In recent years, academic circles are anguished that non-performers are occupying the position of vice-chancellors (VCs), sending wrong signals to stakeholders. If such persons are rewarded with top academic positions, students and faculty members would be disillusioned.
About 30 state universities in Karnataka are governed by different procedures for appointment of VCs. A common set of procedures for appointment of VCs by amending the relevant provisions is called for.
Search committees constituted for selection of VCs enjoy total freedom of function, owing to the high level of academic expertise involved and are solely responsible for the names of persons empanelled. The roles of the government and the Chancellor are subsequent to and entirely dependent on the panel forwarded by the search committee.
The search committee is mandated by the relevant Act to empanel only eminent academicians and assist the government and the Chancellor in choosing a good academician. Powers, duties and responsibilities of the search committee may need to be redefined so that the desired objectives are obtained.
New universities are established to fulfil the special needs of a region, special purpose or theme to promote knowledge. To fulfil these goals, it is fundamental to appoint the first vice-chancellor with the required experience and academic leadership to ensure that the new university takes strong roots quickly.
At present, there are no particular standards for the appointment of VCs. For instance, it is prudent to appoint an accomplished woman academician as the first VC of the new Maharani Cluster University. Therefore, and notwithstanding anything else mentioned in the various universities’ Acts, the government should prudently use its special powers to nominate an accomplished academician as the first VC to ensure a strong foundation.
In general, the screening process need not be limited to the applicants alone; if necessary an eminent academician may be invited from any part of the country or even an NRI to demonstrate that merit alone is under consideration.
Relevance to NEP
My recommendation to appoint visionaries to lead universities finds ample support in the NEP as it identifies sub-optimal leadership and governance of Higher Education Institutions as one of the key weaknesses (performance drags) of the higher educational ecosystem in the country.
The NEP also prescribes that in addition to the top leadership, all other leadership positions in an HEI should be offered to persons with high academic qualifications. In essence, NEP has explicitly put in place a governance system for an HEI with a visionary as the leader. Section 19.4 of NEP prescribes that all leadership positions (not only the Head) in institutions must be offered to persons with high academic qualifications and demonstrated administrative and leadership capabilities along with abilities to manage complex situations.
Leaders of HEIs must demonstrate strong alignment to Constitutional values and the overall vision of the institution, along with attributes such as a strong social commitment, belief in teamwork, pluralism, and have a positive outlook. Leadership changes will come with sufficient overlaps, and not remain vacant, in order to ensure smooth transitions. Outstanding leaders will be identified and developed early, working their way through a ladder of leadership positions.
The key tasks expected of a VC in the 21st century, as detailed in the quotes from NEP, set very high expectations. He/she has the challenging task of aligning the university with the aspirational mandates of the NEP by:
Revamping the administrative system to deliver expected services
Exercise powers with caution and prudence to perform to full potential, in the best interest of the institution and the nation
Ensure a congenial academic ambience, a research culture
Chose competent academicians and educationists to the key positions of Academic Council and the Syndicate/Executive Council
Organise a Mentoring system to help the affiliated colleges attain competence for self-governance (autonomous status)
Usher in the new four-year undergraduate degree format and devise mechanisms and processes to ensure that students’ choice prevails;
Ensure maximum placement/employment opportunities for the graduates by establishing a university-industry linkage
In essence, lead the university from the front in academic, administrative and research sphered, to inspire staff and students.
Obviously, only an accomplished visionary-academician qualifies for the post of a VC to deliver the above solutions; appointing a VC merely on qualifications on paper without real academic accomplishments would be self-defeating.
The government should initiate urgent steps to align the procedures for appointment of VCs with my recommendations and the aspirational mandates of the NEP.
In addition to academic excellence, a VC appointee should have high integrity; otherwise, the cure would be worse
than the disease.
Prudence should be exercised by the authorities nominating experts to the screening committees. Appointing administrators as members of screening committees is unwarranted and anti-academic, else it will defeat the aspirations articulated by the NEP.
The government should demonstrate its commitment to promote merit and NEP to appoint a visionary and accomplished academician as the first VC of a new university.
In about a decade or so, all the colleges would move towards self-governance and autonomy as degree awarding institutions. Therefore, the stringent yardsticks prescribed by NEP for leadership of HEIs are also equally applicable to the Principals/Directors.
In view of my and NEP recommendations, it is incumbent upon the government to bring modifications to the existing Act.
The issues discussed above, should be reflected with appropriate emphasis to carry forward the objectives of NEP.
(The writer is Adviser, Education Reforms, Government of Karnataka)