Dean ISB’s take on the Yashpal Report

Some time back, I wrote about the view points of directors of various business institutions on the Yashpal report. Recently I got Ajit Rangnekar, Dean of Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad to present his views on the same document; He had some interesting suggestions:

a) Abolition of all regulatory bodies such as the AICTE and UGC

We have long recommended the rationalization of the regulatory structure in education, especially in Higher Education. Whatever be the purpose of the regulation, the simple truth is that there has been an ever increasing shortage of high quality Institutions. At the same time we have seen a proliferation of institutions of dubious quality.

b) Formation of National Commission of Higher Education and Research

The HRD Minister’s statements and his ideas are a breath of fresh air. I am sure all of us will want to support the growth of high quality education in India. The issue as always in India is not about the law, or the composition and the mandate of the Commission, but how it will actually function on the ground. We should focus on whether it will be able to achieve its objective of rapidly increasing the number of high quality institutions, and that is a tough question to answer.

c) Developing IITs and IIMs as full fledged universities that would grant degrees in all disciplines

This is not an easy one. On the one hand, it needs to be considered whether there should be any place in the overall system for stand-alone, specialized centers /schools of excellence, particularly for post graduate education. Another example of such an institution is the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. It is worth reflecting whether part of the reason for the success of the IITs and IIMs is that they are small and manageable, rather than very large and unwieldy. In fact, it was not long ago that the IIMs expressed their inability to expand and grow rapidly to accommodate the extra student intake necessitated by the government’s reservation policy.

Another aspect to consider is the governance and management of academic institutions and universities. One should be open to the possibility of bringing in professional managers into the system for more efficient general administration, while leaving the academic administration to the faculty in these institutions.

d) Research in Universities

This is an absolute must. Also, the government must focus on supporting and funding high quality PhD programs. Today that is a very weak area in even our top ranked universities in the country. Without robust doctoral programs we will never be able to address the shortage of good quality, well trained faculty.

e) Inter and intra disciplinary studies in institutes

At the undergraduate level this is required. In our education system we force our children to make choices about subjects and disciplines too early. In fact, in India the tradition of a liberal arts education has almost disappeared. This is not good for the overall development of an individual or the society as a whole. Also, it is inter disciplinary research that leads to path breaking innovations. Once again this effort can be promoted by creating funding programs specifically for multi disciplinary research.

f) Discontinuation of granting the deemed university status to universities

Once the definition and categories of universities is clear and specified, there will be no need to have a deemed university. Either an institution will be a university or it will not. I do feel that there should be a provision for stand-alone, specialist education and research institutions at the post graduate level to be able to grant degrees without being classified as a university.

g) Allocation of funds as the report mentions compulsory financial aid to students

Once universities and colleges have more autonomy in setting their fees and deciding their expansion plans, cross subsidizing the underprivileged, meritorious students should not be a problem. Instead of providing subsidized education to all, as is the case now, the system should enable institutions to charge full fees to those students who have the means to pay and offer liberal scholarships to those who cannot do so.

The idea to bring in professional managers in the business of administration at colleges as suggested by Dean Rangnekar is a useful one. Professional managers can speed up the administration of the college, hence providing more time for it to develop academically. Another interesting thought is the idea of a stand alone institution that would be able to grant degrees without it being classified as a university. Such institutions will help ultra specialized research and development in niche areas without having to bother whether they fulfill the criterion for them to be called as a university. It will be great for the cause of education if small suggestions from those within the industry are incorporated in its development.

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