Prof VN Rajasekharan Pillai has been at the helm of affairs of many higher educational and scientific research establishments for the last 47 years of service as a teacher, researcher, professor, and executive head.
An Elected Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Prof Pillai is among the top-cited chemistry researchers in the country. He created an internationally renowned research group in the areas of polymer- supported peptide synthesis, photoremovable protective groups and conformational studies of peptides and proteins. Over 50 doctoral and post-doctoral researchers have been trained under his direct supervision in the universities of Calicut, Mahatma Gandhi University, University of Tubingen, and in the University of Mainz, Germany. Today, all of them occupy senior-level positions in academia and Industry all over the world.
Prof Pillai is presently the ViceChancellor of Somaiya Vidyavihar University and Provost of Somaiya Vidyavihar. He concurrently serves as the Chancellor of the ICFAI University, Tripura. He was the President of Mewar University, Chiittorgarh, Rajasthan (2016–2018). Pillai is also the Founder-President of Human Development Foundation India, a Civil Society organisation in the National Capital Region, New Delhi. He served as the Executive Vice-President of the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment from 2011 to 2014.
Simultaneously, he held the positions of Principal Secretary, Science & Technology Dept. of the Govt. of Kerala, Chairman of the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority, and the Kerala Biotechnology Commission.
Prior to that, he was the ViceChancellor of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi (2006–2011). He served the as Vice-Chairman & Chairman of the University Grants Commission during the period 2002–2006.
He was Executive Director of the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), Government of India, during the period 2000–2002.
Prior to that, Pillai was the ViceChancellor of the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam and held additional charge of the Cochin University of Science and Technology (1996–2000).
In 2000, he was on a Visiting Research Professor assignment in the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. From 1983 to 1996, Pillai worked in various academic and research executive positions in the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam such as the Founder Professor and Director of the School of Chemical Sciences, Dean of Faculty of Science, Founder Director of the School of Professional Distance Education, Director, College Development Council and Controller of Examinations of the University. From 1977–1983, Pillai worked as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, on deputation from Calicut University, Kerala, in the Universities of Tubigen and Mainz, Germany.
From 1971 to 1983, he worked in the Universities of Kerala and Calicut University as UGC/CSIR Junior and Senior Research Fellow, Assistant Professor and Associate Professor in the area of Chemical Sciences.
Prof Pillai is Elected Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Distinguished Fellow of the Kerala Academy of Sciences, Honorary Fellow of the Institution of Electronics and Telecommunication Engineers (IETE), New Delhi, Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and Honorary Senior Fellow of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bengaluru.
A teacher and researcher in the field of Chemical Sciences, Pillai has held post-doctoral and visiting research professor positions in the University of Tübingen (Mainz, Germany and Lausanne, Switzerland).
Pillai has served as Chairman and Vice-Chairman of UGC, Director of NAAC, Bengaluru, V-C of the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, and V-C of Cochin University of Science and Technology.
He has published about 200 refereed research publications in international journals in this area and has guided doctoral research of a large number of students who occupy leading positions in academia, R&D, and industry.
Recipient of Materials Research Society of India Lecture Award (1997), Prof Pillai has been the chairman, convener and member of several national and international committees on science, education, and technology. He is the convener and member of the Search Committees of Vice-Chancellors for Central and state Universities. He is also the Chairman of Deemed Universities Committees, AICTE, and AIU affiliation committees.
Under his leadership, the NAAC has formulated an action plan for quality evaluation, sustenance, and quality upgradation for the higher education institutions in the country, which has been accepted and being implemented by all the State Governments. He was a Member of the Working Group, which prepared the 10th Plan vision – Document for Higher education.
Prof Pillai has served as a member of the Executive Board of the Asia-Pacific University Presidents Association representing India (1998). He was also a member of the working group constituted by the MHRD for preparation of Indian Science Policy Document for Unesco.