How Cambridge University manages to keep itself among the top three in the world rankings?
We have a long-standing reputation, by planning for the long term, by trying to anticipate developments, by experimenting and having top quality people who maintain the standards and reputation of the institution. So, the real focus is on people — teachers and students.
What are the strengths of the varsity?
Our research excellence. Our capacity to continuously deliver high-quality research. We try to encourage young academics to focus on tough questions. We have a model which reviews performance of the staff, giving them time to focus on difficult questions.
Our education programme is the best – we have collegiate model where we have one-to-one supervision for students. Students have to be able to argue a case with accuracy from day one. Our academics really integrate the disciplines. The collegiate model ensures people of humanities sit next to radical physicists and also next to people studying Darwin.
Then you begin to fight for common grants which often lead to new ideas in new shifts in new directions. Top quality people come here as they love this place. Hence, this is a happy institution.
Who do you think is the most important stakeholder in an educational campus – teacher, student or infrastructure?
It’s the overall academic structure — teachers and students. Here, students are not customers but are inherent members of the community. Of course, we have got infrastructure for high quality work but it is always secondary. It is people who make the difference. University is a people-oriented business.
How do you get the best teachers? What is the teacher-student ratio?
We have 1,400 teachers, 3,000 post-doctoral staff, 12,000 undergraduates, 3,000 PG and around 4,000 PhD students. The ratio is around 10:1, but it works the other way. Every single student here gets to learn from the director of the department, many other teachers and doctoral students.
Total 89 Noble prizes have come to your university. This is amazing. What is the success formula?
This is due to our commitment to allow our researchers not to be tempted by the desire to achieve results. They are asked to focus on the problem. We gift people time and opportunity to focus. Also, we get huge high-calibre people who deliver their best.
What is the percentage of girl students and teachers in the university?
Girl students range from 50-65% in different departments. However, the gender ratio in teaching is heavily skewed towards men. Around 15% professors are women but the percentage of lecturers and readers is close to 30. I would be happier if we can have 50:50 ratio.
What changes you expect when number of women teachers is more in the university?
In academic terms, I don’t see any change at all. We might see some changes in the direction of research interests but this may be due to their academic prowess. In engineering, we have seen more human orientation in the research projects where women are engaged.
How often you revise the curriculum?
It’s up to the department which takes feedback from students for revision in the curriculum. But we don’t follow the trend. We don’t even follow Harvard University and MIT. We plan 10-15 years ahead.
How many Indian students are enrolled in Cambridge?
About 300, including PG and post-doctoral students. Indian students have ambition, drive and determination. Indian researchers are as good as their counterparts elsewhere in the world.
As India has now opened its door to foreign universities, do you have any plan to open a campus in India?
No. We have taken a decision not to open any UG campus anywhere in the world. We don’t think we can transfer the collegiate model to any other place. We are seeking more engagement with Indian institutions in research as India is the place of opportunities, young and brilliant people.
Out of our 1,400 teachers, 300 have partnerships with Indian institutions. They choose Indian researchers to work with as they know they can have honest debate with them and also Indians are trustworthy.
But the British government is evaluating a proposal which will require Indians to furnish a £3,000 bond for a UK visa which will be forfeited if they overstay. Such steps are discouraging. Does it affect Cambridge?
The bond is still under considerable debate. However, the university’s stand is that we don’t support the UK government’s immigration controls. We believe that every student who comes to universities like Cambridge adds value to Britain academically and culturally.
But over the last 18 months, not a single student coming to Cambridge has been refused visa. So, there is a pressure which is working. And I don’t think, the government will do something which is widely unpopular.
You are a doctor. Does it help in your current job?
Of course, it does. As a doctor you love being with people in their difficult times. You enjoy being with them and help them. The university is also a people-oriented place.