India’s higher education needs to be saved from the rule of babus?

Business Standard has an Opinion Column by Devesh Kapur arguing that India’s higher education needs to be saved from the rule of babus?. He basically compares India with China and points out that China has very quickly become a major contributor to Science and Technology in the past few years, and India is falling behind.

This rise of China is not just about quantity: they are also improving their quality and capabilities:

Make no mistake: if a foreign institution wants to establish itself in China, it has to have a meaningful collaboration with a Chinese institution that can learn, copy and improve over time, just as Chinese businesses have done. But this self-confidence is lacking in India. If India’s political elites have been apprehensive of globalisation, the country’s intellectuals have been, for the most part, hostile; they have viewed themselves as valiant defenders of the nation against marauding foreigners. Patriotism is the best cover for self-interest.

How does India fare in comparison?

Not only is meritocracy a much more contested terrain in India, but the idea that there should be clear links between academic productivity, salaries and tenure, as in China, would meet fierce resistance from a vocal interest group, namely faculty. The University Grants Commission (UGC) rules, that faculty members in public institutions should automatically get promotions based on the length of service and have a common salary structure linked to civil service salaries set by an anachronistic authority called the Pay Commission, have reduced faculty to the status of babus. It is not surprising that so much of higher education in India – both overall regulation and the internal governance of universities – is what Pankaj Chandra, former director of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore, termed “babudom” – a regime of, for and by babus.

He goes on to lament that a very few babus in our government control the leadership positions in all our top institutions, and this can only lead to bad things:

Why should the HRD ministry have a role in the selection of an IIT or IIM director, or in the appointment of the vice-chancellor of a central university? The key stakeholders are the campus community (faculty, students and staff), alumni, and, yes, the national government. At the same time, an alumnus of an IIT has a far greater emotional stake in the success and future of his alma mater than a dozen bureaucrats in the HRD ministry or the selection panels they appoint.

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