As the 21st Century – Century of Knowledge Economy as many like to call it – is unfolding itself, India is standing on crossroads. We can either
a) embrace the ‘power of knowledge’ by bringing excellence in its institutions and go up the road to prosperity or
b) go down the path of mediocrity and poverty by refusing to look at the obvious rot in our education system.
Especially higher education!
Every year when world university rankings come out, those who care, look at these rankings with hope to find if any Indian Institution has made it to top 100! We do not find. In fact steadily over the years Indian institutions have slipped on their rankings (http://indianexpress.com/article/education/iit-iisc-ranking-drop-in-qs-world-university-rankings-2016-17-mit-retains-top-position/). IITs & IIMs that were once considered world-class institutions in their own domain today are far below their peaks. In comparison Chinese Institutions are consistently moving up these rankings over the past few years.
It is not that no one is doing anything about it. There have been several attempts by private analysts and government committees to assess the situation and come up with a plan. The government is taking some of them up (many are yet to see the light of the day). There are many parameters these rankings take into account like Academic Excellence, Research Output, Hard and Soft Infrastructure etc. Some of these become long term goals for improvement and some are medium. Most require a chunk of funding that Indian Institutions are unable to raise as of now.
However there is one low-hanging fruit that “with a little bit of willpower” can be captured and made to work.
Working with dozens of private and public institutions we have found that “Governance” is a very low priority agenda for most. For some it is a systemic problem, while for others it is just the way of doing things. Mediocre governance manifests itself in various ways – the low quality of ‘staff and student output’ is one of them.
Some people may think that Governance is an esoteric objective and cannot be fulfilled in hurry. But in reality it is just “how things are managed at the ground level”. If one can bring a system that makes every process
better quality governance can be achieved.
Putting such systems in place makes all stakeholders (Faculty / Staff / Students) less stressed and more efficient in their functioning. I’ll elaborate a simple case to make my point.
Let’s take a case where a faculty raises a request to attend a seminar abroad. Ever institution has issued guidelines about such expenditure reimbursements. But most times these rules are subject to interpretation. The file that starts its journey from the faculty makes several stops – Head of the Department, Admin Section, Finance Section etc. At every place there are file notings and approvals involved. It may go back and forth with clarifications and more notings. Now think about the faculty who is not sure where the file lies and what are notings and whether it will be approved. For him preparing for seminar becomes very stressful process if he is unsure of the outcome of the request itself. This directly affects his contribution to the research work for which he is attending the seminar.
On the other hand if during this entire process Faculty is aware of its exact location and what are the actions taken and comments noted by various people in the chain, his stress levels will be significantly lower and will be able to focus on what he wants to present in the Seminar. This greatly helps his research work.
At the institutions where we have been involved in implementing this system we have seen immediate efficiency improvements. Faculty is more relaxed and cheerful that they can track all their requests and bills and finances etc. in a very transparent way.
One of the shining examples of this exercise is Panjab University, Chandigarh. This 70 years old institutions has gradually moved towards putting its processes online and seen its ranking improve over the years. Today it is considered the one of the best universities in India.
We hope more and more Institutions follow the path of Smart, Efficient and Transparent Governance and emerge as world-leaders to make India a knowledge super-power.