At the latest count, I learn that we have 600 universities as against 400 last year, many more IITs and IIMS and other professional institutions, central universities, NITs etc. Who help build capacity of these institutions in terms of democratic processes, peer culture, decentralization, transparency in appointment of internal committees and office bearers, warding off the political interference and thus institutionalization of mediocrity and conformity.
Heart of an academic institution lies in promotion of dissent, diversity and decentralization. But the trend in many institutions, including some elite institutions is towards centralization, arrogance, and conformity.
How do we stem the rot and ensure that future leadership of knowledge economy of our country will be groomed in open, collegial and socially responsible environment.
There are many steps, which need to be taken, and I will reiterate what I feel needs to be done. First step is to make Inspired Teachers the fulcrum of the academic excellence and accountability. Those teachers who can inspire the students, who can bring out the best in them, make students push their efforts an extra inch to excel, and who don’t mind being challenged should be heard more attentively. What happens is that such teachers often will not involve themselves in institutional dynamics, they will not vie for formal positions and they will also not lock their energy in so called power politics. Else, they will have no time to push the frontiers of knowledge and social action. But is that the reason that institution builders will not listen to them?
Is that the reason that ministers of HRD will not consult them or take their advice about how to breed excellence in institutions of higher learning. It is very easy to bemoan that none of our universities and institutions, exceptions apart, are in the top 200. But then when did we last hear the voice of those who are on the top of their profession not Just in India but globally? Rarely if ever, search committees or selection committees looking for leadership of such institutions look for this quality among the leaders. Not surprising though. If students are asked to vote five or ten most inspired teachers in any academic institution, they could easily find such teachers in every discipline. I will trust the youth. Consult them and then listen to them, the agenda for reform will be ahead of us. Act on it and we can herald a renaissance in institutions of higher learning.
Second step could be to follow the principle of single term for the head of academic institutions. The lure of extension and post retirement benefits has compromised bureaucracy, head of public sector enterprises and even the academic institutions. Ravi Mathai created a tradition of single term of director at IIMA when he was just 45 years and could have easily continued till his retirement. Fortunately, subsequent directors have continued with it. What is the problem in following that as a dictum countrywide. It is a good principle and worth emulating.
Third is the faculty governance. There is no institution of excellence in the country where faculty does not have an effective voice in its governance. Yet, so many institutions are faltering on this account. Arrogance, self-righteousness and inability to take public criticism in one’s stride are becoming dominant in several fields of public discourse. Academia is no exception. Tragedy becomes compounded when such people tend to find favour from powers that be.
I hope that we will have a public debate on these issues and achieve a consensus so that achievers in various domains and disciplines become the leaders of reform agenda in the country. That is the only way meritocratic culture will grow and thrive in the country. Concern for social change, secular values and inclusive development can not become a matter of convenience and political opportunism. It must flow from the way excellence is achieved and influence the way expansion is managed.
Anil K Gupta