The location of the Central University of Odisha (CUO) in Koraput brings to the fore the appropriateness of a knowledge hub in the middle of a paradox — a tribal district, with unparalleled abundance of natural resources and an aspirational district trying to bridge perennial gaps in human development.
Koraput is the blessed land and the future of Asia. Blessed because from Lord Jagannath to fighter planes to Asia’s mineral treasury, it is complete and the people are content. It is the sabar kshetra (the mystic land of the Lord). This is the land where divinity and materialism co-exist in a unique balance. That is why it’s the future of Asia — affluence of mine-able minerals, below the soil.
The per capita income of Koraput should be one of the highest in India, but sadly, always figures in the list of ‘aspirational districts’ of Niti Ayog. The reserve of 310 million tons in Panchpatmali mines is the world’s largest single-site bauxite deposit and yet Koraput suffers the indignity of infant death, large-scale migration and rapid forest destruction. In Koraput, 79% live below the poverty line.
CUO, as the knowledge hub, will continue to play a direct role in shaping the human resources of the district, the state and the country. A straight impact of a honed, better talented, specialised workforce will show in the human development of the district, the state and resulting Atma Nirbhar (self-reliant) Bharat.
The CUO’s contribution in mainstreaming PVTGs and making them significant stakeholders in India’s socio-economic growth story need not be underplayed. Mining royalty is the biggest non-tax contributor to the Odisha’s revenue stream pegged at Rs 6130.97 crore from production of 270.84 million tonnes (MT) and supply of 287.80 MT minerals in 2017-18. The mining revenue is estimated to cross Rs 12,000 crore from 2021. Increasingly the local youths — educated and handheld by the University – will join as skilled manpower in the industry and many can start their own enterprise.
In the last 12 years, which in local parlance is one yug (a significant time period representing the past, present and future), CUO has been able to aggregate the passion, creativity and idealism of thinking minds, young and old alike, which have been applied to problem-solving and advancing our societal and economic well-being, not only in Koraput but in the country.
The uniqueness of CUO lies in its strategic role in working towards localising SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) in an aspirational district, an emerging state economy and a country aiming at a $5 trillion economy in the next decade. The global goals for sustainable development are consequently integrated into higher education and the practice of engaging students in these efforts, through projects and community interventions, result in directly impacting our performance in SDGs because CUO is amidst one of the most primitive tribal communities of the world. An improvement in the development indicators here will bring about a quantum jump in all-round performance on human development indices.
The CUO has taken futuristic steps in orienting itself to proactive nation building. Some of them are as follows:
* Aligning university governance structures and operational policies with the aims of attaining the SDGs
* Identifying and addressing any key gap in the university in a response to the SDGs
* Mapping how high-level university strategies, policies, plans and reporting indicators align with the SDGs
* Identifying organizational units and streams which are relevant to specific SDGs
India, and Odisha specifically, is experiencing climate emergency, large-scale displacements due to COVID-19 pandemic and increasing pressure of gainful engagement of the burgeoning youth population (more than half of the population is below 35). CUO is taking unprecedented steps to embrace its cultural, socio-economic and physical setting.
It is imperative that CUO be socially embedded, thereby fostering development through direct engagement with its immediate communities, which are low-income and marginalised. CUO is working creatively, taking out-of-the-box strides to become a regional knowledge and innovations hub and a greater force of societal transformation.
Universities must focus on the individual. It is fostering student success steadily, by becoming student-centric — rather than faculty-centric. This is by enhancing its capability of being nimble, anticipatory, imaginative and reactive. The departments, faculty members and eco-system at the CUO is providing unique environments that prepare students to be ‘master thinkers’ who are able to grasp a wide array of skills and information. It is encouraging to know that CUO is attempting to prepare the most adaptable workforce to meet the demands of the market, the economy and the country’s requirements.
In the coming years, the University is slated to become an effective partner in national and global development. Through the proliferation of networks between like-minded alliances, community partnerships through students and faculties, transformation can occur at the scale that is immediately needed in order to advance our present state and national knowledge economy.
Our communities, including all of us, should target this imminent future and transform their thinking to see CUO not as self-indulgent ‘people factories’, but as valuable idea generator and implementor. Under the ambit of the NEP 2020 and the Atma Nirbhar Bharat plans of India, CUO has the potential to wield influence and to manifest technologies and concepts that can change lives like never before, during COVID or post COVID or climate emergencies or any other impending disruptions. Innovation and adaptation, as ushered in by NEP 2020, are needed now more than ever before in our higher education infrastructure and in our development institutions of global effect.
Contemporary universities like CUO have a responsibility to transcend traditional disciplinary limitations in pursuit of intellectual fusion with vocational blend and develop a culture of knowledge entrepreneurship. CUO must be prepared to further delivering higher education at scale — in a manner that bestows status upon CUO based upon the outcomes it achieves and its depth & breadth of impact rather than the exclusivity and quality of their incoming freshman class, alumni or confines of a prescribed format only.
The uniquely placed CUO has the responsibility of transforming the socio-economic situation of the indigenous people (PVTGs), influence the academic enterprise of the high energy, young country and supplement the emerging status of Odisha as the nation’s growth driver.
From Sunabeda to WEF (World Economic Forum), I see a high-quality, high-energy growth trajectory of CUO’s participation in comprehensive development of all of us. CUO should evolve as the window to the world. Only then we can redefine mainstream and re-evaluate its uniqueness to mine more uniqueness.
It is our responsibility to ensure that CUO grows further as a place of light, of liberty and of learning.