Where Do Women Gold-medallists Go

Pankaj Mittal, Secretary General, Association of Indian Universities, on the benefits of NEP and foreign universities setting up their campuses here; and the glass ceiling in higher education

At a time when the National Education Policy is remodelling higher education system, four-year degree programmes, academic bank of credits, multiple exit and entry points and dual degrees being introduced and foreign universities being allowed to open campuses, the Association of Indian Universities has a critical role to play in coordination between these universities and voicing their issues. The Secretary General of AIU is the dynamic Pankaj Mittal, possessing a great macro and micro vision of higher education. In an interview to BW Education, she shares her thoughts on higher education.

What have been some of the significant contributions of AIU in the last few years in higher education? 

Association of Indian Universities is the largest association of universities in the world. We have around 931 universities as the members including 15 foreign universities as associate members. It’s also the second oldest association of the world. We have completed 98 years of existence. In two years, we will be celebrating the centenary. Stalwarts like Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Dr Zakir Hussain, Dr Shyamaprasad Mukherjee, Dr Shrimali have been the presidents of AIU, which tells the legacy of AIU.

AIU was established basically to serve as an organisation, to coordinate with the universities and to work as a liasoning organisation between the government and the universities. It is a voice of the universities for the government and if the government wants to implement anything in the sector of higher education, they seek the help of AIU and we help in implementing many, many government policies. In addition to that we connect with all stakeholders in the higher education system starting from Vice Chancellor till the students.

For Vice Chancellors, we do 6 Vice Chancellors Conferences every year where the themes of seminary importance are discussed. In addition to that, we do round tables for the newly appointed Vice Chancellors. For faculty, we do a lot of capacity building programmes to train the faculty, whether it is on research or use of technology or any other issue which is related to higher education, pedagogy, assessment and evaluation.

We engage with students in terms of promoting sports because we believe in the holistic development of the students. Around 5 to 10 lakh students participate every year in the sports events which are organised by AIU, including Khelo India University Games. We also do many youth affairs programmes for the students which includes youth festivals at zonal, national and international level. To promote research among the students, we do a programme called Anveshan, in which the research is promoted among young students through research projects submitted by then which are evaluated and big prizes are given to them to encourage them. We are trying to internationalise Anveshan in future.

What kind of coordination is there between AIU and UGC? 

UGC is a regulator, so it basically controls the universities in terms of maintenance of standards. We are a facilitator, not a regulator. We don’t have the power to regulate or issue regulations. So whatever regulations UGC is issuing, we take it upon ourselves to help the universities to implement those in the best possible manner. For example, recently there was a regulation on entry of foreign universities in India. UGC wanted to have the comments of the universities or the general public on the regulations. So, we called a meeting of all the universities and the recommendations based on the inputs received from all the universities were sent to UGC. This facilitates their work.

What kind of pressures that the Indian campuses are facing and how will the dynamics change with the setting of foreign universities, campuses in India?

The Foreign University Bill was pending in the parliament for a long time. World over, in many countries, foreign universities have campuses but not in India. So, this is a welcome step and will help us in many ways. As you would be knowing, around 8 to 10 lakh students go every year out of India to study in foreign universities. Whereas the number of students who come to India from foreign countries is only around 48-49,000. The type of money they are spending on their foreign education is almost equal to the education budget of India. If our students want foreign education, they can do it on Indian soil in the campuses of foreign universities in India, which will help us in saving a lot of foreign exchange.

Two, we want collaborations between Indian and foreign universities, because learning is always a collaborative experience. Having a collaboration with a foreign university on Indian soil is much more easier; cost-and time-effective leading to saving of lot of resources.

Thirdly there will be the faculty in foreign universities which can be invited to the Indian universities for teaching some specialised courses to our students or even for training on innovative teaching skills. 

Among the much-discussed provisions of NEP, one is the credit point system and the other is dual degrees. So how can collaboration between various universities be facilitated and also what kind of infrastructure and logistical support exists at the moment to facilitate both these things? 

NEP is giving a lot of flexibility both to teachers as well as the students. Students have all options to study anytime, anywhere in any university in any programme and any course. For example, in the scheme of Academic Bank of Credit, the student has the flexibility to do courses from multiple universities and design his or her own degree so they can stitch their degree themselves. Unlike earlier, when you had to do all the courses from the university where you have taken admission, now you can do the courses from multiple universities. Once you have the core credits complete and the threshold number of courses, then you can go to the university from where you did 50 per cent of the credits or to National Digital University and get a degree.

It means that you can design your own degree. Apart from that you also have the flexibility of studying any subject. For example, if I am a student of physics, I can study music or history, which was not possible earlier.

But it also requires the faculty to teach these courses.

If you really have to take the advantage of ABC, that means you should be having required and right kind of faculty.

How do students choose subjects of their choice, when classes would be happening simultaneously?

Timetable of every course is given to students and then they choose courses in such a manner that it is possible to pursue these courses within the given timetable. The student has to make a choice wisely to see whether the timings allow them to do those courses or not. A lot of counselling is needed because now we are putting a lot of onus on the student, about the courses to be undertaken. They need to learn to handle wisely the flexibility given.

What is the kind of mentoring and counselling available in India. And also, are the teachers ready to let go of some old notions, as there is a generational shift? 

This is a what we call ‘change management’. In the new scheme of thing, everybody, including university administration, faculty, vice chancellors, principles and students would be affected and everybody has got through the process of change management. The teachers have to change their attitude so that they can absorb these things. And students will need a lot of counselling as they are still raw.  So, ‘Change Management’ has to be learnt and practiced.

Coming to rankings, do you think NIRF and global rankings depict the same reality. Research is given a lot of emphasis in global rankings. Are they Indian institutions there when it comes to catching up with the rest of the world in that area? 

Right now, there is no Indian university in top 100 of the world rankings. We had many discussions and deliberations on these issues and it is felt that some of the parameters which are being used by the foreign rankings are not relevant for India. For example, a large portion of their ranking parameter includes reputation of a university or perception. In reputation we are far behind. Two, there is a lot of emphasis on research, that too research in Scopus and in English. India is a diverse country with multiple languages and multiple cultures. Our research is also in regional languages. Rather NEP promotes teaching and research in mother tongue. All those researches which are in Indian languages are not counted because they cannot be put in the Scopus index. Also, a lot of emphasis has been given to international students and international faculty on the campus. In India, the entire country has close to 50,000 international students. And international faculty is even lesser because only the private universities are somehow able to afford international faculty.

NIRF understands Indian higher education system and was launched with this purpose that we should be able to assess ourselves.

Every country is a unique country so they work in a particular fashion which may not be suited to rest of the world in some parameters. I feel one should not run after ranking. Ranking should be a by-product. One should do good work, produce good research, good students, good citizens and based on which they will be ranked. 

You are among the most influential women in education today. But do you think that there is still a glass ceiling in higher education institutions at the top echelons? 

It is, it is very much there. See, if you see the number of students who are in higher education, it is 50-50; rather than gross enrolment ratio for women, this time is 0.2 per cent higher than the men. If you go to any convocation, the first position holders are mostly women. When you go to assistant professor level, again the ratio is around 50-50. When you go to associate professor it becomes something like 60-40. When you go to professor, it becomes 70-30. Go to VCs, it becomes 93 per cent men and 7 per cent women. So where do all these women go - the ones who were toppers? Right now, in our country we have around 60 to 70 women VCs. Our country has 1,100 universities. And this is the number when there are 13 to 14 women universities in the country, which have to be governed by women. 

So, the glass is definitely there and we have to break the glass ceiling and to break the glass ceiling one has to work really very hard.

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