What is pulling back our universities in India?


There is a common agreement in the opinion that the quality of the Indian universities is not just poor, but declining. It is now evident that the best Indian universities during the early twentieth century are no longer the best. Even the newer universities which promised to impart quality education have fallen short of the promise.

There exists a large difference between the solutions brought forward to fix the problems which include welcoming foreign universities and offering higher salaries to faculty. But what is left out in the study is the process that has resulted in the present situation, particularly the refusal to recognize the difference between economic elite and intellectual elite.

The mistaken concepts

The difference should be projected at the very first stage in the process of deciding the objectives of a policy towards the two elites. It is often possible to take steps to bring down economic inequality, even at the cost of introducing limits on how rich elite can be.

But in the case of intellectual elite, success is often measured in terms of increasing inequality with those at the top of ideas pyramid and those at the far bottom. In the case of economic realm, the principle of growth and equity is acceptable. How ever in the case of intellectual realm, what is required by the principles is intellectual inequality.

Both economic elite and intellectual elite are how ever not independent of each other. Those in the economic elite can afford better education, and so those with a better education will have a better take off in the world of business, especially in the knowledge industries. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that those underprivileged in both economic and social realm receives better attention in the field of education, whether it is through scholarship or reservation.

Problem arises when the interdependence influences the internal dynamics of the two realms. The economic realm will fail if the members consider the support from their peers above actual material gain, and the intellectual realm will fail if the members look only for economic gain rather than peer recognition fro their intellectual recognition.

Infrastructure given attention

Unfortunately in India, the economic realm receives more importance than the intellectual realm. Usually we in India have the tendency to rate a university on the basis of infrastructure. The beginning of a university or educational institution is marked by the granting of huge amounts of land, on which large physical infrastructure is built.

Intellectuals attracted to administrative roles

The size and quality of the infrastructure makes it a favorite destination for individuals. Thus the reward for intellectual achievement is the administrative control of such infrastructure. Now most the intellectuals prefer administrative role than academic role. Such administrative roles are available in plenty as the academic institutions look for individuals with excellent academic credentials as their directors rather than those with administrative credentials. While the intellectuals may excel as good administrators, it is not guaranteed. The shift of intellectuals to administrative roles has resulted in scarcity in the intellectual space.

In the process of building universities that are rich in infrastructure, intellectuals often leave behind their achievements. This results in a situation where, the value of any recognition given to their peers is diluted. Now peer recognition has to come from abroad, particularly from the west. As a result academicians who deserve peer recognition and are capable of receiving it migrate to the western universities. Such intellectuals seek only peer recognition and nothing else.

Intellectuals in India becomes data collectors

In the case of those intellectuals who wish to stay in India and seek peer recognition, they have no other way other than researching on topics that are of interest to the western universities. This has become a barrier for those who wish to conduct research on topics which are significant in the Indian context and will be a achievement for them. On the other hand academicians are forced to conduct research on western topics, which makes them just data collectors for western academicians.

The administrative role becomes so attractive that it reduces the future scope of intellectual role. As the more and more intellectuals are attracted towards administrative role, the future generations will have to keep on depending on the west for peer recognition. Earlier, students from India went abroad for their higher education, i.e. for post graduate studies. But now students prefer west for their undergraduate studies as well.

Indian universities and the global rankings

Every year different universities around the world are evaluated based on certain criterions and are ranked on their performance on these criterions. Some of the criterions are quality of teaching, research activities, international outlook etc.

This year the list was dominated by universities from the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe. There were few universities from Asia as well. There was no single university from India in the top 200 list. IIT Bombay was ranked between 300 and 350. What happened to the rest of the IIT’s and the IIM’s?

Recently Narayanamurthy, CEO of Infosys has commented about the declining quality of the IIT graduates. He said that 80 per cent of the IIT graduates are unemployable. They are trained by institutes to crack entrance examinations and such students lack the ability to analyze problems critically. They just find out solutions to problems, but do not look at the logic behind the solutions. As a result students follow the same approach every time and thus lack in innovation. Innovation should be encouraged by educational institutions by adopting effective methods of teaching.

The steps taken towards improving the quality of education institutions are not clear in terms of bringing in improvement to break the barriers. Brining in more foreign universities will only further increase the role of western peer recognition. More over these universities are interested in the economic gains that they will be able to reap from the Indian educational sector. We need to revive the education system that created J. C Bose, C.V. Raman and many other intellectuals in India.



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