The level of professional competence acquired by most of the products of higher education institutions is a matter of serious concern. One often wonders why and how even the most sought-after universities of the 50s and the 60s have suffered erosion in credibility? They had earned a great reputation for high-quality research and innovations. And this was achieved in conditions that may appear unimaginable to the young persons of today.
One instance would illustrate the professional environment that prevailed in every classroom, laboratory and library. Just before the beginning of the final examination, the senior professor found that students of elective paper on electronics were not taught ‘Detectors’ that was assigned to a junior faculty member. Quietly, he taught the group for four hours each on two consecutive days.
Some three years later, when a young researcher recalled how every student was disappointed when no question appeared on Detectors in the final examination, the professor listened affectionately and said: “Yes, I was the paper setter; I knew no question was being asked on this topic. But tell me, how I could allow a full batch of young people take a final degree from this university, with specialisation in electronics, without acquiring adequate comprehension about Detectors? It was a question of professional competence and professional readiness that could not be compromised.” There was a hushed silence. It was a lesson in what makes an institution great.
After a couple of moments, the professor pulled out a few sheets from his pocket and said: “See, these are my notes for today’s class. I never enter a classroom without preparation. I had several pressing engagements today before the class but I squeezed time out to prepare my notes.”
Known for his researches nationally and internationally, he was highly respected by his students, colleagues and researchers. He spent most of his time in his laboratory, not on airports. Practically all of those who studied in universities during that period could narrate similar experience in their respective areas of knowledge quest.
Great Indian universities have suffered the loss of credibility mainly on account of dilution of leadership qualities and loss of autonomy in practical terms. Their rejuvenation would, no doubt, require adequate resources, infrastructure support, modified rules and regulations. But this alone would not be sufficient. It needs real autonomy and an academic leadership that values traditional roles that present examples of a life dedicated to the creation and utilisation of new knowledge.
This is the right time to ponder over such aspects as India is to receive a new National Policy on Education shortly. Rules, regulations and regulatory institutions are necessary, but these alone are not sufficient. Institutions need leaders who are intellectually inclined, capable of fostering ‘the freedom of mind, the humanity of the heart, and the integrity of the individual’.
Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan elaborated it in his writings: “A famous Church Father in the Middle Ages, Bernard of Clairvaux, in a Latin hymn, asks. ‘Who will achieve universal peace?’ and answers, ‘The disciplined, the dedicated, the pure in heart and the gentle in spirit.’ No machinery which the art of man can devise will work unless there is behind it the proper temper of mind. To create and maintain that temper should be the aim of education in a civilised society.” Let the New National Policy on Education acknowledge the primacy of the academic, and give him all the autonomy to flourish it further.
J S Rajput
Former director of the NCERT