World-Class Universities in India: Realizing Vision

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

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