Institutions of Eminence

16th March – Institutions of Eminence

Temples of critical thinking and debate

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. Science, technology and business studies were the fields in which our universities showed their mettle.

A common thread –

  • 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 according primacy to matters of the mind, i.e. intellectual ideas and solutions to problems, and avoiding becoming hostage to dogmatic thought. All the great universities of the world are ideologically pluralistic, with a mix of right, left and centre among their faculty and students.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Learning from China –

A muscular push from the government of 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, and Zhejiang University is at 54.

What can 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 are in the form of enlightened private philanthropy and borrowing best practices from established iconic universities.
  • Avoiding politicisation, ideological rigidity and nepotism, and freeing our universities from excessive interference and over-regulation, are prerequisites for success.
  • A nationalistic passion for India to be recognised as a top educational hub must underpin the strategies and activities of our universities.

Conclusion –

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. India’s democratic and contested character renders change evolutionary and cumulative. Still, with long-term vision and selfless leadership, our universities can eventually make it.

SourceThe Hindu

QUESTIONWhat would it take for Indian universities to feature in topmost institutions of the world? Examine the factors behind the success of foreign universities and suggest a way forward for India.

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