Human civilisation advances ahead on the strength of its social, cultural, economic and democratic institutions. These draw their strength and dynamism from the quality of educational institutions that prepare future generations to face the emerging challenges in a world characterised by increasing disorder and growing complexities. These are the times of unpredictable changes in practically every sector. There is no scope for sluggishness or lethargy on any front; most certainly not in educational institutions. These must be equipped to analyse change, and though change is all around, not every change leads to progress. This incisive analysis can be conducted only by institutions that are intellectually and professionally equipped; are sincerely engaged in analysing change, proposing innovations and anticipate the shape of things to come. Unfortunately, many of the state-funded universities languish under severe resource crunch, both in men and material.
Certain well-known practices have ruined the functional efficacy of these universities and deserve immediate rectification. Private universities are knee-deep in commercialisation with little concern for quality. The priority task is to restore the credibility of the state-funded universities. How can a university vice-chancellor (VC) find time for quality improvement if he has around a thousand affiliated colleges?
It is the quality of teaching, learning and growing up in schools, colleges and universities that widen the horizons of growing children and young persons. It hones their analytical skills and prepares them to acquire knowledge and wisdom; and motivates them to create new knowledge. With all of its encouraging achievements in extending the outreach of education, and impressive growth in numbers, the Indian education system confronts serious inadequacies in financial and manpower resources. One comes across laments on the quality of products even from professional institutions. President Pranab Mukherjee, after taking his new assignment, had exhorted all VCs of Central universities to fill up vacant academic posts within six months. The impact has been weak. State governments often open new universities but squeeze them on funds right from day one. Permission to recruit academic staff even against sanctioned positions is to be sought from the Sachivalaya, which is a Herculean task for VCs. The UGC has certainly not contributed to the quality by endorsing the practice of part-time teachers, guest teachers, or teaching in higher education institutions on per-lecture-basis payments! High quality research just cannot flourish in these conditions of inadequacy and instability.
Consolidation is necessary, but not sufficient. India needs more institutions of higher learning that help its young understand India, its tradition of knowledge quest, history and heritage; as also the shape of the emerging world before them. There have been several efforts in this direction, and these could pave the path for more. One could cite the Children University of Gujarat, Atal Bihari Vajpayee Hindi University of MP, and Gautam Buddha University (GBU) in Greater Noida. GBU, supposed to conduct its learned activities around Buddhist philosophy, could become an international centre for philosophical and spiritual pursuits, make significant contributions in global peace initiatives, and project Indian doctrine of Aparigrah, which has the potential to turn the tide against the glamour and glitz pursued in the globalised world. India needs institutions that could extend the continuity of its great traditions established at Taxila, Nalanda, Vikramshila and others in the past. India can do it; state must come forward in this direction in a big way.
J S Rajput
Former director of the NCERT