Saving the public universityWritten by:
Shailendra Raj Mehta Topic in syllabus:
Issues Relating to Development and Management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources. (GS-2) Analysis about:
This editorial emphasises on reform for more autonomy and accountability of the universities.Introduction:
What are the issues associated with the universities?
- There are 55 central universities, the crown jewels of the Indian academic system. They are endowed
with prime land, extensive funding from the central government and there is a long line of students
waiting to get in.
- Here, faculty have security of tenure, and their job fully protects free speech, so they are the most vocal
among academics. Among them are the handful of real universities in the country — vishwavidyalayas
or universitas, that focus on all the major branches of learning, where cross-disciplinary research, so
necessary to solve complex modern problems, can genuinely take place.
What is to be done?
- In recent years, six vice-chancellors (VCs) of central universities have been sacked. Another five have
- Some of these institutions have seen their glory days, yet increasingly, the energy is going out of the
system. The locus of innovation has switched to new and innovative private universities.
- However, not a single new private university has so far been able to create a true broad-based viswavidyalaya with the full range of humanities, social and natural sciences and the professional disciplines. Therefore, to save academia in India, central universities must be saved.
- The governing council (GC) of the university, which will usually have nominees from various
stakeholders, including the government, faculty, students, and citizens. The university’s work is carried
out by the executive council chaired by the VC, who also appoints the registrar.
- But this is where the major problems begin. The GC has no say in the selection of the VC. Further, the
GC typically meets only once a year. If any work gets done in this meeting, it is a miracle, since the GC
of Delhi University, called the Senate, for example, has 475 members, probably a world record.
- In theory, the VC presents and gets approval for the annual plan of the university from the GC. In
practice, after much grandstanding on both sides, the plan is rubberstamped. After that, throughout the
year, there is minimal direction or monitoring from the GC, which may or may not meet again.
- There are typically no quarterly updates, and there is little oversight. Under the circumstances, the high
number of failures should not come as a surprise, since effectively, there is minimal governance.
- The new IIM Bill very sensibly limits the GC to at most 19 members. They are expected to be eminent citizens, with broad social representation and an emphasis on alumni.
- This GC chooses the director, provides overall strategic direction, raises resources, and continuously monitors his or her performance. Within the guidelines provided by the GC, the director has full autonomy but also full accountability.
- This arrangement is based on the best global examples, including Harvard. the governing councils of all central universities, IITs, and all other central institutions, need to be restructured by an Act of Parliament.
- The most eminent alumni of these institutions must be brought on their boards. IIT Delhi has just announced a billion-dollar endowment campaign. This campaign is being spearheaded by its most successful alumni, over a dozen of whom have created Unicorns, or billion-dollar companies.
- If these individuals are cordially invited to join its GC, not only will this money be raised quickly, but it will also be spent well. The dynamism and exposure that these alumni will bring to the table will promptly lead to world-class innovations.
- To allow central universities, the IITs and other public institutions to truly blossom, we need to reform their Governance. There is no time to waste.