M.K. Surappa, Vice-Chancellor, Anna University, on Saturday expressed the need for a paradigm shift in institutional governance by all stakeholders, stating that infusing huge funds would not transform Indian universities in research and innovation and put them in the league of world-class universities.
Dr. Surappa, former director, IIT-Ropar, argued that higher education institutions should strictly be insulated against political and bureaucratic interference, while periodic rigorous reviews should be brought in to their functioning. If these measures were not implemented, the institutions were unlikely to move into the club of world-class universities, he observed.
Speaking on the Foundation Day of University of Mysore (UoM) on ‘Higher Education and Research in India: Myth and Reality’, the academician said political and bureaucratic interference and decisions made at the Secretariat with silent academicians without rigorous discussions were ailing institutions.
Shortage of full-time qualified faculty and highly visible inadequate and poor academic infrastructure were some of the factors bringing down the credibility of an institution or a university, the V-C said. He added that strange selection norms for the posts of V-Cs, complex regulatory mechanisms and involvement of teachers in politics were to be blamed for loss of trustworthiness.
While listing out the challenges the higher education sector was currently facing in the country, Dr. Surappa regretted that the regulatory system was constraining excellent and innovative institutions.
Leadership deficit and sub-optimal governance of the institutions, lack of research at most universities and colleges, lack of transparent and comparative peer-reviewed research funding across different disciplines, lack of teacher and institutional autonomy, lack of access to higher education especially in socio-economic disadvantaged areas, were other challenges.
He said higher education must help individuals develop an intellectual curiosity, creativity, the spirit of service and a strong ethical compass.
Rise of private varsities
Dr. Surappa said that there had been a whopping 1,455% increase in private universities in the country — from 18 in 2009 to 180 in 2019. The State and Central universities have seen a growth of 72% and 20% respectively in the last ten years as their numbers rose from 227 to 392 and 40 to 48 respectively. The number of deemed-to-be-universities has gone up from 105 to 125 in the last decade.
He suggested setting aside 6% of the country’s GDP for education and 2% of the GDP exclusively for innovation and research. “At least ten of our universities should find places in the top 100 world-class universities,” he opined.
In his welcome address, G. Hemantha Kumar, V-C, UoM, said the university had completed 103 years and was making the best effort to find a place among the world’s top varsities. He said UoM came into the existence because of the visionary Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar, the erstwhile Maharaja of Mysore. Registrar Lingaraja Gandhi was present.
‘India’s research feat not laudable’
Dr. Surappa also disputed reported claims on India’s performance in research. He maintained that the research output was not commendable compared to that of countries like Singapore.
On the number of publications and citations published between 1980 and 2018, India ranked 12th and 15th respectively. The U.S.A. and China were ranked first and second respectively in publications. India was ranked 8th in the number of publications in 2016-17 while the U.S.A. and China ranked first and second respectively, he explained.
“India is not even a leader in material science. Data on research is being used selectively,” Dr. Surappa said, and added that countries like Singapore and Indonesia were rising in rank despite Indian universities being pumped with funds for research and innovation.
He argued that the lack of leadership in State and Central universities had adversely impacted their enlargement, limiting the growth of higher education.