Kolkata, Nov 6 (IANS) Stressing that public and private investment in higher education can spur economic growth, social development and enhance India’s reputation across the world, a senior academician here on Wednesday outlined a 10-point agenda to build institutions of eminence, capable of connecting the local needs with global aspirations.
“Access to world class education enables creation of a knowledge economy. Global organisations, like the World Bank, have demonstrated through empirical research that countries that increase their GDP investment in education not only succeed in eradicating illiteracy but also raise wages and household income and reduce economic disparity,” said C. Raj Kumar, founding vice-chancellor of the O.P. Jindal Global University.
Recognised by the Indian government as an Institution of Eminence (IoE), the O.P. Jindal Global University is an initiative of the Jindal Steel & Power Foundation. It’s the only non-STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and non-medicine university to be recognised as an IoE.
Kumar said the demographic dividend of having 850 million Indians who were below 35 years of age could positively impact the country’s economy and society through quality education.
“We have neglected the skill-based vocational sector, which is a key driver for new opportunities and economic empowerment. The educational transformation required in India can only be achieved through a higher public and private investment in the sector,” he said.
With none of the Indian universities featuring among the top 100, Kumar spoke of a 10-point growth and reform plan for these institutions to enable them “achieve excellence and also move up in global rankings”.
Foremost on the agenda is the necessity to set up private or public universities, which are not-for-profit in nature, and are established through philanthropy.
“While there is need for consensus building and closer interaction among the University Grants Commission, the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the NITI Aayog, the importance of promoting academic freedom and institutional autonomy should also be recognised,” said Kumar, an Oxford and Harvard alumnus.
The agenda highlighted the need for setting up multi-disciplinary universities and providing adequate resources for the faculty to undertake cross-disciplinary research promoting innovativeness, remaining socially relevant and serving the needs of the country.
Kumar also stressed a transparent admission process with no management quota, developing international networks and collaborations with leading foreign universities, besides hiring outstanding faculty both from the country and abroad.
“Hiring of outstanding faculty, inspiring teachers and prolific researchers has been a major challenge that we are facing. The data on that is depressing. Over 30-40 per cent of faculty positions are vacant in central varsities. Over 40-50 per cent faculty positions are unfilled in the state public universities,” he said.
Calling for building a culture of research and publications in every discipline, he regretted that “indifference and complacency in research has led to the inability of universities to produce knowledge that can impact policy, produce innovation or provide solutions to social, political and economic problems that affect the nation”.
It was also important for the universities to embrace the international rankings framework as well as global accreditation processes that would benchmark them with world class universities.
The penultimate point in Kumar’s plan is promoting diversity, inclusion and accessibility. “For organisations that seek to succeed in contemporary times, institutionalising the ideas of diversity and inclusion represents an opportunity to advance the possibilities of dialogue and mutual understanding,” he said.
Last but not the least, Kumar called for developing active participation of all stakeholders — students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, in addition to relevant government agencies and departments, institutional collaborators, potential donors and neighbouring communities — for good governance.
“This would help the university take decisions in an independent and transparent manner,” he said.