World-Class Universities in India: Realizing Vision

Feb 20, 2010

The fascination for building-world class universities is the latest buzz in the Indian education sector. Recently, Reliance announced its intention to start a world-class university. Earlier, Anil Agarwal with his donation of $1billion initiated the Vedanta University project with a vision that it would be a world-class university. Even Mr. Kapil Sibal announced 14 innovation universites that would be of global repute.

In my earlier article published in UWN, I mentioned that some of the visions of world-class universities in India need correction as they are unrealisticly assessing the concept and challenges of "world-class" universities. The end result could be unfulfilled promises and inefficient utilization of resources. Indian higher education system is in need of quality and hence clarity on the approach of building world-class university in the Indian context requires deeper attention. Specifically, I argue that stakeholders are underestimating the resources and leadership required for building world-class universities.
Vendata University advertisement three years back in Samaja. Aiming for 100,000 students and 10,000 faculty members (1 Feb'2007). Click on image.

Resources: Undoubtedly, a world-class universities would require financial resources to put in place a infrastructure and an ability to attract top faculty and students.  Dr. Armstrong of USC in an earlier interview for this blog mentioned that reputation of world-class universities is based on the research component of the university which is facilitated by faculty and students of the highest quality. This aspect of  "human resource", is grossly underestimated in the planning and vision of building world-class universities.

Leadership: Related to human resources is the leadership and academic administration required to achieve global vision. Leading a "world-class" university and a group of experts (faculty) is quite different from leading a business of similar or even larger number of employees. Warren Bennis, chairman of the Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California notes that "...running a major research university today is far more complex and demanding than running any large, global corporation."

Dr. Richard Levin, President, Yale University said
"...developing world-class universities in Asia will take more than money and determination. To create world-class capacity in research, resources must not only be abundant, they must also be allocated on the basis of scholarly and scientific merit, rather than on the basis of seniority or political influence. To create world-class capacity in education, the curriculum must be broadened and pedagogy transformed. These are all problems that can be solved with sufficient leadership and political will."
India definitely needs a few world-class universities and the ambitions set by some of the recent announcements are in the right direction. These universities would create new benchmarks of quality and help overall system to move up in the quality spectrum. However, attracting, retaining, rewarding and leading academic talent (faculty, students and adminstrators) of "world-class" standards requires understanding of the unique characteristics of education domain and this seems to be grossly underestimated in some of the visions. These visions need to integrate deeper understanding of the characteristics and best practices of building a world-class university, so that they can efficiently use the resources available and realize their full potential.

What are your thoughts? How could India build world-class research university that compare with the best in the world?

- Dr. Rahul Choudaha

Additional Reading:
The Challenge of Establishing World-Class Universities
Philip Altbach on Vedanta University
India's richest man unveils university project
Concept note of Innovation Universities
India to Have 30 World-class Universities Across the Country: PM
Building the world-class university in a developing country
No World Class Universities (WCU) in India?
World-class universities: a new holy grail

Dr. Craig Jeffrey, Oxford University

Feb 14, 2010

Dr. Craig Jeffrey
University Lecturer in Human Geography, Oxford University
Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford

Craig Jeffrey is Fellow and Tutor in Geography at St. John’s College, Oxford and teaches human geography in the School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University.  Craig’s research focuses on youth, politics, and education in India and he has spent over four years in north India since 1996, carrying out social research in Hindi and Urdu. He has co-written two books: Degrees Without Freedom? Education, Masculinities and Unemployment in North India (Stanford University Press 2008) and Telling Young Lives: Portraits in Global Youth (Temple University Press 2008), and he has another book forthcoming - Timepass: Waiting, Micro-Politics, and the Indian Middle Classes (Stanford University Press  2010). Craig has also written numerous papers in leading geography, development, anthropology, and area studies journals - see his website for a complete list. Craig is currently co-editing a book series on Global Youth with Temple University Press. He also has a keen interest in developing new teaching innovations, for example around role play and field research.

Rahul- Please share highlights of your forthcoming book -Timepass: Waiting, Micropolitics and the Indian Middle Classes- and how does it relate to Indian education and society?
Dr. Jeffrey- My new book with Stanford University Press examines middle class power, everyday politics and the social experience of "waiting" through reference to Jats in Uttar Pradesh, India. It will interest anthropologists, geographers, development scholars, and anyone concerned to better understand modern India. In the 1990s and 2000s, prosperous Jat farmers and Jat university students were reproducing their power through co-opting the local state: influencing government bureaucrats, in the case of many farmers, or establishing themselves as youth “fixers”, in the case of Jat young men. At the same time, unemployment has become so ubiquitous in the north Indian city of Meerut that Jats, low castes and Muslims all experience prolonged joblessness; they imagine themselves as people “just passing time” (“doing timepass”). United by their shared sense of timelessness, Jats, low castes and Muslims sometimes launch collective protests against the state.

The book therefore documents in rich detail both the mechanisms through which class inequalities are reproduced in provincial India and the "key moments" when young people forge alliances across caste and class divides. Conceptually, these points illustrate the possibilities and limits of Pierre Bourdieu's social theory for understanding Indian social life.

Rahul- In your earlier book, Degrees Without Freedom?, you have discussed the intricate relationship between education, society and poverty in Uttar Pradesh. What are the top two recommendations you have for addressing the problem of educated unemployed youth in India?
Dr. Jeffrey- My top two recommendations for addressing unemployment are as follows:

A. Stop regarding poverty and unemployment as "problems" somehow external to what is happening in the West. The ability of people to lead comfortable and secure lives in the West is intricately linked to the reproduction of unemployment and poverty in places such as India. There are no quick-fix technical solutions to the issue.

B. What might work is a combination of determined advocacy on behalf of the poor, institutional reform (for example preventing politicians from spending money on elections), and reform of the education system to better reflect the needs of north Indian young people.

Rahul- You have been actively engaged with conducting research in India. Please share your experiences as a international researcher in India. What were some of the challenges you faced?
Dr. Jeffrey- Language is an obvious barrier, but I am now fluent in Hindi. I have found people enormously generous with their time. I have learnt a great deal from the generosity and kindness of people in north India.

Dr. Lloyd Armstrong, University of Southern California

Feb 8, 2010

Dr. Lloyd Armstrong, Jr.
University Professor
University of Southern California
blog: Changing Higher Education

Dr. Lloyd Armstrong, Jr. is a University Professor at the University of Southern California, and holds appointments in the Rossier School of Education and the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.  His research focuses on the research university of the future, with particular emphasis on the globalization of higher education.  Armstrong was provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs of the University of Southern California from 1993 until 2005.  Prior to coming to USC, Armstrong was on the physics faculty at the Johns Hopkins University from 1969 to 1993, and was dean of the school of arts and sciences 1987 to 1993. He received a B.S in physics from MIT, and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California at Berkeley.  He has served on advisory boards for the NSF, the National Research Council, the U.S Army, the Institute for Theoretical Physics at UCSB, the Institute for Theoretical Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics at Harvard, the California Council of Science and Technology, the Southern California Economic Partnership, and the Pacific Council on International Affairs. More about Dr. Armstrong.

Rahul- Recently Mukesh Ambani of Reliance announced building a world class university and Vedanta University had been working on its ambitious project for more than three years. How realistic do you think these visions are? What does it take to build a world-class university from scratch?
Lloyd- There is no set definition for a “world class university”; rather, the term describes an institution whose reputation for excellence is well known by pertinent groups of people (academics, industrialists, students, government agents, etc.) around the world.   Very importantly, this reputation essentially always is based on the research component of the university, not the teaching component.  It does, however, typically also imply that the incoming students are of the very highest quality as judged by international standards.

Vedanta clearly will have many obstacles to overcome in order to achieve this status.  Cost will provide one major obstacle: creating a world class university from scratch is enormously expensive, especially if the goal is to serve a large number of students. Final construction costs for the newest UC campus (30,000 students) have been reported to be in the region of $2B.  The annual budgets for many US institutions in the world-class category are of the order of $.5B-$1B for operating expenses, with an additional $1B-$3B in research funding.   Faculty who are capable of doing research at a world class level are relatively unusual, and thus globally a scarce resource.  Because of global competition for their services, they can demand very high salaries and state of the art research equipment.  Consequently, Institutional start- up expenses for individual new faculty often are in the multi-million dollar range.

Vedanta aspires to be world class, and to have 100,000 students.   If one follows the paradigm defined by the present world class universities, that is an almost impossible combination. It is highly unlikely that any institution could hire– and support – enough world class research- intensive faculty to teach 100,000 students.   It is also unlikely that Vedanta could attract 100,000 students of quality that would be qualified as “excellent” by international standards. In order to be viewed as world class, Vedanta would have to find a way to reconcile these desires that are outside the current paradigm.  In any case, hiring enough world class researchers simply to become visible globally will be a huge challenge for Vedanta, because typically the type researchers it needs to hire will have many choices that are in well established institutions in or near major cities.

Around the world, there are many institutions that are seeking to become “world class”.  For many of those institutions, this may not be the best way to serve their regions and their people. World class institutions cannot provide major benefits to their regions unless there is in place a “pyramid” of higher educational opportunities, with the world class institutions at the pinnacle.   That is, there must be ample opportunity to obtain a solid advanced education for the vast majority of students who will not have the incoming credentials expected of students in the world class university.   Without the critical large base of educated workers that that group provides, a world class university can provide little “value added” to a region.

Rahul- You have had a significant university leadership experience as the USC Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs during the period 1993 until 2005. What advice do you have for administrators aspiring for leadership positions? How could they prepare themselves for the future responsibilities?
Lloyd- One learns leadership by doing leadership.  That is, one prepares oneself for higher leadership positions by taking on lower level leadership roles as they become available, and working hard and creatively to assure the most positive outcomes possible.  This process might begin with accepting committee chairmanships at the university level, or in professional societies, then advancing to department chairmanships and then deanships.   One learns new things about leadership – and about oneself - with each experience.  In particular, conditions often change, leading to significant challenges in a position that are quite different from those that were anticipated.  Rising to those new challenges and using them as opportunities for creation of new levels of institutional excellence is a test of leadership -and an important part of the learning curve for upward-bound managers

Rahul- You edit one of the most popular blogs on international education--Changing Higher Education on globalization and higher education.  Please share what are the top two trends you are witnessing in the field of global higher education?
Lloyd- The biggest trend in global higher education is – more of the same.  We have seen very large increases in the number of students getting some part of their education outside of their native country. The US, which has traditionally been the country of choice for such transnational educational experiences, is losing (relatively) its attraction.  Some of this decrease in attractiveness is due to our lack of welcoming posture for non-US citizens.  More important, however, has been the increase in quality higher education opportunities in numerous countries around the world.  Also important in changing the transnational flow of students has been the opening of educational borders in Europe to encourage inter-European student exchange.  We also see increasing numbers of Americans studying abroad for some period of time.   All of this, however, is just increased activity in an area that has existed for a very long time, albeit a very important area.  As such, it stimulates relatively little self reflection in the higher education community.

A major trend of potentially major significance is the opening by institutions based in one country of programs and even campuses in other countries.   Many of these openings have been stimulated by an offer by some country to cover substantially all costs of the new venture.  Others have been opened because market surveys indicated that a profit could be made (sometimes correctly, sometimes in error).  At this point, the vast majority of these examples of transnational education seem to have been done without a clear strategic (rather than tactical) vision of their role in the evolving mission of the institution. However, enough of these ventures are occurring that new conceptualizations of what it means to be a major higher educational establishment in a globalizing world are likely to begin to appear.   That will be exciting!

Dr. Daniel J. Guhr, Illuminate Consulting Group

Feb 4, 2010

Dr. Daniel J. Guhr
Managing Director
Illuminate Consulting Group

Dr. Guhr serves as ICG's Managing Director.  Prior to founding ICG, he served as a consultant with the Boston Consulting Group, and as a Director of Business Development with SAP in Silicon Valley.

Dr. Guhr has authored more than twenty-five research papers and studies on educational, organizational, and business issues.  He frequently speaks at international conferences, and comments on educational policy-making and competition topics in the press.

Dr. Guhr served as President of the Oxford University Society's San Diego branch, and on the Board of the University of Bonn's Universitätsgesellschaft. He joined the Council of the University of California at Santa Cruz's College Eight in 2007.

Dr. Guhr holds a D.Phil. in Higher Education and a M.Sc. in Educational Research Methodology from Oxford, as well as a M.A. in Political Science from Brandeis.  His doctoral dissertation at the University of Oxford on Access to Higher Education in Germany and California was published in the series Studies in Comparative Education by the Peter Lang Verlag.  Dr. Guhr was also trained for three years in political science at Bonn and Harvard, served as a research specialist at the Center for Studies of Higher Education at the University of California at Berkeley, and conducted research at the Max-Planck-Institute for Human Studies in Berlin.  During his studies, he was awarded a total of 17 scholarships and grants.


Rahul- Please share the evolution of The Illuminate Consulting Group? What are the differentiators/core competencies of ICG?
Dan- ICG was founded in 2003 to address the emerging need for objective, evidence-based, strategic advice in international higher education.  From its inception, ICG has focused on satisfying this need by focusing on three pillars.

First, to accumulate expertise.  ICG is home to a network of more than 40 experts, with more than 20 holding doctoral degrees and more than a dozen with experience as faculty members.  More than another dozen hold experiences as senior administrators.  Together, ICG members have published more than 80 books and 900 journal articles.  ICG is thus fundamentally embedded in the academic world from a research and practitioner vantage point.

Second, ICG focuses on evidence-based, quantitative analysis.  International education is still a young field from a research stand point which often results in analysis relying on assumptions or anecdotal evidence.  This is no longer sufficient and at times produces quite incorrect analysis.  By contrast, ICG relies on extensive, multi-sourced data research, custom-designed surveys, and extensive usage of methods borrowed from macro-economics, political science, and anthropogeography.

Third, ICG early on acknowledged the global nature of education.  In many instances "international education" is used in a reductionist manner, effectively focusing on a specific issue such as student mobility, or a limited set of countries.  Reality has overtaken these narrow perspectives - understanding today's international education requires a truly global outlook.  We have spent years gathering in-depth information about countries and development themes with a view on offering our clients such a global outlook.

Rahul- Before starting ICG, you had experiences with BCG and SAP. What are some of the similarities and differences you have seen in consulting with academia as compared to corporate sector?
Dan- In our experience, four key differences exist:

For one, the academic world does not operate with the same command structure such as commercial entities.  As a result, consulting in the academic world needs to be finely attuned to the culture it engages with.  This requires a much more collaborative, discursive approach than typically found in business consulting.

Second, the ability of educational institutions to swiftly and decisively react to advice, especially when such swift and decisive action is called for, does not reach the level of commercial enterprises.  Many of the reasons are obvious, ranging from a lack of a sense of urgency to suffocating regulations to a need to follow certain governance protocols.

Third, academic cultures tend to be more institution-specific than business cultures.  It is thus more difficult to transfer lessons from one client engagement to another in the academic world than in the business world.  On a related note, this also explains why consultants with a pure business background often have a difficult time to successfully advise academic entities - the cultural gap between the business and academia remains substantial.

Fourth, from an advisory perspective, a key difference is the volume of projects.  Multi-million dollar strategy consulting projects are rare in the education world when compared to the corporate sector.  This means that cost structures and delivery models need to reflect this fact.  The academic world has begun to move a bit into the direction of the corporate world in this regard, but a wide gulf still remains.

One basic yet important similarity which exists is that good advice is good advice.  This may sound simplistic, but it needs to be kept in mind that it took decades in the business world to establish a finely tiered quality hierarchy of consultants.  Strategy consulting in the academic world is in its early stages yet an appreciation for good advice and an understanding who is delivering quality consulting is clearly emerging.

Rahul- You have consulted with several public agencies and educational institutions across the world and have delivered high impact results. Please share one of the success stories which could be relevant to the Indian context.

Dan- Our work for clients is centered on research, analysis, and recommendations.  Whatever positive results clients ultimately achieve in practical terms needs to be credited to our clients, not us.  We are of course pleased when clients achieve success which draws on our contributions.

This includes the recent creation of combined doctoral programs in law between Oxford University, New York University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the University of Melbourne.   These new degrees offer students two prestigious law qualifications with just a minimal additional time commitment while exposing them to a rich set of courses and perspectives at a partner university.  ICG provided relevant research, analysis, benchmarking and assisted with initial discussions - all in a short five months timeframe.  With many Indian universities now looking into forming in-depth relationships with Western universities, many lessons from this project would certainly apply.  Details can be found here.

Another example is a 230+ pages long analytical report ICG recently undertook on behalf of the Canadian Government on promoting Canadian education internationally.  This project involved extensive analysis of international student mobility trends and a benchmarking of international education promotion agencies.  A component of the analysis focused on differences in the mobility patterns of Indian students to countries such as the USA, UK, and Canada.  Recommendations included an analysis of increased budgetary line items, a fundamentally different organizational design, and new, integrated promotion programs to be created.  Given the rapidly evolving Indian higher education landscape, many structural analysis parts of this report could be applied to India as well.  Details can be found here.

A third example is a series of Thought Leader Sessions ICG has organized at major international conferences, and in different settings at universities and public agencies.  These sessions serve as a platform for an expert-level, free exchange of analysis and ideas about a salient strategy topic.  Past Thought Leaders Sessions have addressed best practices in international student recruiting, international university alliances, and the long-term impact of the global economic crisis on education systems.  Discussions like these have proven to be an important venue for an open and results-oriented discourse, unencumbered by political considerations. The format and themes of these discussion are directly applicable to Indian institutions. Details can be found here.

Deemed Universities: Resistance to Reforms

Feb 1, 2010

Nearly five years ago the Supreme Court of India ordered closure of 112 universities which were started under the Chhattisgarh Private University Act, 2002. The act gave state government power to grant registration for a private university without prior permission from authorities, resulting in mushrooming of "universities" with many of them running from a highly deficient infrastructure. Chaattisgarh case made a complete mockery of Indian education system and showed us how business and political nexus could completely derail the system and dupe the students.

Five years down the line we are witnessing similar mockery of the quality in education with some of the deemed universities. However, this time the Supreme Court has taken a passive approach and ministry is taking an aggressive cleansing stance. The HRD ministry had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court based on the recommendation of a review committee and the task force "...to de-recognise 44 deemed universities across the country taking the plea that there were devoid of requisite infrastructure and being run as family fiefdoms." It is unfortunate that despite knowing the serious shortcomings at some of the universities, the court has ordered a status-quo. This is a set back to the reform and quality movement in Indian higher education.


More on this NDTV report

The concern for students career is valid and should be factored in the decision, but it is exaggrated out of proportion. Mr. Sibal had clearly said that every student who is supposed to get a recognized degree will get it. Also, when universities were closed during the Chhattisgarh Act, the court allowed the universities to affiliate with other state universities.  Likewise this time, deemed universities would have got an opportunity to affiliate with the local universities. This means that the current annoucement only strips these 44 universities of their autonomy and status of deemed universitiy, they could have continued to be serve as an affiliated college. In the short term, it surely would have been a painful process for concerned students, however, in the medium and long term it would save many more from risking their careers.

While I agree with the measure of derecognition of certain universities with shortcomings, I found ministry's  intent to abolish the whole concept of deemed univesities as unnecessary and unproductive. I agree with Prof. Sethuraman's view that "There are good deemed universities offering innovative degree programmes, engaging in quality research leading to publications, and providing high-quality teaching." The concept of deemed universities encourages innovation, efficiency and excellence in higher education. The real test for governance and regulatory mechanism is to provide an enviornment which fosters innovation and excellence and deters malpractices. Thus, it is not the concept of deemed universities which is at flaw, rather it is the execution of the princinples, practices and regulations which has failed. Despite the challenges and resistance faced by the reform process, I am sure that the message has gone out to the unscrupulous institutions that it is time to shape up.

Any thoughts on what should be done with deemed universities and how government is handling them?

- Dr. Rahul Choudaha

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