Need for dynamic universities

Need for dynamic universities

GREAT POTENTIAL Our universities need to proactively work towards mitigating the  challenges confronting them.

There is a strong need to drastically improve the functioning of Indian State universities. The State universities ought to do well in terms of providing good governance, quality faculty and education, conduct of examinations, and declaration of results on time.

A total rejuvenation of State varsities is an enormously difficult task and not so easy to accomplish. Very sincere efforts and hard measures are needed to raise the standards, accomplish effective governance and build the public credibility of our universities.

The best universities (e.g. Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard, etc.) surely are not made merely of brick and mortar. The major component of any varsity is its students. Next in line comes the faculty and supporting staff to facilitate teaching, research and administration. There is no substitute for quality faculty who alone can enlighten students with new knowledge, and also produce good citizens (human resource) needed for societal transformation (socio-economical, technological etc.) A good teacher will teach well, inspire and inculcate moral and ethical (humanism, tolerance etc.) values in his pupils.

Major problems confronting the universities and ways of rescuing these centres of higher learning need introspection. The past few decades have witnessed degradation of universities due to seemingly wrong policies. One such issue pertains to starting mono-faculty universities. This has resulted in loss of wisdom from different faculties and student interactions in all traditional universities. The quality of debate in the Academic Council, Senate and Syndicate has become poorer due to loss of heterogeneity and wisdom of different disciplines.

The wisdom of physicians, engineers, legal experts, scientists, artists, writers and so on is needed for an all round development of universities. Added to this a major blow came when mercy promotions and rotation of chairpersons became routine in the past two decades which ensured the arrest of growth, loss of accountability, and eliminated leadership and vision. Every one became a leader and every one became free from accountability.

For the good governance of universities a good Syndicate which evolves policies is needed. This Syndicate should consist of men and women of high eminence and from different walks of life in order to provide good counselling to Vice Chancellors and resolve issues pertaining to students, teachers and supporting staff judiciously and objectively.

They should be part of a solution and not part of the problem. It is desirable to have persons with statures higher than the varsity professors and unquestionable repute on the varsity Syndicate for a meaningful and vibrant functioning.

A Vice Chancellor is expected to play a key role in planning and development of a university as well as providing good governance on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, he/she should have a vision for the university and a specific plan of action for the term of his/her holding the office. Ideally, the VC should be a person who is above the best professor in the university, well known nationally / internationally in his/her area of expertise having a good publication record in peer reviewed journals and experience of handling major research projects secured from R&D agencies; lest, he/she is unable to command respect from the faculty/public and fail to provide leadership.

Most State varsities are impoverished in several areas: faculty, supporting staff, infrastructure and funding. A primary requirement is acquiring excellent faculty, adequately trained supporting staff and upgradation of infrastructure (laboratories, library facilities, good hostels, etc.) Over the years, the faculty strength (number and quality) should have gone up. Sadly, our universities are running with roughly 50% of the required manpower compared to yesteryears. Fresh graduates on contractual appointments fill the void but they are no substitute for regular faculty.

Moreover, expertise of the personnel is often poor and does not match the requirements. Qualified staff in adequate number is needed to undertake teaching and research in frontier areas and also attract funding from R&D agencies. Therefore, the university should have the freedom to create new positions to enable starting of new courses in frontier areas. Each post graduate department must have 8-10 teachers regardless of the students’ strength.

In recent times plans are being made to establish innovative universities both at the State and national levels. However, a mere label does not make a university an innovative one. Appointing the best faculty (capable of inspiring and motivating students), with the highest merit as the sole criteria, doing away with the affiliation system and monitoring a large number of affiliated colleges (sometimes numbering more than 500), conducting semester examinations for numerous UG and PG courses, providing autonomy, financial support for modernising infrastructure that is on par with the best in the country are some of the concerns that need serious attention.

Likewise, the issue of attracting students from other States and abroad need to be considered and a definite policy needs to be evolved. A well defined planning to make world class universities with a timeframe will go a long way in laying a good road map which will bring in some visible improvements.

This will also help us face the challenges of globalisation, and compete with central, private, deemed and foreign universities.  India can survive such challenges only when our institutions of higher learning produce men of eminence in all spheres. Let me end by saying that the universities are not for  churning out degrees without due regard to quality; it is time we rejuvenated our varsities in all earnest.

(The writer is former Vice Chancellor, Karnatak University, Dharwad)

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