Working in conditions of severe deficiencies, Indian academics produce knowledge output on par with those who have all the requisite facilities at their disposal. Sadly, this tribe is declining in a fast-growing higher education system. And that is far more worrying than the absence of Indian universities from the global rankings. Universities excel because of the exalted levels of competence, commitment and dedication of their academics, who plunge in the knowledge quest in their chosen area. They need an environment that permits free flow of ideas, liberty to interact, experiment, and innovate. Outcomes of their efforts decline when the management systems assume the role of ‘controlling authority’. It creates hindrances in the process of teaching and learning, and research and innovations. Those who control the purse strings, right from the ministries to the finance officers, are always keen to demonstrate how money power could control the mind power. It impedes the regular smooth functioning in Indian universities managed by the Central and state governments. Most of the Vice-Chancellors would be too keen to narrate how tough it was for them to get the sanctioned funds ‘released’. There is hardly any time left with them to concentrate on academics, though this part many may contest.
Academic quest for excellence requires an empathetic, intellectually sound and professionally committed leadership. On Vice-Chancellors, Dr Radhakrishnan, himself once an illustrious V-C of Banaras Hindu University, said, “If our universities, which showed so much promise on the eve of Independence, now appear to be in a state of disarray, it is because they have been increasingly invaded by masses of people who have no regard for intellectual competence or aptitude for academic work. We have made short work of tests of intellectual competence in order to make peace with every kind of social and political pressure.” One wishes that those who select V-Cs could remember his words: “Intellectual work is not for all, it is only for the intellectually competent.” V-Cs were traditionally ‘searched’ from all over the country. Now, they apply, are short-listed, and called for ‘interaction’ (read interview) before being ‘selected’. When parochialism dominates and politicians matter, to expect quality in academic leadership would be futile.
The V-C must command respect, innovate continuously, participate professionally and consider institutional management as an art. Expecting respect because of position and considering institutional management as ‘craft’ are anathema to academic leadership. Universities are considered, in their Acts and regulations, as autonomous bodies. In practice, autonomy evaporates in thin air. One could get real insight in the quality deterioration in higher education if some former V-Cs are asked what autonomy meant to them when they were dealing with the bureaucracy.
It also needs serious scrutiny as to how the system of faculty recruitment in higher education has been reduced to a mechanical exercise after the introduction of the Academic Performance Index (API) by the UGC. Attend more seminars, write books, papers, increase your API count and get the benefit. Everywhere one comes across seminars and proliferation of journals that believe in ‘pay and publish’. It is even talked about frequently that the new practice of ‘pay and get an attendance certificate’ has emerged and chances are that it would flourish in the ‘education bazaar’. Private players have it all in their favour. These are the real challenges that would prevent success of every reform measure as these have visibly contributed to the decline in work culture in higher education institutions.
Benjamin Disraeli is often remembered for his famous quote: “Upon the education of the people of this country, the fate of this country depends.” It applies to every country, and India is no exception. email@example.com