edefining the relationship between the government and the Institutions of excellence
It is not worthwhile to comment on IIM bill without first asking what is the way excellence is built in an institution of higher education and how can government learn from it. After all, it is more difficult to build such institutions than to destroy them. One does not need of course always the government to do so, personally ambitious educationist, mediocre leadership and boards vulnerable to lobbying by vested interests can do so much more easily.
But let us pause for a moment and see the emerging context of enormous opportunities for deserving youth in the young country.
Various IIMs can in fact be divided into three groups: the top three A, B, C, may be in that order, next three or four slightly older IIMs and the recently started IIMs. Surely their needs for governance and support are at variance, some among them need mentoring by the oldest IIMs and others need much more invigorted support to learn to be autonomous and assertive. All of them need to be accountable to the various stakeholders so as to serve the larger needs of the country.
First challenge thus is to make the HRD minister, secretary and other leaders in the government sit with the faculty of the three top Institutions( and not just with the directors and the chairmen), understand the way the excellence was achieved by them and then learn the ways of replicating it. Learning it only through directors’ council is second hand way of doing that, it would not really work. Excellence cant be delegated, and learned through a few position holders who themselves may or may not have achieved excellence personally. Just because of the positions they occupy, they don’t always become custodian of the values and destiny of the great institutions.
Once the Minister of HRD listens to the faculty, he may realize the extraordinary scope that exists in drawing upon these and other institutions of excellence for meeting various challenges that society is facing today.
It should be remembered that when IIMs were attaining excellence in the formative years, they were supported by the government a great deal. To say that government support is not needed any more is not true. In fact, to evaluate the excellence by the financial surplus these institutions generate is not a worthy metrics. That’s why ridiculous norms evolve such as one teaching assistant for five courses. Is not it a suicidal attempt to kill excellence?
Even the TOP IIMs need government’s help to serve those constituencies which Deserve their services but can not Desire them due to unaffordable costs. How do such constituents, be the educational institutions in north east, Jammu and Kashmir or other conflict prone regions where youth needs attention and affectionate care, mentoring and support, get served by the best? How do those sectors which some institutes used to call as undermanaged in eighties get new ways of improving excellence and innovations such as public systems, MsME, health, education, drinking water and other persistent developmental challenges. The connect between society and institutions of excellence needs a new social contract.
Lest the bogey of government help being a kiss of death comes up again and again, let me ask a simple question. Take the top five or ten institutions in any field of education, are not these all the public institutions? Yes, we need public private partnership but handing over top institutions to private czars will do more damage than good. IIMA already has had such partnership evolved over several decades.
Are not the top institutions like IISc, ISI, TIFR, JNU and many others not funded by government completely. Is it not true that despite considerable funding by government, autonomy can be achieved and maintained? To repeat, did not top IIMs achieve excellence during the period of considerable government support?.
But this support need not be tracked or monitored through administrative councils or bodies. IIMs are part of the state already. Confusion on that account should be removed.
Let there be new indicators of service to the nation, pursuit of faculty governance, control of tendency to restrict autonomy at Director or board level, development of new concepts and innovative pedagogy and curriculum etc. Harvard and MIT have joined hands recently to provide on line open access courses to the deserving students worldwide. Should not IIMs be seen as largest provider of open source multi media and multi language content similarly with Indian examples and ethos of collegial, collaborative and compassionate values? Would not that need resources, have alumni really contributed that kind of resources in India to warrant greater control as some forces have been trying?
Rather than hoping that importing leaders from abroad will make these institutions greater, timidity and colonial mindset of such role players needs to be liberated and greater confidence needs to reposed in indigenous proven talent. It is tragic that when major banks were ‘nationalised’ in USA during the recent crisis, the futility of what they taught at these ‘great’ institutions was not called into question.
Let us rethink how Boards of Governors of institutions of excellence should be chosen, putting mediocres there will breed mediocrity all around and is a sure recipe to kill the urge for excellence. Government nominees need not always be bureaucrats ( though having a couple of outstanding public officials who have achieved remarkable social impact would not be bad at all), but educationist, leaders and other social, industrial and academic achievers need to be nominated and suggestions from faculty could be invited for the purpose.
One of the hall mark of excellence in almost all institutions of excellence has been faculty governance, a concept which has come under terrible strain in the recent years.
This has happened not because of government interference but because of myopic polices of the Board and of course autonomy being confused by autocracy by some role players.
We need to ensure viable and ethical ways of transparency in all the activities. If mediocre people are appointed to various positions disregarding faculty judgment, then pursuit of excellence will suffer. Whole society is craving for openness, greater social connect and more and more experimentation and innovations. At such a juncture, what we need is a bold dialogue (and a new social contract ) among academia, industry and government on the norms of good governance, openness, transparency, promotion of social and economic innovation based entrepreneurship, linkages with science and technology in all walks of life, and new social, environmental and industrial connect. What values we imbue among students will depend upon what values we practice. Our conduct will indicate what kind of creative, compassionate and collaborative India we want to build. President Pranab Mukherjee in a recent meeting of vice chancellors of central universities ( see press release, RB Feb 7, 2013) decide to meet Inspired Teachers during his visit to these universities. That will surely forge new connect between self inspired excellence and polity of the nation. Such teachers have never been the point of reference while designing agenda for institutional reforms and rejuvenation.
No doubt that other stakeholders need to be consulted too. IIM bill is not worth talking about in this larger context.
Though government has clarified that the proposed IIM council is a discussion body and not a decision making body, but in the past such consultations were used to claim consensus on several matters. So there is a need to require that any views expressed by respective directors in this meeting on behalf of the faculty should first be discussed in the respective faculty council meetings. They are entitled to present their personal view of course. One has to say this because many so called leaders have lost the legitimacy for their leadership by not being accountable and transparent in their own conduct.
Government has also to rethink its tendency to draw more and more upon multinational consulting companies for policy and institutional advice for which sufficient proven competence exists among many national institutions of excellence. Creativity and innovative potential of people at all levels including staff and faculty, students and alumni has to be harnessed for common good. It is unlikely to happen when new arrangements are being designed without listening to those who have actually helped in achieving excellence in the first place.
Time has come when all institutions, which demand greater transparency and accountability of all other social and public institutions, set new example of the same through their own conduct. The social, industrial, ecological, and cultural connects between institutions of higher education and the larger society have to be forged afresh. Public purpose of public institutions needs to be redefined and a new social contract has to be forged between institutions of excellence and the rest of the society through government and other stakeholders.
Anil K Gupta