World Class Institutions

Eminence comes out of distinction, dominance, noteworthiness, paramountcy, primacy, superiority, supremacy, and transcendence

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World-class universities must create and spread knowledge in a range of disciplines and fields, be multi/inter/intra disciplinary, deliver quality higher education at all levels, serve national needs, and further international public interest. Three questions are often asked. What does a university need to do for it to become a world-class university? Do all universities face identical issues and challenges? and can one university’s successful strategies be replicated in other universities in other countries?

A few years back, in August 2019, Institutions in the public space like the IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, IISc Bangalore, IIT Madras, IIT Kharagpur, Delhi University, University of Hyderabad, and BHU were given the ‘Institutions of Eminence’ (IoE) tag on the recommendations of the University Grants Commission. Ten more institutions were also given the same status in the private space. Though these will have no financial support, they will be entitled to enhanced autonomy as a special category Deemed University. 

Private institutes recommended for IoE status include BITS Pilani, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Jio Institute of the Reliance Foundation, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore, VIT Vellore, Jamia Hamdard, Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, O.P Jindal University, Shiv Nadar University, and Bharti of Satya Bharti Foundation. 

Whereas the Satya Bharti Foundation, headed by industrialist Sunil Bharti Mittal has shelved its plan to establish the new institution, the Satya Bharti Institute of Technology, the Reliance Foundation’s multidisciplinary university, Jio had its inaugural session on 20th July 2022 with its first and founding PGP class of 2023 at their Navi Mumbai Camus. It even announced the setting up of its second campus in Dronagiri, over a few hundred acres. To be set up as a residential campus it will be home to a medical school and hospital, an engineering college, research parks, an innovation ecosystem, art districts, and an international school, among others. For all that to happen in a space of three years, is very creditable indeed. What differentiates over a period of time, however, is both fundamental and applied research and the number of cutting-edge products that come out of the university. The country needs institutions and universities that can be as good as any in the world. Private entrepreneurs can fill the void. That said, massive funds and a true commitment to education would go a long way in realising the goals. 

Eminence comes out of distinction, dominance, noteworthiness, paramountcy, primacy, superiority, supremacy, and transcendence. Institutions of eminence must display all such attributes. “Universities which produce transformational research outputs and develop nation’s competitiveness in the global knowledge economy are World‐Class Universities” as described by Hsiou-Hsia Tai Professor, College of Humanities and Social Sciences National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan. Neil deGrasse Tyson was an eminent astrophysicist. However, his eminence came after his success in astrophysics for which he spent a good fifty years of his life researching and experimenting. Our universities too must earn respect and eminence.   

World-class universities play key roles in creating and disseminating knowledge, educating a highly skilled workforce for technological and intellectual leadership, and serving the needs of society. There are also some other dimensions of quality such as excellence, consistency with set standards, appropriateness, and stakeholders’ satisfaction that must be met. In the past decade, debate among eminent academicians, administrators and various other stakeholders has only produced varying opinions. 

Revealing as it is, it took more than a hundred and fifty years for institutions such as MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Caltech, Cambridge, Oxford, UCL or an Imperial College in London to be recognised as the best research universities in the world. 

Even as the government's move to support ‘Institutions of Eminence’ and ‘World Class’ is laudable, a new phenomenon that we are currently witnessing is where yesteryear colleges are being converted to universities in the private sector in the name of improving quality. Consequently, universities in the private space trebled in the last five years. A hard look is probably warranted here, for a reason not often cited for this, is the escape that it provides from many of the regulators and freedom to function unbridled, as business houses, by closing courses/departments or starting new ones, as they perceive the markets. Social causes are invariably given a go-by.    

The education space too needs to be disrupted like every other. Hundreds of Ph D’s and thousands of research publications are being produced in the country without a converging theme, all out of a multitude of universities. Like in Germany, we need our universities to be modelled on a Max Planck University model for Basic research and a Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft University model for applied research with a focus on Productisation rather than an unholy thrust on publishing papers. The faculty evaluation methodology also needs to be changed. That would not only produce Indian products but also would aid in creating new markets, new supply chains and new employment opportunities. 

There are three main global university rankings which use different methodologies. The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), conducted by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings and the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings. The perception of many organizations and companies is that the quality of a university is its position in these ranking tables. It is creditable that more and more of our institutions, such as the IITs and IISc among many others figure in the QS World University Rankings. Future years will certainly see more making the grade. 

World-class is closely associated with internationalisation too. The number of eminent foreign faculty on our campuses adds value. A number of students from the rest of the world on our campuses add a cultural dimension besides enriching the teaching-learning pedagogies. ‘Study in India’ to bring in foreign students to higher educational institutions is a long-awaited move. This however must be followed up with an international level test on the lines of GRE/GMAT that is aimed at bringing in students from across the globe. 

India thrives as an information and knowledge society. Within the global context, system-based thinking, to understand the world business eco-systems, will be required. The interdisciplinary, multi-disciplinary research approaches are critical to achieving a comprehensive understanding of complex realities facing the world. Entry into foreign institutions and universities will certainly help our faculty and students face these challenges. Besides, the students can be exposed to new cultures & traditions, get access to world-class education, learn new languages, work in multicultural teams, enhance personalities and gain valuable life skills.

The country needs massive investments in education so the quality bar is raised manyfold. Research facilities need quantum growth. The state funding being what it is, it is imperative that the doors are opened to both foreign funding and adopting their successful systems. 

Promoting foreign direct investments (FDI), opening up the External Commercial Borrowing (ECB) to strengthen the capital pool in the education sector are all good initiatives. A greater inflow of finance to attract talented teachers, innovate and build better infrastructures are also needed. This needs an enabling regulatory framework. Finally educational quality comprises three primary functions - teaching, research, and community service. The last said hardly finds even a reference in our universities. Is it not time we understand an institution of eminence in letter and spirit? 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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