“Higher Education Scenario In India Is Complex And Challenging”: C Rajkumar, VC, OP Jindal Global University

In an email interview with BW Education, Prof. C Rajkumar, Vice Chancellor, OP Jindal Global University talks about the changing the Indian education sector and JGU.

Q. What are some of the alternative/unconventional courses that the university is undertaking to better equip the students of today?

JGU has established six schools: Jindal Global Law School (JGLS), Jindal Global Business School (JGBS), Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA), Jindal School of Government and Public Policy (JSGP), Jindal School of Liberal Arts & Humanities (JSLH), and Jindal School of Journalism & Communication (JSJC). The schools offer undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

· JGLS - B.A.LL.B (Hons), BBA.LL.B (Hons), LL.B, LL.M

· JGBS - BBA (Hons.), B. Com (Hons), Integrated BBA (Hons.) +MBA, Global Executive MBA, MBA (Executive)

· JSIA - B.A. (Hons.) Global Affairs, M.A. in Diplomacy, Law and Business

· JSGP - B.A. (Hons.) Economics, M.A. in Public Policy

· JSLH - B.A. (Hons.) Liberal Arts & Humanities

· JSJC - B.A. (Hons.) Media & Communication

Apart from these courses, we also have a Doctoral programme that runs across several Schools and Institutes.

All of our programmes are unique in nature owing to the emphasis JGU places on providing an interdisciplinary teaching and research environment. The BBA.LL.B (Hons), B.A. (Hons.) Global Affairs, M.A. in Diplomacy, Law and Business and the B.A. (Hons.) Liberal Arts & Humanities programmes are first of its kind programmes in India.

Beginning in August 2018, JGU will also be launching the Masters in Business Laws programme at JGLS. This is a unique programme that will equip graduates to engage successfully with the complex field of business laws in national and international corporate firms.

Q. What would you say about the higher education governance scenario and administration in India?

The higher education scenario in India is complex and challenging. Governments in recent times have shown interest in reforming the higher education system both in the public and private sector. There are many challenges with respect to how Indian higher education institutions (HEIs) are governed, particularly the relationship between government agencies and HEIs, internal governance mechanisms within the HEIs, the quality of educational administrative personnel, and difficulties faced by HEI leadership in managing the highly challenging political, social and economic contexts in India.

We are hopeful that in the coming years, institutional mechanisms will be advanced to enable greater innovation in governance structures, more efficient processes at macro and micro levels, and greater accountability to various institutional stakeholders. The recent initiatives taken by the Government of India, particularly the Institutions of Eminence proposal and the panel headed by Dr. K. Kasturirangan to frame the National Education Policy, are greatly encouraging in creating a more progressive and enabling higher education environment.

Q. How would you say that research today plays a pivotal role in higher education?\

It is widely accepted that research has a direct impact on quality of teaching. In a world of increasing complexity, our students have to develop conceptual tools that are relevant, proven and validated by experts. Research is also increasingly becoming a key part of the university’s ability to directly contribute to social and economic development, particularly in developing societies such as India.

Hence, funding and managing projects that are socially relevant has become imperative in our time. Increasingly, HEIs will be evaluated by both the public and ranking agencies based on the quality of research they produce and its relevance to contemporary social and economic orders. In addition, the ability of HEIs to financially sustain themselves will depend on their research outcomes and their perceived social and economic impact.

Q. What are the challenges of creating a world class research university in India?

The first challenge of creating a world-class university in India relates to the existing policy and regulatory frameworks. While there is growing interest within Indian governmental agencies to support innovation in higher education policymaking, we still face many hurdles in translating this vision into reality. Hence, managing inter-agency relationships and meeting the requirements of existing regulatory frameworks is a difficult challenge for HEI leadership in India.

The second challenge is that HEIs, particularly those in the private sector, face significant difficulty in raising resources that are essential to build the necessary infrastructure that alone can enable a conducive environment for high quality education. The third challenge is that there are very few non-governmental foundations that HEIs or individual scholars can appeal to for funding high quality research.

Fourth, the culture of value in academic independence and its corollary, academic responsibility, is still developing in India. This too becomes an important responsibility for HEI leadership to tackle. The fifth challenge is that HEIs often struggle to attract high quality talent both for positions of faculty and more critically for administrative and managerial jobs in the university system.

Sixth, the levels of technology adaptation is uneven within Indian HEIs, thus constraining their ability to successfully tap into the possibilities offered by contemporary technological developments. Seventh and finally, to create a world-class university would require increasing diversity of student and faculty bodies, which are not often easily achievable given resource constraints.

Q. Please share your inputs on how conceptual learning is becoming crucial to the education sector.

The contemporary social, political, economic and technological context makes it imperative that our students acquire the skills, but more importantly the conceptual tools that are applicable across domains, and also across cultural spaces. While specific skills are necessary, they will not be sufficient in an age where students have to quickly transition from one job profile to another. This will require that students acquire transferable intellectual resources that they could apply in dynamic and complex situations. Also, students’ ability to participate in the social and political discourses of our time places a premium on their ability to quickly grasp socio-economic issues in all their multiple dimensions and be able to draw meaningful conclusions that enable action.

Hence as much as the traditional educational system emphasises skills, the future educational system will need to emphasise conceptual knowledge which alone will enable our students to cope with uncertain, contingent and varied situations in their future lives as employees, citizens, and leaders of society.

Q. What impetus is required for Indian varsities to enter into the top global 50?

For Indian universities to be competitive and enter the top global 50 rankings of leading indices would require that an enabling policy environment be put in place. As noted earlier, the Government of India is now in the process of developing such institutional policy frameworks. As much as enabling policy frameworks are necessary, this is not sufficient. To be globally competitive, institutions will require sustained investments in attracting talent from across the world. It is also imperative that we not only create research infrastructure but also a culture of research. This means that it is not simply good enough that any one institution does well because an institution’s ability to be globally competitive would depend on a national ecosystem that is geared to promoting innovative research. It is also becoming increasingly important that we invest a lot more in incentivising research excellence within well-functioning public and private universities.

I believe that creating global institutions will also depend on our ability to tap into our local cultural, social and economic heritage, thus offering the world distinct forms of intellectual resources that complement existing knowledge forms in the global system. There should be a sustained effort to research best practices of well-developed educational systems and adapt them to Indian conditions. We must think deeply about the larger processes that accompany well-functioning educational systems.

Q. JGU is a pioneer in India for interdisciplinary courses, how successful have they been in terms of admissions and placements?

JGU has been fortunate to have had the opportunity to offer rich and diverse sets of programmes that tap into our interdisciplinary resources. For instance, our business school students learn not only core business topics but also enrol in courses offered by other Schools. Similarly, students of law, international affairs, public policy, liberal arts, or journalism could enrol themselves in courses that are listed in the business school to study leadership, human resource management, quantitative research methods etc. Our liberal arts school by definition offers wide ranking opportunities in interdisciplinary education. Our international affairs school offers degrees that combine international relations with business and our law school offers a business and law programme.

All of these programmes and courses have been popular with our current and incoming students and we have received increasingly greater demand for enrolment in these innovative programmes.

The interdisciplinary education we provide at JGU is seen extremely favourably by prospective employers and our graduates have found enriching career opportunities in corporate, legal, government and non-profit organisations both in India and abroad.

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