When the chairman of a $100-billion salt-to-software conglomerate addresses his employees, it is always studded with key takeaways. N Chandrasekaran of Tata Sons in his latest New Year address reminded many that he is India’s 21st century response to America’s 20th Century Jack Welch. “Run our marathon, don’t be distracted by somebody else’s sprint,” said Chandra (as he is popularly called) who stressed the need to focus on concern areas that can be controlled.
I only tweak his message to suit the Indian higher education system and believe that higher education institutions have to run, jump and throw in their decathlon without being distracted by other institutions’ sprint. Policy-making in higher education needs to provide an enabling ecosystem that encourages collective talent-building to win the global decathlon for academic excellence.
In the global race for academic excellence, the best institutions have in one brick and mortar campus lightening sprinters, crafty hurdlers, avian jumpers and muscular throwers packed in different person’s flesh and blood. Such a composite university atmosphere ensures a coherent synergy across academic disciplines that enable the institution to win the academic decathlon.
However, it appears that higher educational institutions, which are good sprinters (read specialised excellence), aspire to be the best in all without any capacity building for the remaining academic disciplines. A good technology institution aspires to be the best in management, social sciences, liberal arts, etc. without any internal capacity. Is there a policy prescription to this? Yes. There is. Will it cure the ailment? No, as the dosage is not adequate. Here is why.
The MHRD’s visionary policy of declaring 20 higher educational institutions as ‘Institutions of Eminence’ (IoE) is the right prescription but administered with a wrong dosage. The main objective of the policy is to encourage them to become world-class institutions. Renowned academic Philip Altbach says, “Every country wants a world-class university. No country feels it can do without one. The problem is that no one knows what a world-class university is, and no one has figured out how to get one.” India is no exception in this race.
A country that has the third largest higher education system next to the US and China cannot afford to conduct an experiment with a disproportionate selection of 20 IoEs. The IoE orbit should expand to include its sibling, the Category 1 Universities, which are also identified through another regulatory policy vehicle. In addition, all specially created institutions such as the IISERs, IIMs, IIITDMs, TISS, NID, ISI, etc.—totalling to over 100—must be freed from the regulatory regiments of UGC, AICTE, NCTE, etc. All these institutions must enjoy full academic and administrative freedom for a minimum five-year period. They must be allowed to innovate the way in which they run, jump and throw, and finally manage to win a decathlon.
Signing off with a hope that 2019 will open the policy sky for an educational thunderstorm and not a drizzle.
Vice-Chancellor, SASTRA Deemed University