Published: 22nd November 2017
What knowledge does a politician have to choose a VC, asks AU VC Pankaj Chandra
The former IIM director talks about how higher education in India is characterised by corruption, nepotism and student violence and this has led to a failing that runs deep in India's edu system
A university is different from a bureaucratic or commercial organisation, but in current times, it has not been managed differently. As a result, it no longer remains a place for new ideas and new voices. In his book, Building Institutions that Matter: Where are Indian Institutions Going Wrong?, Pankaj Chandra, Vice-Chancellor, Ahmedabad University and former director of IIM-B talks about how faculty, politicians, and bureaucrats together have failed the student. We caught up with him to talk about his book and the current scenario of higher educational institutes. Excerpts:
Where do you think Indian universities are going wrong?
Ah! The big question. Indian Universities today are a pale shadow of what they have been in the past and there are probably three things that come to my mind that require utmost attention. First, Indian higher education is subjected to very high-handed regulations — both at the Centre and the State. Everything is controlled by them right from who to appoint as faculty, what to teach and whom to admit. So, the regulators don’t think that the institutions know how to manage themselves and that is causing phenomenal standardisation of everything in every institution. This hinders experimentation, flow of new ideas and exploring an institutes aspirations.
Secondly, Indian institutions are poorly managed because these regulations decide how these institutions should be run, who comes in as a vice-chancellor and who comes in as a leader. And since the regulation or the government chooses these people, they choose those who are not necessarily the best. So, it affects the governance of the institution. Thirdly, and the most crucial, is that very talented people don’t want to become teachers. So, you have very bright people being taught by the mediocre.
Build right: The book is a detailed analysis of neglected issues of governance in higher education
Do you think that most educational institutions have lost their purpose?
No. Most institutes don’t fulfill all the purposes of education, which has multiple purposes. It provides the skills, knowledge, and love for lifelong learning which is completely missing. Most academic institutions don’t even address that and many have lost the purpose also.
In the book, you’ve talked about politicians, faculty and bureaucrats failing a student. Why do you say that?
The book carries a lot of such instances. What knowledge does a minister or a bureaucrat have to choose a Vice-Chancellor or head of an institution? As soon as you create problematic leadership in an organisation, it won’t be run properly and then the student and their learning will be affected.
What according to you are the procedures for building an effective higher education institution?
There are many. First and foremost, higher educational institutions must be self-regulatory and self-correcting. The way to do it to create an environment where instead of making decisions for the institution, you create an enabling environment where the institution makes its own decisions. Secondly, the overall regulatory mechanism needs to change. You can’t have a single council or a minister making these choices. You need to have an educational board, accreditation agencies, data agencies, fast dispute resolution systems and so on. Lastly, you need resources. India under-invests in higher education. Also, the norms governing the faculty should be such that they bring in better individuals to academia.