The ‘Search’ for Eminence
India’s dream of translating its global economic presence into the knowledge spheres has seen mixed results. As the world’s third largest economy (in purchasing power parity terms), it is odd that corresponding improvements in development indicators, especially education, are absent. In 2017, India ranked 131 in the United Nations human development index out of 188 countries. In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings of 2018, only 30 Indian higher educational institutions featured in the top 1000 and none in the top 250. In the QS World University Rankings of 2018, only 20 HEIs feature in the top 1000 and only 3 in the top 250. Evidently, India, with the third largest education system in the world after the United States of America and China, lacks the global institutional presence matching its economic status. Why this dismal (pitifully or disgracefully bad.) showing by a country of this size, talent and economic prowess (skill or expertise in a particular activity or field.) and what can we do to change things? It is widely recognized that the higher education system in India is collapsing (sagging): this is not just a problem at the top but spreads across all levels of education, school onwards. Numerous solutions have been suggested to catapult (move or change suddenly or at great speed) India’s presence to the forum of the world’s top ranking universities.
The idea of creating world-class HEIs has been on the University Grants Commission’s agenda as a recommendation of the National Knowledge Commission for almost a decade. The eleventh plan of the government had envisaged the establishment of 14 “world-class” HEIs in India. There is now a proposal to allocate up to Rs 20,000 crore for establishing 20 HEIs as ‘institutions of eminence’ (equally divided among the private and the public sector). Why an equal number of private and public HEIs will be selected is not clear since in the National Institute Ranking Framework 2017 only five private HEIs feature in the top 20 and only 13 in the top 50.
The promotion of a small number of HEIs is an island approach. Apart from creating some elite HEIs, its impact on nation-building is iffy (doubtful). Critics have pointed out that such a strategy has the potential to fail. A set of world-class HEIs would need to stand on a broad-based, well-performing higher education system that feeds into and from each other rather than by stand-alone HEIs.
The human resource development ministry’s proposal for creating IoEs does recognize the long-standing problem of India’s HE sector – finance and institutional flexibility. While this strategy may open the purse strings for these 20 elite (nonpareil) HEIs, it would still not address the issue of governance deficit in HEIs. State universities limit student entry and faculty recruitment to domicile requirements and lack not only an international outlook but also a national feel by curbing competition. Internal hiring that is common in India effectively blocks the entry of new ideas and seeks subservience (the condition of being less important than something else.) among students. Hiring of vice-chancellors and directors is a political decision. The interference of politicians in the governance of HEIs in India is not new; it has led to great institutions
being decimated (drastically reduce the strength or effectiveness of (something).). Presidency University is a classic example. The institution saw a systematic decimation due to political interference. Efforts to revive it as an independent university have floundered (struggle or stagger clumsily) so far. Only time will tell if Jawaharlal Nehru University will go the same way (though it would be unfair to compare the two institutions).
The governance deficit in HEIs has its impact on institutional management and pursuit of research. The UGC undertakes frequent changes in rules and regulations. Sometimes universities do not have the institutional ability to implement them. And, on other occasions, HEIs simply ignore directions knowing that the UGC is handicapped, with hardly any mechanism to ensure that its directions are adhered to. Mechanisms like NIRF and NAAC, their lacunae (unfilled spaces) notwithstanding, would hopefully bring some transparency to the HE system.
One other issue that plagues the Indian HE system is the lack of transparency and visibility in research output. Most well-known international HEIs place their publications and their student theses in digital repositories to showcase original ideas in the global knowledge community. Some have created their own institutional repositories while others are participants in multi-HEI aggregators. For example, the British Library hosts theses submitted in the United Kingdom and the ProQuest is host for HEIs of 88 countries, including US universities. In India, the UGC had mandated in 2009 that before awarding the PhD degree, it is the responsibility of every university to submit the thesis to its central agency for uploading on ‘Shodhganga’, an open access repository (a place where or receptacle in which things are or may be stored.).
The UGC is currently undertaking the exercise of identifying 20 IoE. One of the eligibility conditions is that they should be in the top 50 of the NIRF ranking. About a quarter of the top 50 HEIs (NIRF 2017) did not have a single thesis uploaded for the six-year period in Shodhganga. Of the top 100 HEIs, a quarter did not have a single thesis uploaded on this repository and 26 more HEIs had less than 50 theses listed to their credit for this period. If more than half of the top 100 universities in our country (in the last six years) have not uploaded their theses even when it is mandatory, are we ready to seek eminence and have a place in the global project of knowledge creation?
The UGC has now called for fresh applications from HEIs to be recognized as IoEs. Apart from the debate about selecting a small number of HEIs for exclusive privileges, there are concerns regarding the selection process. On the face of it, the process seems transpicuous (transparent.) and competitive till one realizes that the processing fee is one crore rupees. Most public HEIs would not be able to afford this and be deterred to even apply.
The need for such a strategy and process is debatable since the set of HEIs that could be eminent is small and their capabilities well-known. It begs the question whether we really are in search of eminence (prestige).
Courtesy: The Hindu (Economy)
- Catapult (verb): (hurl or launch (something) /move or change suddenly or at great speed) (प्रक्षेप करना)
Synonyms: Propel, Launch, Hurl, Hurtle, Fling.
Example: The economic downturn helped to catapult the republican candidate into the white house, because he blamed all problems on big government.
Verb forms: Catapult, Catapulted, Catapulted.
- Subservience (noun): (The condition of being less important than something else/ willingness to obey others unquestioningly.) (दासता/अधीनता)
Synonyms: Servility, Subordination, Submissiveness, Playing Second Fiddle.
Antonyms: Freedom, Independence.
Example: In order to be a good waitress, you need to be somewhat subservient as you wait on customers.
Subservient (adjective) – Submissive
- Decimate (verb): Literally – to destroy or greatly decrease in size or number. Figuratively- drastically reduce the strength or effectiveness of (something). (नुकसान पह ुँचाना/प्रभावशीलता कम कर देना)
Synonyms: Curtail, Dwindle, Diminish, Retrench
Antonyms: Ascend, Develop, Strengthen
Example: The people fled their homes as the fire threatened to decimate their community.
Verb forms: Decimate, Decimated, Decimated
Decimation (noun) – A drastic reduction in the strength or effectiveness of something.
- Flounder (verb): (Struggle or stagger clumsily) (जूझना)
Synonyms: Struggle, Battle, Conflict, Grapple, Fight
Antonyms: Stable, Secure, Endure, Establish.
Example: After it hit the iceberg, the Titanic was left to flounder in the Atlantic Ocean before it finally sank.
Verb forms: Flounder, Floundered, Floundered.
- Lacuna (noun): An unfilled space; a gap. (अन्तराल/अभाव)
Synonyms: Break, Cavity, Gap, Interim, Hiatus
Antonyms: Completeness, Excellence, Consummations
Example: As a critic it my duty to find the lacunae in the published books.
- Repository (noun): (A place where or receptacle in which things are or may be stored/A store of information or in which a particular quality may be found.) (कोष/भण्डार गृह)
Synonyms: Store, Storehouse, Depository; Reservoir, Repertory
Example: The bank’s repository contained hundreds of millions of dollars in cash and coins.
Verb forms: Reposit, Reposited, Reposited.
Reposit (verb) – Put (something) in a place for storage
- Transpicuous (adjective): (Easy to perceive or detect/ easily understood) (पारदशशक/स्पष्ट)
Synonyms: Transparent, Lucid, Unambiguous, Conspicuous.
Antonyms: Ambiguous, Obscure, Fuzzy, Vague.
Example: A system of government should be transpicuous
- Dismal (adjective): Pitifully or disgracefully bad. (खराब/ननराशाजनक)
Synonyms: Bad, Poor, Pitiful, Disgraceful, Unsatisfactory
Antonyms: Bright, Cheerful, Happy, Intelligent, Joyful
Example: The team ended the school year with a dismal record of one win and eleven losses.
Dismally (adverb) – ननराशाजनक ढंग से
- Sag (verb): Decline to a lower level, usually temporarily. (डगमगाना/कम होना)
Synonyms: Falter, Weaken, Languish, Flag, Fade, Wilt, Shrivel, Wither
Antonyms: Ascend, Increase, Rise.
Example: As the holiday season passed, the store’s sales started to sag.
Verb forms: Sag, Sagged, Sagged.
- Nonpareil (adjective): (Having no match or equal; unrivalled.) (अनितीय)
Synonyms: Incomparable, Matchless, Unrivalled, Unparalleled, Unequalled, Peerless, Unmatched.
Antonyms: Mediocre, Inferior.
Example: Because the restaurant’s food is nonpareil in the city, the dining establishment has a six-month waiting list.