What HEIs need

Higher education is the harbinger of the knowledge economy that underpins national development.
Last Updated : 22 October 2023, 18:20 IST

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Colleges and universities constitute the higher education system. The importance of higher education cannot be overstated. It is in this domain that iconic leaders, distinguished scholars, legendary statesmen, corporate leaders, business stalwarts, finance wizards, industry doyens, and management honchos are nurtured. It also produces a multitude of nation-builders, including teachers, intellectuals, doctors, engineers, scientists, and eminent netizens. In short, higher education is the harbinger of the knowledge economy that underpins national development.

Facilitation of Autonomy: Progressive Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) must embody self-governance. No institution of higher learning or research can thrive under excessive controls and regulations. On the contrary, it is said that excessive regulations strangulate even performing institutions. The world’s top universities serve as examples of institutions that enjoy the unbridled liberty to chart their own path. Autonomy empowers HEIs to design their development roadmap with minimal interference from external sources, whether political, bureaucratic, or judicial.

Thrust on Quality: In the post-independence era, we have witnessed phenomenal growth in HEIs, with over 44,000 colleges and 1,100 universities. While expansion is essential, the next phase of development should prioritise quality to produce knowledgeable and employable graduates. Quality begets quality, leading to a virtuous cycle. State-of-the-art infrastructure and a team of talented, competent, and committed faculty are essential to achieve and maintain quality, as reflected by the evaluation of NAAC (National Assessment Accreditation Council), NIRF (National Institutional Ranking Framework), and global ranking agencies like THE (Times Higher Education) and QS (Quaquarelli-Symonds). In a
competitive world, there is no substitute for quality.

New Paradigm of Governance and Leadership: Efficient governance should be participative, accountable, transparent, responsible, responsive, effective, and inclusive. Each HEI should have a Board of Governors (BOG) consisting of highly competent professionals with proven track records. They should foster a ‘semi-corporate culture’ for wise decision-making and rapid implementation of developmental projects. It must be noted that academic brilliance alone does not guarantee the governing capabilities in a Vice-Chancellor (VC). Many HEIs suffer due to poor governance. A model akin to the Indian Institute of Management should be considered, where the BOG selects both the director and the chairman positions equivalent to those of VC and Chancellor.

Financial Stability: Higher education is becoming more expensive due to high capital and recurrent costs, regardless of the government’s efforts (or promises) to make it affordable. Government grants are decreasing and are often limited to salaries, pensions, and administrative expenses, leaving little for development. HEIs must explore alternative avenues to mobilise internal resources, such as private endowments, corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds, philanthropic donations, self-financing schemes, and differential fee structures based on return on investment (ROI). The government could establish a ‘Higher Education Development Corporation’ to provide liberal lending for novel developmental projects, especially in information technology and biotechnology. Alumni can also contribute significantly to HEIs, as seen with IITs Delhi and Bombay and IISc Begaluru. Nurturing students entrepreneurship can further boost resource generation and enhance the quality of education.

Discontinuation of Affiliation: This archaic legacy of the British Raj that does not exist anywhere in the developed world has to be summarily abolished by 2035, as rightly recommended by NEP-2020. Sponsors of new colleges, whether private or government, must operate in compliance with the policy framework laid down by the UGC as well as the State Council for Higher Education. Colleges established under this new paradigm should be allowed to function freely for the first five years without unnecessary interference. Thereafter, their functioning should be reviewed by an expert committee. Those that have shown signs of progress shall be permitted to continue, while others with poor performance shall be mercilessly shut down (this stipulation must be clearly set forth in the guidelines for starting new colleges). All colleges, young and old, shall be autonomous or constituents of universities of their choice, as suggested by NEP-20.

Internationalisation: A university is not exclusively a local body or regional centre. Its true character as a cradle for the universality of learning and scholarship transcends geographical barriers. Therefore, the appointment of faculty and the admission of students from overseas have to be encouraged. World university ranking agencies assign considerable weight to the international milieu of HEIs. Universities such as Harvard and Stanford in the US and Oxford and Cambridge in the UK that figure within the top 10 global ranking lists have an assemblage of a large number of teachers and students from abroad. A university justifies its nomenclature by being global but not local.

Impetus for Research: Research should be an integral part of a university’s (if not of a college’s) academic endeavours. Research publications in peer-reviewed journals with a high impact factor coupled with patents and innovations contribute to the advancement of knowledge, which is vital for enriching human capital and economic prosperity. As in the case of internationalisation, world rankings are determined, apart from other parameters, by the quality of research output. It is believed that vibrant research reinforces interdisciplinary teaching.

Distance Learning: Open distance learning (ODL) must be an inseparable complementary part of the traditional system. Online education is gaining acceptance across the world as the transmission of knowledge through information technology becomes cheaper and faster. It is time that our HEIs get fully geared up for this emerging mode of imparting education to a larger section of society.

The PPP model: The acute liquidity crunch of the State, which prohibits opening new HEIs, can be ameliorated to a great extent by this partnership with private edupreneurs who have abundant financial resources. As the government owns the expensive land, a working formula could be evolved for shared undertakings, as in the case of operations in railways, airways, ports, defence production, and other public amenities.

It must be mentioned that quality higher education heralds improvisation in many areas, as recently demonstrated by China and South Korea. Our nation’s transformation as a developed country is inextricably linked, apart from strides in other fronts, with the robustness of its higher education system.

(The writer is a former vice chancellor of the University of Mysore)

Published 22 October 2023, 18:20 IST

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