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India needs global universities

The Hindu
By Professor  

A number of universities of excellence are required to shape the development of our youth to assume a leadership role in nation building. 

Privatisation in higher education does not necessarily lead to higher academic standards Political, economic, social and cultural phenomena can no longer be fully understood in isolation Global university agenda has to have development of scholarship as one of its core missions.

Globalisation has changed the dynamics of polity and society. Since the development of a knowledge economy remains an important goal of both the developed and developing countries, the establishment of educational institutions of global excellence ought to become the priority of the developing countries. In India, this largely remains an unmet challenge. While the National Knowledge Commission has been making a number of useful and important recommendations that deserve serious and urgent attention, there is still a gap between the rhetoric of reform and the reality of governance. This problem is acutely felt in the education sector. There is stiff resistance within the government to seek fundamental reforms that would enable a favourable regulatory environment.

Private actors and public service

Privatisation in higher education does not necessarily imply the evolution of greater competition among institutionsleading to higher academic standards. Indian private players have not embraced the notion of public service as thebasic framework for promoting education. Their notion of promoting public service is connected to the notion ofphilanthropy and corporate social responsibility — all of which are in the nascent stage of development in India.Education in the private sphere is largely a mediocre commercial activity that needs radical reforms. While globalisation has created new opportunities for promoting growth and development in education, the focus of this growth ought to be based on the principles of public service that is essential for achieving reforms in education. It is notable that most of the reputed universities in the United States are the products of private players with a common motto: “a private university in the public service”.

The future of higher education in India is hugely dependent on the role of the private sector and to what extent the regulatory policies in higher education favour the role of this sector. It is necessary to recognise that governments in developing countries like India are not in a position to wholly support significant levels of financial commitments needed to establish and sustain reputed institutions of higher learning. In this context, it is important that the role of private sector be appreciated and expanded. But the expansion of this role ought to be based on the commitment of private universities and centres of learning to promote excellence in education. The stellar reputation of the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad to become one of the top 20 business schools of the world within a decade is an inspiring achievement for promoting world-class institutions of higher learning in the private domain.

A global university

Universities worldwide are preparing themselves to face the challenges of globalisation. Some of the most reputed universities, especially Cambridge, Harvard, New York, Oxford, Stanford and Yale, are gearing themselves up for galvanising their efforts to promote internationalisation in education. This notion of internationalisation of universities has transcended geographical barriers and become an important priority for universities all over the world to devote time and attention and to commit resources to become a “global” university. In the Indian context, there is much to be done to develop the concept of global university and make the existing institutions promote internationalisation in higher education. In this regard, it is important to recognise that the functioning of the existing regulatory bodies needs to be carefully examined so that the country is better prepared to encourage the establishment of many global universities.

The president of Yale University, Prof. Richard Levin, speaking at Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2005, said: “The globalisation of the university is in part an evolutionary development … But creating the global university is also a revolutionary development — signalling distinct changes in the substance of teaching and research, the demographic characteristics of students and scholars, the scope and breadth of external collaborations, and the engagement of the university with new audiences. When I speak of becoming a global university, I envision a curriculum and a research agenda permeated by awareness that political, economic, social, and cultural phenomena in any part of the world can no longer be fully understood in isolation…”

In August 2006, the Newsweek magazine ranked the top 100 global universities taking into account openness and diversity, as well as distinction in research. The list included: Harvard, Stanford, and Yale in that order and Cambridge, Oxford, MIT and Columbia were among the top 10 global universities. There was not a single university from South Asia among the top 100, while even a small city like Hong Kong had three universities in the list. The methodology used to rank the global universities included the criteria adopted by the well-known rankings published by Shanghai Jiaotong University and the Times of London Higher Education Survey: the number of highly cited researchers in various academic fields; the number of articles published in Nature and Science; the number of articles listed in the ISI Social Sciences and Arts & Humanities indices; the percentage of international faculty, the percentage of international students; citations per faculty member (using ISI data), the ratio of faculty to students; and library holdings (number of volumes).

Global collaboration

While developing global universities becomes the central focus of reforms in higher education, there is need to be innovative in promoting global collaborations and interactions among universities. Indian universities have to carefully consider their policies for establishing global collaborations and activities that promote global interaction. It is not useful to sign numerous MoUs that do not translate into concrete forms of collaboration among universities leading to implementation of programmes for students and scholars. There is need to evolve policies in universitiesas a part of their internal governance mechanisms that will guide them in establishing collaborations with other institutions.

In the context of law, the Legal Education and Research Society (LEARS), a non-profit institution, is implementing a global legal education programme in which two distinguished graduates from Yale Law School will be spending a whole year in two of the selected law schools in India. This programme is the first of its kind, and such programmes need encouragement and expansion.

Expansion of scholarship

The global university agenda has to have the development of scholarship as one of its core missions. Research and scholarship ought to become a priority in universities in India so that creation of knowledge becomes thefundamental objective of higher education.

India is undergoing dramatic transformation. It is important to take steps towards establishing universities that will bring together the best of academic scholarship, teaching excellence and research aptitude for promoting knowledge based initiatives all across the country. The initiative of establishing global universities of excellence has the potential to create new opportunities for growth and development in the knowledge sector, which is expected to be the key to future expansion of the Indian economy. The creation, development and dissemination of knowledge need to be democratised. This can take place only if both the state and private sectors make efforts to develop many global universities that will meet the governance challenges of India and the world at large.

India needs a number of global universities of excellence imparting world-class education and promoting cuttingedge research across disciplines and to shape the development of our youth to assume a leadership role in nation building.