Building towards a global university

being international

Building towards a global university

It is disappointing to note the position of Indian universities in the global ranking. Though there are justifications based on the criteria used for ranking, which are claimed to have given an edge to the western universities, it must be noted that universities in other Asian countries are placed higher. In addition to financial and other resources, a healthy academic ambience needs to be built in the Indian universities to overcome some of the bottlenecks to compete at the global level.

University systems must facilitate the adventure of ideas. When the Indian universities emphasise research and innovation as significant aspects for achieving global standards, they seldom pay attention to foster an ambience, which is necessary for the aspiring academicians to think, reflect and incubate new ideas.  It is difficult to compete at the global level unless planned meticulously to overcome some of the below mentioned barriers of intellectual engagements.

Inconsistent

Though many universities have established systems to govern themselves, their policies keep changing with the change in the top level administration. Policies and programmes of the state and central universities mostly change with the change of governments and officiating vice-chancellors. This is true with the executives and administrators within a university.  Any new office bearer will immediately attempt to make alterations in the system, within his purview, to suit his idiosyncrasies. These attempts are mostly aimed at making his presence in the new office felt by his colleagues or to pretentiously prove their efficiency to his higher officials.

It takes time to reap the benefits of any policy.  But, inconsistent policies disturb progress and make educational institutions directionless. Moreover, such abrupt changes in the system disturb academic ambience and make it difficult for the university to progress beyond its infantile stage. Inconsistency is often confused with innovation when it comes to the introduction of new courses and programmes. Mostly, new courses are introduced by virtually replacing the old ones. Many traditional courses are replaced with new ones to create artificial value to lure students.  Progress in curriculum is time consuming. Most of the innovations and emerging trends could be accommodated within the existing subjects/courses on an incremental basis.  A system intolerant to such a slow progress will lead to the proliferation of subjects and new courses without building any solid intellectual foundation.

Managing human resources

A clear assessment of the human resources available at the institutional level is necessary for proper planning. Most of the state and central universities in the country underuse the human resources available with them as their systems are not demanding ones. There is no performance monitoring systems in place at the institutional level, other than the guidelines by the University Grants Commission (UGC). Promotions are mostly based on seniority/experience rather than performance. Therefore, only the minority self-motivated faculty members contribute to knowledge production, while the rest, which constitute the majority, attempt to survive by engaging only the mandated teaching hours.

On the other hand, private universities attempt to overuse their material and human resources to excel in all walks of academia in the compelling competitive environment. These are basically teaching-intensive universities as teaching is their primary source of income. Some of them manage to fund for research activities as well. As the system is over-demanding, faculty members end up with shallow contributions for the sake of getting attention and promotions.

Today, these universities are under tremendous pressure from different quarters of public scrutiny. This led to the formation of rigid systems to cope with the quality parameters laid down mostly by the external agencies. Under such pressing ambience, intellectual development and contribution is a matter of chance than choice. Optimum use of material and human resources is necessary in both the cases.

Intellectual self-confidence

Lacking intellectual self-confidence is a serious problem with the Indian intelligentsia today. Except the creamy layer, the rest struggle with low confidence about their intellectual worthiness in the global space. This mindset is partly descended from the colonial denigration of the intellectual contributions of Indians. Today, to some extent, we internalised this inferiority and are manifested in many ways. Faculty exchange programmes with other countries and scholarships are not in proportion with the number of aspiring Indian academicians. 

Universities seldom have specifically designed systems to promote intellectual self-confidence among the young faculty members. They are mostly under recognised and invisible in the absence of supporting systems. Many of them lose their faith in academia in the process. Most of the seminars and conferences conducted across the country seldom initiate serious academic discussions. Faculty members attend such programmes to improve their scores in Academic Performance Indicator (API) designed by the UGC for career promotions. In such a situation, one who initiates intellectual discussions will be looked down disapprovingly by others.

Intellectual Snobbery

The opposite of intellectualism in today’s academic institutions is not ignorance, but snobbery. A snob in this context is the one who pretends as a major player in an institution using his clerical skills in the absence of any substantial academic contributions. Snobs are usually poor in terms of their subject knowledge and intellectual acumen. But they presume to know how to network with people, what kind of attire befits a given occasion, what is a proper accent, how to hold a fork or knife etc. Snobbery in academia converts routine commonsensical and clerical activities in the institution into specialised skills by making them their exclusive domain. This tendency is further accentuated with over dependency on technology.

All educational institutions at least have some snobs in them. Usually, they are able to get easy access to higher offices as they spend much of their time in publicity and swagger. They find all shortcuts to climb to the top hierarchy. Some of them manage to assume important intermediary offices in universities. If so, they disapprove of anybody attempting to excel through intellectual enrichment as that goes against their survival. They prefer changes and adjustments in the system to privilege themselves in the first place. Their ascendance in an institution undermines the development of the talented ones.
Language Elitism

In the past, English was considered essential for intellectual development as it brought to home the abundant western philosophy and literature. Most of our early nationalist leaders and academicians were educated abroad and are fluent in English. Knowledge of English language was equated with knowledge itself. Today, it has a conspicuous side.
English is also a language of corporate use.  Its varied accents and usages are often used to showcase ones’ class and status. This new understanding of the use of English has percolated into the academia. Many academicians with analytical bent of mind do not get attention as they are handicapped of English language whereas the mediocre ones, with a good tongue of English, could create an impression with substandard content and plagiarised ideas.  

Foster heterogeneity

The tendency to standardise procedures will naturally accompany the exponential quantitative growth of an educational institution. Growth of technology and communication added fuel to this trend. Today, voices against this trend could be heard from most of the premier educational institutions in the country.

The linchpins of intellectual growth are freedom and heterogeneity. Standardisation goes against these principles and demoralises the workforce.  Managing the workforce in an educational institution is different from that of it in a factory setting which requires standardized procedures. Therefore, a good educational system is the one designed intrinsically to foster heterogeneity. This will also help to pool talents from a highly diverse country like ours. Indian universities have to introspect to compete globally.

(the author is assistant professor of sociology, Christ University)

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