Before I start writing this blog, I want to say that I am a product of the same system that I will be writing on and it pains when I do that. It is however important that we recognize the need for change and to work towards achieving the same.
The University System in India is going through what I call as systemic disorder where it is difficult to think of the point where we can start to make the changes. Over the last 25 years the decline in the standards that universities follow has seen a major decline. In this blog I would like to highlight these points of decline and try to list the reasons for the same. I would like to identify the path that we can travel in order to reform the existing system. I would not claim that process of reform that I am listing are final but are just the starting point of a debate that is so much needed in this country.
Analysis of Current Situation:
If we go deep into the operation of India’s University System the first thing that we find is that with the exception of a few universities such as Delhi University and JNU, most of them have lost the academic credibility that is so much required for excellence. To a large extent this has resulted from interference from Government which has controlled the functioning of these institutions of higher learning. Today Universities do not enjoy the autonomy that they used to enjoy in the past. There are instances where IAS officers are being appointed as Vice Chancellors and registrars of Universities. In sum there is complete loss of autonomy and a collapse of academic administration. Teachers of eminence do not want to become Vice Chancellors any more as they refuse to take the rounds of the HRD ministry to garner support for their appointment.
Teachers in Universities are now a very different lot compared to those 25 years back. The profession of teaching has gone through a major transformation. About 20 percent of teachers in universities are doing their job and they have become a minority. The other 80 percent are politicians who are very active in the politics of teachers associations I universities. They do little to rescue the university from the clutches of those who are destroying it. Many of them are teaching in coaching centers to generate additional income. Universities used to have some of the best research centers; today they don’t produce any research of substance. Most teachers are now writing only text books of very inferior quality. Most of them do not come to the university except on the days that they may have classes. They hardly put in about 10 to 15 hours a week in the university. This is defined as academic freedom by them. Given the time that teachers spend at the university, they are paid even higher than the industry standard. The UGC has done a great deal of damage to the profession of teaching by introducing the concept of automatic promotions in universities. Now every teacher who enters the university is guaranteed to retire as a professor at the minimum. This does not require him to do anything other than wait for a specified number of years.
Appointments in universities have become too political. There is personal interest in every appointment from the lowest to the highest level. The state universities have become local in their outlook. About 75 to 80 percent of teachers are from the local community and a large number of them are related to each other. Vice Chancellors and heads of departments have been known to appoint their sons, daughters and close relatives in the university system. This has led to localized university system in a globalized world.
The student body within the State Universities has also become localized and each university attracts students from the districts around it. This has led to a loss of diversity among the student body which is so essential for learning. Various state governments have imposed restriction or barriers to entry for students from other states for one reason or the other. This is done in the name of protecting the interest of students from the local area. It is evident that these barriers have been created to overcome the shortage that exists in the education sector but this has destroyed the open culture of universities.
Towards a New Development Path:
Universities and colleges have multiplied numerically and expanded physically: number of students has increased enormously, and so has the number of teachers, and employees. University campuses have grown, as have several other physical facilities. We tend to call these changes as development but the values that go to make development a reality have declined. In the world of nature, functioning precedes growth. Growth has to conform to efficient functioning to meet the objectives of the system. Each bout of growth makes the system larger and therefore more complex requiring a new set of rules and guidelines. If such rules and guidelines are not evolved, the system gets derailed. Our universities have grown but the live wires that make it functionally efficient and effective have not changed; they are the same old ones of British days.
Return to Functional Mode: It is now time for universities to return to the task of what they were created for.
Academic Audit: Quality control systems should be put in place and curriculum development should be an ongoing process.
Autonomy with Responsibility: Absolute autonomy in developing courses, shutting departments, appointments and examinations should be allowed but with a greater degree of responsibility of administrators.
Open door Policy: Admission of students and recruitment of faculty should be at national and international level and we should give up localization of universities.
Administrative restructuring: There should be complete restructuring of University administration to bring it at par with corporate performance measures in operation.