Academic leadership


On March 20, the University Grants Commission granted autonomy to 60 higher educational institutions which have maintained high academic standards, that includes 52 universities – 5 central universities, 21 state universities, 24 deemed universities, and 2 private universities – and eight colleges. These universities will remain within the ambit of UGC but will have the freedom to start new courses, off campus centres, skill development courses, research parks and any other new academic programmes. They will also have the freedom to hire foreign faculty, enrol foreign students, give incentive based emoluments to the faculty, enter into academic collaborations and run open distance learning programmes. Autonomy to the institutions of higher learning by the University Grants Commission gives greater flexibility to them towards purely academic development for uplift of academic standards and excellence. There is no doubt that India has significant advantages in the 21st century knowledge race. There are a small number of high quality institutions, departments, and centres that can form the basis of quality sector in higher education. India educates approximately 10 percent of its young people in higher education, still a rather low number by international standards – compared to more than half in the major industrialised countries and 15 percent in China. India’s academic system has an unusually small high quality sector at the top. None of its universities occupy a solid position at the top. Surprisingly, India, despite its rapidly growing economy and its long tradition of intellectual excellence, does not possess a world class university – no existing university scores highly in the rankings and none of the institutions are considered top level globally. Only the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) are well known, but they are not universities. There is no doubt that a substantial number of higher education institutions in India have established their stature and reputation for high academic quality as well as probity like Delhi University (DU), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), etc. but none of the universities from our state has made a mark at the national level, leaving global aside. The difference between the top universities of India and our universities lies in the leadership style adopted by the academic leaders. Why DU, JNU, IISc, IIMs, IITs are considered best? One of the possible reasons is the continuous sustained leadership available to such institutions. The accent is on continuity of leadership. These institutions are fortunate enough to have found persons of high competence and integrity as heads of their institutions and programmes, who are also given a high degree of autonomy to implement their vision. Their search and selection process for vice-chancellors, directors and heads have been directed toward identifying visionary attributes of the leader. Many Indian prestigious institutions have declined in stature simply by one wrong choice of the academic leader like not understanding the emotions of their employees working under them which resulted in ineffective decision making. Equally important is the need to avoid periods of uncertainties resulting in vacant positions of leadership. The rapid growth in the number of higher educational institutions and the dearth of suitable persons to head them, along with cumbersome procedures in initiating the selection process, have frequently lead to leadership vacuum for periods ranging from several months to a few years. This situation creates fertile ground for all sorts of mischief to take place dragging the institution down. Such lapses are common in state as well as centrally funded institutions which should be looked into in developing world class universities. Academic leadership is central to any university. At the same time, world class universities must be effectively managed, and top university leaders should have significant control over strategic decisions. The university’s vice-chancellor, deans, and other key leaders have to be chosen for their talent, leadership capacity, and their understanding of emotions and not because of personal connections. Higher education, especially at the university level is of paramount importance for our future. Our State requires both highly trained people and top-quality research in order to be able to formulate the policies, plan the programmes and implement the projects that are essential to economic growth and development. Preparing individuals for positions of responsibility in Government, business, and in professions is a central role of the universities and supporting these individuals in their work with research, advice and consultancy is another equally important role of the academic leader. If all the parameters are taken care of, the day is not far when we will have higher educational institutions figuring in the top 100 of different world university rankings leave aside the autonomy status.