April 5, 2002, Chandigarh, India
What ails Indian universities: an open letter to Punjab Chief Minister
UNSAVOURY happenings in the institutions of higher learning in the region have brought forth a thought-provoking review article by the learned editor of The Tribune
“What ails Indian universities?” (March 29). Unlike adverse comment in the media on the office of the Vice-Chancellor, the article grapples with the maladies afflicting the system as a whole. The reference in the article to the “sycophancy culture” is a severe indictment of the senior faculty — Deans, Heads of Departments, teacher members of the Syndicate and various other bodies — who do not realise that they too are accountable. Since people have voted for the new government in the hope that it would provide better governance, I would like to make a few suggestions for your consideration insofar as the university sector is concerned. One, the government should consider setting up a small research unit as part of the State Council of Higher Education which can undertake studies on higher education from the long-term perspective and advise the universities on the emerging trends and needs so that they can plan their development programmes accordingly. The Council should also act as an agency to coordinate the proposals of different universities in the State as well as a clearing house for collecting and distributing information including information on such matters as affiliation, accreditation, and tie-ups with foreign universities. The universities do have their planning boards and academic councils but they are neither mandated nor equipped to carry out such tasks.
Since people have voted for the new government in the hope that it would provide better governance, I would like to make a few suggestions for your consideration insofar as the university sector is concerned.
One, the government should consider setting up a small research unit as part of the State Council of Higher Education which can undertake studies on higher education from the long-term perspective and advise the universities on the emerging trends and needs so that they can plan their development programmes accordingly. The Council should also act as an agency to coordinate the proposals of different universities in the State as well as a clearing house for collecting and distributing information including information on such matters as affiliation, accreditation, and tie-ups with foreign universities. The universities do have their planning boards and academic councils but they are neither mandated nor equipped to carry out such tasks.
Two, there is an urgent need to commission a national agency to prepare a manpower forecast for the State. Vocationalisation of education as such is like operating on the side of supply alone. No one has the slightest idea of the skills that the economy of the State and outside organisations and enterprises might require in the years to come. The data on the estimated growth rates of employment in all the major states for the period 1997-2002 released by the Planning Commission show a continuously deteriorating situation. Punjab which not long ago was in the middle range has fallen behind all the states, even behind Bihar, with an average growth rate of 0.73 per cent as against the all-India average of 2.44 per cent per annum.
Three, there is an urgent need to insulate the universities from inappropriate political pressures. This will be possible if the government refrains from nominating political persons on the managements of the universities and simultaneously advises the Vice-Chancellors to keep politicians off their campuses. Complete insulation of the campuses may not be possible in the situation in which the state universities function but the widely prevalent practice of the Vice-Chancellors aligning their universities with the ruling party is subversion of the system which will end in a disaster.
Four, the provision in the statutes and acts of universities permitting ad hoc appointments should be kept in abeyance. Experience shows that this has been the main route to recruitment of incapable and ill-motivated teachers. Considering that the government has been ordering freezing of vacant posts in the universities from time to time, this cannot be construed as infringement of their autonomy.
Five, in view of the unprecedented growth of the knowledge and the emerging upheaval in the social order because of shift to economic liberalisation, the university of the future has to be very different from what it has been so far. It will undoubtedly require men of exceptional ability and vision to direct its actions. Whereas the Central universities have a well-informed system of selecting Vice-Chancellors, there is none for our universities in the State.
Educationists “cast in the classical mould” to head institutions like the universities are not easy to find. Experience shows that political appointees often try to promote the interests of the party in power. Bureaucrats, on the other hand, not only lack academic experience but tend to be overformal. The Committee on “Model Act for Universities” set up by the Government of India was clear in its mind that, except in the case of a newly established university, “the best way of selecting a Vice-Chancellor would be to place the responsibility on the university community itself”. This is where the idea of a search committee comes in and is worth trying.
H.K. MANMOHAN SINGH
KEY TO GROWTH: The issue of improving the working of Indian universities, particularly North Indian universities, is like opening the Pandora’s box. The system is so messed up that the biggest problem lies in finding a point to start with. It is unfortunate to have incidents such as those happening in Punjabi University. But, there is no guarantee that the same won’t happen in future. A holistic solution needs to be devised to find a permanent cure to such problems.
One of the ways to improve the status of higher education is to include the same in the Union List. Higher education is too important an issue to be left at the mercy of state governments. All universities should be made Central universities. Prof Nurul Hasan has suggested way back in 1976 that the appointments in universities should be through a central service like say, the Indian Education Service. This will reduce political interference in the appointments and ensure that universities have faculty of high academic calibre.
The faculty constitutes the core of university system and good quality teachers will automatically revamp the system. A teacher of high calibre enjoys respect and does not need to resort to sycophancy, political connections and other shortcuts for personal growth.
The third important step is to appoint Vice-Chancellors from amongst the five seniormost professors of the university. An academician of high standing is not likely to land himself into the controversies as the one being witnessed by a university in Punjab.
Education is the key to growth of any country. The future belongs to those who have knowledge. India needs to awake to the call of time and develop knowledge base through an efficient management of higher education to meet the challenges ahead.
CAUSE FOR CONCERN: It is a matter of concern for all those who feel interested in the system of higher education in India which is sadly left to the mercy of the politics of postponement by the state governments as it is on the Concurrent List and is the last item on their agenda.
While agreeing with Mr Hari Jaisingh that the system requires a hard-integrated look with the sole objective of raising the academic standards and making our universities globally competitive, I feel this is possible and is within the reach if we understand the educational value of education and do not devalue it by attaching economic value. Certainly, the real challenge lies in making education socially relevant.
Spiritual bankruptcy and commercialisation of education is the root cause of deteriorating educational standards in India. The teachers are eroding the faith and confidence in the Indian education system. There was a time when teachers (guru) used to be treated equivalent to God. But, in the modern world of consumerism and commercialisation, the student has become the hero who is interested in heroin.
An educational institution would be popular only if it satisfies the essential need of the students, creates employment opportunities and is utilitarian. Glamour alone cannot be a substitute for the basic requirement of need, affordability and worth of the education in an institution.
Mr Hari Jaisingh has rightly called upon the academia to ask inconvenient questions without fear. To remove crime and corruption in education, we need to practice the zero tolerance concept of our worthy Prime Minister. Of course, there is a strong case for insurance policy for all those who accept and adopt zero tolerance against crime and corruption as a challenge.
To create work culture in educational institutions in India, there is need for converting the present holiday culture into holy-day culture. The rate of progress in spiritualism is faster than the rate of progress in materialism. Therefore, there is need for accepting spiritually guided materialism making a case for “needonomics” and not ‘greedonomics’ as a solution to the various problems facing the country.
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