14/3/2020 : The Hindu Editorials Summary Notes : Mains Sure Shot 


Question – Will freeing Indian universities from excessive interference and politicization improve their condition. Discuss with reference to their position in world ranking.

Context – Poor performance of Indian universities.

At present:

  • In the recent subject-wise ranking of world universities by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), Indian institutions improved with 26 departments or schools placed in the top 100 of their respective disciplines.
  • Not even a single Indian university features in the QS ranking of the world’s top 150 in overall parameters. The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) of Bombay and Delhi are at the 152nd and 182nd places in the overall rankings, while IISc Bangalore appears at the 184th position.

What we can learn from top universities :

  • All the top five American names in this QS’s list are private universities, while the British and Swiss institutions are public universities which have nonetheless enjoyed significant autonomy from governmental control over decades.
  • One common factor behind the success of the topmost universities is the freedom with which they operate.
  • They have been major centres of innovation in teaching and research thanks to independence from bureaucratic or corporate meddling and political intervention by parties of the day.
  • They could remain centres of extraordinary excellence in a sustained way by focusing on intellectual ideas and solutions to problems, and avoiding becoming hostage to dogmatic thought.

Other factors :

  • All the great universities of the world are ideologically pluralistic, with a mix of right, left and centre among their faculty and students.
  • Professors and students are free to choose whatever opinion they prefer.
  • The top universities are also excellent at attracting and retaining talent.
  • They hire professors very selectively, based on outstanding scholarly abilities.
  • They reject a large number of candidates for admission as students, and admit only the brightest and the most meritorious.
  • Top universities incentivise publication and citation of research in an unforgivingly rigorous way. If an Assistant Professor does not produce brilliant publications in the most reputed journals of her field, she may lose her job and not get tenured as an Associate Professor.
  • By insisting on tough standards which are never lowered or relaxed, these universities promote a meritocratic culture as a habit.
  • Big universities also inculcate critical thinking, debating and writing abilities in their students.
  • They encourage students to look at issues through interdisciplinary lenses and to challenge their own professors.
  • They award grades to students who are argumentative and who question conventional wisdom in the classroom and in assignments. This type of interactive pedagogy produces champion graduates who have a reputation for cutting-edge skills and knowledge in the job market compared to peers from second- or third-tier universities.
  • The world’s best universities are known for involving their own alumni in governance and reforms. Top global universities are also super-smart financial managers.
  • Many of them, especially the U.S. universities, have sophisticated alumni offices through which they raise funding, which can exceed the revenue from student tuition fees.
  • By 2019, the total endowment of Harvard was worth $40 billion, which is made up of over 13,000 individual funds.
  • Harvard invests this money in a variety of financial instruments and generates phenomenal income from it.
  • These big universities are products of historical circumstances which relied on private philanthropy, colonial plunder or governmental subsidies to reach the level they are at today.

The Chinese example:

  • China with massive state funding has propelled Chinese universities into the top tiers in barely two decades. In the QS world rankings on overall basis, Tsinghua University is ranked number 16, Peking University is at 22, Fudan University is at 40.

Why Indian universities are far behind :

1.Spending : India spends 3.4% of GDP on education, world average is 4.9%.

  1. Poor emphasis on learning outcomes.
  2. Teachers :quality issues and also the numbers.
  3. Focus on quantity rather than quality.
  4. R&D : Lack of research and creativity.
  5. Politics : Political interference in higher education.
  6. Wrong incentives to study. People aren’t taught to be passionate about the subject topics they choose to pursue but rather rely on extrinsic factors such as money, fame, societal status, etc.
  7. Capitation fees.
  8. Poor employability of graduates.
  9. Poor Infrastructure: Our engineers are still taking lab. readings on machines from the 1950s.

What should India do ?

  • In India, as the government is cash-strapped and lacks the kind of resources which the Chinese state deployed to pump-prime Chinese universities, our only viable path to world class universities is in the form of enlightened private philanthropy and borrowing best practices from established iconic universities.
  • Avoiding politicisation, ideological rigidity and nepotism
  • freeing our universities from excessive interference and over-regulation
  • spending in infrastructure
  • focusing on research activity
  • Ingrained mediocrity and laid-back culture which result in inadequate training of students in theories and methodologies have to be overcome.
  • A nationalistic passion for India to be recognised as a top educational hub must underpin the strategies and activities of our universities.

Way forward

  • The government’s decision to identify 20 Institutes of Eminence (IOEs) which will get maximum autonomy from bureaucracy in order to climb up the world rankings is a step in the right direction. The selected IOEs must innovate with new degree programmes, expanded variety of faculty members and digital learning platforms.
  • India has miles to go in higher education. Unlike in authoritarian and top-down China, there is little likelihood of a meteoric breakout of multiple Indian universities into the top 100 of the world at a rapid clip. Still, with long-term vision and selfless leadership, our universities can eventually make it.To be among the best in the world, Indian universities must be freed from excessive interference and politicization.

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