Vice Chancellor, Experienced Higher Education Specialist, Education Administrator, Turnaround Specialist
WORLD CLASS UNIVERSITY: AN INDIAN MIRAGE
Over the past few months I have met a lot of people from the field of academics & business and have heard a lot about building a world class university. In fact everyone in the private sector in India wants to build a world class university. Sadly they don’t even understand what it takes to build such a university. They seem to feel as if it is something that is kept in a place and you can just go and get it and become a world class university. I do not feel that India’s private sector is still ready to build even a good university let alone a world class university. So what will it take for the private sector or even the government of India to build one such university? Although the basic foundations of building a world class university remain the same irrespective of whether it is public or private, in this piece I will focus on the private sector.
The private sector in India is in the field of education for the purpose of profit motive but unfortunately education that is driven only by profit motive cannot become world class. The basic foundation on which universities are built by private sector in India are flawed and ridden with too much baggage to start with. The investments made are too small to lead to the creation of a great university. Most private universities start with 20 to 30 acres of land and a few buildings with no endowment funds to meet the start-up cost or the operating cost of the university for the first few years. Since they are self financed universities, they have to rely on the fees collected from the students as their only source of income in absence of any endowment funds. The pressure to get as many students as possible to generate a revenue flow leads to lower quality of student intake and the cycle of decline gets planted on day one of its operation. I think this is the worst thing to start with if the objective is to build a world class university.
We have to remember that world class universities are built by hardcore academicians and not by business men. Great universities have a great vision for high quality education which always translates into high quality students and faculty members. The academic orientation of the university is lost as soon as the above condition is overlooked for the short-term financial gain of a few hundred thousand rupees or the inability to travel the difficult road ahead.
The inability to pump in sufficient funds leads to cost cutting to the extent that quality of education gets compromised. There is a tendency to hire faculty who are willing to work for low salaries and that brings in the second wave of problems for the university. It is true that there is a shortage of good faculty in India but this is also true to the rest of the world as well. But the private sector many times is not looking for high quality faculty, they are looking at faculty who can teach and reduce the cost of delivery of the degree programs. A new cycle of incompetency breeds incompetency sets into the administrative system of the university and an overall decline begins to take place.
Then all of a sudden the corporate office of the promoting business begins to feel that they can do a better job than the people from the field of academics and they descend on to the university like a swarm of bees. They question everything as they have no idea of how and what academics is all about. Businesses have a tendency to bring all that is bad in the field of business to the university. They start with the assumption that everyone is dishonest. This is a big mistake, people in the field of academics are largely still the most honest people. They slowly begin to make all the decisions but will always find someone who they can shift all the blame when things go wrong. Such a practice leads to a culture of mistrust between the management and the academic community. Loss of faith leads to departure of the good academicians from the university as they would not waste their time and energy in a cause that is not their cup of tea.
Added to this is what I call the “I KNOW IT ALL SYNDROME”. This is a bad situation for university administration where the academic community begins to get treated as clerks and every morning and evening they have to report as to what they have accomplished today and the task for the next day is assigned. This is happening in many universities even today. Teachers are given the feeling that they are not working as they are always seen reading books. What a tragedy that enhancement of knowledge is not considered as work. There is a complete loss of autonomy of the university and quality takes a back seat.
So what should be done to create a world class university in India?
1. The amounts of resources that are required to create world class universities are too high and there is no quick return on it. In India if a world class university is to come up it will require a land area of about 400 acres with construction cost of about Rs. 500 crore and an endowment of Rs. 500 crore.
2. The management of the university has to rest in the hands of a very active board where members of the board are concerned about the future of the university and not being in the good books of the promoters. This is very unlikely as most board members are just show pieces used for decoration.
3. There has to be a very strong base of national and international faculty who has interest in teaching, research and academic administration. Unfortunately this type of faculty is becoming a rare breed in India and more so in the private sector.
4. There has to be complete autonomy to the university and it should not be controlled by the corporate office of the promoting business house. This is a very expensive gamble that almost all private universities get involved with. Great Universities run on clearly defined systems and processes but they cannot be geared to the whims and fancies of the promoting company.
5. The culture of Great Universities is that of intellectual freedom. They all have a secular character and are open to debates and differences in the though process. Every idea has a place in the university system. Thus world class universities cannot be built on a set ideology as that restricts the ability to create new knowledge.
6. Teaching institutions can never become world class universities. Research and creation of new knowledge is an important aspect in the life of a world class university.
Happy Reading: Would love to have your comments and views…