Adapt, or die

Mantra for Universities

Adaptation to changes in the ambient environment is the success story of organisms enunciated by Charles Darwin in his magnum opus, Origin of Species [1859]. In biological parlance, adaptive radiation accounts for wider distribution of a species over varied ecological niches. It is believed that the dinosaurs of the Jurassic Period [60-70 million years ago] vanished en masse largely because of their inability to adapt to the drastic changes in the physical world around them.

In the current globalised scenario, higher education has become both competitive and expensive. Besides, one of the tough challenges for providers of higher education is to meet the increasing demand of students and parents for high quality education with an assurance of remunerative employment.

For instance, opportunities for campus placements is a common query of stakeholders. In these conditions, our universities need to adapt and adopt certain practical and novel strategies for sustenance of planned growth. Programs of teaching and research in higher education institutions [HEIs] should blend productive knowledge with the requisite skills — both soft and hard.

The stark reality is that it is less important how long a HEI has been in existence than how well it is recognised as a centre of higher learning and research. Hence, the scale of accreditation and the status of inter-university ranking are the crucial benchmarks of quality and identity. With an increasing number of HEIs in the country, plus greater participation of foreign universities, the magnitude of competition has significantly increased over the years. Therefore, new norms are
required to meet these emerging trends.

Adaptation

State-of-the-art infrastructure and retention of competent faculty demand abundant financial resources. Financial stability, needless to say, is the soul of any organisation. Self-reliance warrants adequate financial resources through channels such as tuition and other fees, alumni contribution and endowments, philanthropy, corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds, etc.

The escalating capital and recurrent expenditure need perennial monetary support. Autonomy, even if granted by the UGC/ government, becomes dysfunctional and meaningless in the absence of robust financial strength. Likewise, sustenance of quality is not possible without modern facilities for teaching–learning–training regimen. Therefore, a good proportion (not less than 15-20%) of the annual budget of a HEI must be set apart for development.

Universities must adapt to the new compulsions of employability, global benchmarks of quality, multiple accreditation, ranking, competition stemming from globalisation and, more important than all, parents’ and students’ expectation of earning potential of UG/PG degrees. Similarly, the governance needs new orientation and it would be expedient to have talented MBAs, MCAs and CAs for the switch-over to responsive management from today’s lackadaisical administrative set-up. Globally, the governance of top universities manifests adaptive, responsible and innovative strategies.

Our HEIs need to prepare well to face the inter-university challenges posed by private universities, deemed-to-be universities, open universities (with ODL and MOOC platforms), standalone institutions of higher learning and foreign universities. A radical approach towards learning is required in view of accessibility of technology-driven tools for knowledge accumulation and retrieval that substantially complement the age-old classroom learning.

In addition, a new paradigm of admissions, evaluation, declaration of results, issuance of marks cards and degree certificates has to be put in place. Inter-university mobility and crossover of disciplines by students in a flexible and adaptive system of transfer of credits is the need of the hour. Universities should open up to ‘cafeteria mode’ of inter-disciplinary and multidisciplinary learning regimen. The changing perception of stakeholders necessitates vibrant adaptive responses of HEIs to be competitive and innovative.

Adoption

Freedom to function is a prime requisite. Autonomy implies regulation from within and should be coupled with accountability and transparency. As the adage ‘as you sow, so you reap’ suggests, the success, recognition and reputation of a university are dependent on the adoption of globally-tested and deployed healthy practices.

Higher education institutions need an ‘Innovation Team’ to constantly take stock of emerging trends to reinforce teaching, research and governance. Adoption of new technologies, say for rainwater harvesting, solar energy, sewage treatment and water recycling, vermicomposting, gardening and landscaping, albeit non-academic issues, are nevertheless important pursuits.

Universities need ‘out of the box’ creative thinkers and people who dare to fail in research. HEIs must have an international outlook and milieu for learning and fostering scholarship and intellectualism. Adoption of the doctrine of self-reliance and self-governance enables universities to be independent, innovative and creative.

Greater internationalisation in student admissions, faculty appointments, academic programs (for example, dual degrees, twinning/joint certification), research collaboration, faculty-student exchange programs, conferences, seminars, etc., enhance the identity of a HEI in the comity of progressive universities.

Adoption of new norms of semi-corporate governance with research as a thrust activity will lead to intellectual property rights through patents. Such endeavours will also augment financial resources. Strict adherence to merit and competence while appointing faculty without extraneous consideration of caste, religion and region and liberal/flexible admission policies will enhance the prestige of universities. Nurturing meritocracy is a must. Performers must be encouraged, non-performers culled out.

Internationally-accepted benchmarks have to be adopted for transforming our universities from ‘teaching shops’ to vibrant intellectual harbours. The involvement of accomplished alumni and aggressive talent hunt in recruitment of faculty are essential. Incentives to good performers will facilitate retention and minimise attrition.

HEIs must ensure knowledge acquisition with skill infusion for realising the twin objectives of education — enlightenment and empowerment. In brief, those HEIs which adapt and adopt well to change, will survive whereas those that fail to do so may eventually vanish. 

(The writer is former Vice Chancellor, University of Mysore)

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