The classical model of building universities seems to be fading and along with it the whole foundation on which universities were built are going through a major transformation. In the Indian context Universities provided the basis of knowledge creation and were considered the place where good citizens were preparing for the task of Nation building. Traditionally the Universities were protected and insulated from government and political interference. The leadership of these universities was hard task masters with extensive knowledge in the field of their expertise; above all they were people who commanded respect in the society. In the current scenario, the leadership in our universities is determined by the political affiliations and how much time a person spends on the corridors of the Human Resource Ministry. In this process, those that deserve and are good have no interest in taking such positions. Another way to look at it is that they may not even be considered for such positions as they do not belong to any political lobby. So we have the Universities resting on the shoulders of those 20 percent of the teachers who still have a lot of hope from the system.
Teachers have lost interest in academics and more interested in teachers associations and teaching in coaching classes to make that extra money. Seldom is there a cause that is raised by the teachers association which takes the long-term view of the University and the students. The whole concept of academic and intellectual freedom has been misused and abused by the academic class of people. If you try and push policies to streamline out university system, there is a revolt by the teachers who say that their intellectual and academic freedom is being curtailed. In the past these terms had a different meaning. Academic and intellectual freedom provided the much needed push to differ in ideology, philosophy and the art of knowledge creation. Academicians were free to agree or disagree with a given point of view. This is what created public and academic debates. Through these debates and differences the new areas of knowledge and research emerged. Every department in a university had people with wide diversity of views and thinking representing the left, right and the center. The understanding why our universities started to decline is critical to forging new direction through which the newly created private universities can travel the path to excellence.
If we reflect back on the history of Indian Universities, we can look very proudly to the kind of leadership we had in place. What went wrong and what lessons we can draw from history is something that we all need to ponder. It also raises questions on what type of leadership can we put in place to ensure that slowly we are in a position to begin to salvage the decline of our universities. It is my belief that the private universities are in a better position to chart their way as compared to the public universities. The political invasion in public universities is so high that we still need to see higher degree of damage before order can be restored. I am beginning to see a day when most public Universities in India will have IAS officers who will be Vice Chancellor’s and Registrars and the universities are likely to become parking place for a lot of incompetent Administrators in the government.
Private Universities on the other hand have more control over their destiny. They can take advantage of their current status to forge ahead of the public universities over the next ten years. This will however require that they travel the path with long-term objectives and manage their cost and expenditure equations effectively. They will need to built academic credibility in a market place which is already is a mess (thanks to some private players). In my view the following steps would be critical to setting up good private Universities in India. These can be referred to as the 3 Ps for building private Universities. Each of these three Ps is critical in creating an Island of Excellence in education.
1. Passion: the most important aspect of building a good Private University is the Passion for creating something new and different. This holds good for both owners/promoters as well as academic leadership in place.
2. Patience: have the courage to wait and let things settle down over years. Five years a decent time when you can start expecting some return on investments. Universities have a long gestation period and expectation of a return just like a factory is not going to be possible.
3. Pockets: Promoters need to have deep pockets and be able to fund the project for a few years. This will ensure that the faculty and the leadership are focused on academic excellence rather than selling for student recruitment.
If these three aspects can be put to practice the private Universities have a great future in India. These three aspects related to what is necessary from the promoters point of view. There are aspects that come in the domain of Academic Administration which should be left to those who know what is best for the Universities to grow. I would however like to put a list that would provide a broad framework for good academic culture to exist.
The leadership of the university is critical to its academic culture. It is thus, necessary that the right person is identified for the job. Besides being an academic he needs to be able to carry a large team of people from diverse backgrounds together towards a single objective and to create an academic culture of quality teaching & research. It is important to invest in good faculty as this has a long term benefits. Above all look at ways of determining the eligibility of students not just based on their marks/grades but their overall aptitude for the degree program. In recruiting faculty look for ways to identifying those that have strong credentials in research and publications. This will be a rare product in the market as the research culture among the faculty on the decline.
There is a need to create a culture of trust among the faculty, staff and administrators. Such a level of faith will create a University which is highly student centered, progressive and experimental in its approach. Private University administrators should be ready to take the challenge of extensive training of their faculty resources not only in the areas of academic delivery but in the areas of personal development as well. The fear that if we invest too much on faculty and they leave is unfounded. If every private university thinks on the same line we would all have created a set of good faculty irrespective of which university they are going to work. I feel this is a service to the academic fraternity. Some of these steps will go a long way in creating good private universities.