Najma Akhtar became the first ever woman Vice Chancellor (VC) of the Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) ~ or any central university in Delhi ~ when she was appointed in April this year. She has had a distinguished career in the academic arena. A gold medallist in Biosciences from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Akhtar had been Controller of Examination in AMU and had also served as Director of Academic Programmes there. She was a founder-director of State Institute of Educational Management and Training (SIEMAT) in Allahabad. She was also an academic administrator at the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) for 15 years. In this interview, Akhtar spoke on several issues ranging from women’s enrolment and empowerment to her plans for the JMI that will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year. Excerpts:

Q:You are the first-ever woman VC of Jamia or any other university of Delhi. How do you look at it?

A: It’s not my position ~ it’s the position of women in India. My selection here is actually reflecting the position of women’s importance in India. This shows that the system is now paving way for women for higher positions, which is apparently a must. However, earlier it was not the same. And not just the system or government which is accepting women, but society also wants women to be in the best positions, which is reflected in my selection.

Q:There has rarely been any woman VC or head of any major varsity or academic institution in the country.What’s your take on such an overarching glass ceiling, even in the world of academia?

A: Definitely there is a perception of a glass ceiling. When I was selected among the first three (shortlisted candidates) here, out of which one becomes the Vice Chancellor, at that point itself I felt that I have broken the glass ceiling for being in the top three. Because women do not even get selected in the first three, it was very overwhelming for me. And when I was finally selected, the glass ceiling was there but it’s not about breaching it, but about giving a ray of hope to many women and young girls who will be in my line and can apply to such posts. The real thing is women are not applying in more numbers. Even in this selection there were only three women out of a total of (shortlisted) top sixteen. We are not equal here ~ we are not applying in equal number. Simply by applying, you prove that you are there, you show your existence and your ability to put in your demand for it.

Q: What are your plans to enhance the global standing of Jamia?

A: Jamia’s place is quite good at present on the global education platform. But people in general would get to know about it only when they see our ranking at a global level. However, to increase global representation, this year I have already initiated the process of increasing the intake of foreign students from across the globe. I know we won’t be getting students from America and England straightaway until and unless we have something very special. There are exchange programmes for students here from different countries but they are here for short-term courses. But as far as students for long-term courses are concerned, I am not very satisfied with the numbers. But hopefully this year after the admission process gets over, we might have more students than at present.

Q: Jamia has not had an elected students’body for a long time.Do you plan to conduct elections for students’union any time soon?

A: There has not been an elected students’ body for the last twelve years. Hence, I am trying to study the loss Jamia has faced in its absence. But I believe the students have been very active and are putting their demands in the right place. So the union has not really been missed by the students in the last twelve years. Let me just study the reasons for the absence of the body because I am not saying that I will conduct elections right away, it will take time.

Q:There are many courses missing on Jamia’s academic list.Even if you are planning to introduce new courses,what kind of courses should be introduced?

A: I am definitely planning to introduce new courses, which would also bring in better opportunities for students. Courses like designing and fashion technology should be introduced in the varsity, as these are innovative courses and have good scope. Coming to medicine, it is also my personal dream to have this course in Jamia but establishing a medical school cannot be done overnight and moreover there are many problems that need to be sorted out before we can introduce a medical course. We offer various paramedical courses but I wish to establish the medical school within my tenure. Apart from medical, I look forward to introduce some language diploma courses as well, as they have so many job opportunities.

Q: Jamia will be marking its 100th anniversary in 2020.What academic and other developments will take place in the run-up to that event?

A: Though Jamia’s foundation day happens to be in October but for us as soon as 2020 starts and the university completes its 100th year, our celebration will begin. Till then it will be my responsibility to bring the best developments in the varsity, in every possible field and to introduce as many new things as I can for the betterment of the students and teachers. I plan to bring more women to the administration as a sign of women’s empowerment because that is where they belong ~ in higher posts. And it will also encourage female students to reach them without any hesitation for any problem. I look forward to enrolling more women in the varsity to equalise the ratio. Though the girls here are just slightly less than boys, I wish to make the number equal.

Q: There has been speculation that you support the BJP. Your comments?

A: I am in no position to support any political party in general. But I definitely will support the ruling party, whichever party is in power. And I will also make sure that I have their support as well, and Jamia does not at all get neglected as a university. The support is all for the varsity, to have better funds, courses and anything that concerns the university.