergraduate and post- graduate programmes. We also developed research. I was concerned about research. I want to institutionalise research, here, in UoM.
I don’t see the University as an entity but as a partner in development. It is essential for innovation to thrive and impact on the country’s development. If we are aiming for a higher GDP, we need to be knowledge-based. It takes time to build the infrastructure and to create the ecosystem. 

Do you need changes in governance for that?
Changes are important if we want to make it a research-engaged entrepreneurial university. The University needs to partner with the government, the industry and the community. It is the quadrupole helix model of innovation. We have put up a ‘University Industry liaison office’. We will collaborate with industries to work on our innovation. We will be working together to reimagine how innovation delivers business value and competitive advantage. We are also encouraging patenting. 

Are you free enough to make the required changes?
Not at all. It is a huge effort. I am a researcher. When you conduct research, you don’t get success immediately. You experiment and you progress. But you have to be patient. You have to persevere. (Showing a painting in his office) This painting was gifted to me by a Chinese university. The tree and flowers are synonymous of perseverance in China. So, I take inspiration from it. I have to struggle to do changes but I keep my perseverance. Things don’t go accordingly the first time, but I don’t get discouraged. I keep working on it until I get through. 

Governments all around the world are promoting science and innovation. Why did the Mauritian government take so long to indulge into this matter?
It didn’t take long. MRC (Mauritius Research Council) now MRIC (Mauritius Research and Innovation Council) was created a long time back. You can have a vision but having just a vision doesn’t give results. You need to transform the vision into a strategy, and strategy into action. We need to institutionalize and prioritize research, focus on impactful research, and engage in collaborative research.

How you are going to do that?
There are two approaches for research at a university. First from a bottom-up approach that is academic-led. I have some funding that I put at the disposal of academics. They have to apply to get the funding. Some of those research works might eventually have a big impact. Some get published in journals. But it is not sufficient. The second is the top-down approach which is senior management-led. My colleagues and I will prioritize the topics where the country needs science and innovation. And, it has to be multidisciplinary. 

What do you mean by multidisciplinary?
Let’s say that you want to tackle the transport problem. Do you think we only need transport engineers? No, we will also need IT people as well as community support. We need science, technology, sociology, among others. We need multidisciplinary specialists and scientists.  Without these, we cannot get tangible impacts. 

Is there a shortage of funds for research?
There is no shortage but funding should be sustainable. When I joined the University as VC, our funding was 4 million internal and 80 million external. In two and a half years, our funding has increased to 110 million total. We are attracting a lot of funding. 

How did you do that?
By creating the ecosystem. I created the pool of research excellence and pools of innovation. This is the institutionalization I was talking about. Institutions are supposed to build necessary capacity. Out of our 300 academic staff, more that 65% already have a Ph.D. They are the people who will do the research for the development of the country.

What are your priority fields when it comes to research for development?
The way to organize research is around STGs (Sustainable Development Goals), through which you see all the major problems of society. I have put up a task force at the University to make sure that we may not be lacking behind on STGs.

Which fields will be exploited?
The health, agriculture and marine, sustainable energy, IT. policy and tourism.  

Around the world, universities impact government policies. Does that happen in Mauritius?
Yes, it does. In agriculture, a lot of research work are conducted by the University. We have contributed intensively in the fields of engineering and health. 

Do you publicize researches conducted by UoM?
Currently, we are taking baby steps in that matter. We are working on it. 

What is the role of UoM in the development of Mauritian society as a whole?
The University of Mauritius has produced more than 55,000 graduates since it was created, thus generating human capital. 80% of research goes towards intellectual capital. Developing lots of partnerships with the industries, university granting lots of courses, providing necessary trainings to the people in industry all contribute to business capital. We have created an e-library; we are mounting so many projects with the community, with the aim to uplift social capital. Human, intellectual, business and social capital integrates to the development of a country. 

(Note- The World Science Day for Peace and Development, celebrated every year on 10th November, was established by UNESCO in 2001 with the aim of highlighting the important role of science in society and the need to engage the wider public in debates on emerging and important contemporary issues relevant to science.)

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