Que sera

Much of the last week was taken up with conferences and conclaves, meetings in Delhi and Washington. I am only slowly getting familiar with the routines, the ceremoniality of it all, the somewhat studied smiles and pauses. The speeches. But in the midst of it all, there are things that stand out, as did an excerpt of what one of the senior administrators at Stanford said last week, when talking about quality.

In his book, Rabi, scientist and citizen,  John Rigden tells of when Dwight Eisenhower was President of Columbia University, and Isidor Rabi (picture on the right) was awarded the Nobel prize for Physics. As Hans Bethe (another physicist and Nobelist) recounts, Eisenhower met Rabi and said “Professor Rabi, I congratulate you on the Nobel Prize, and besides, I am always very happy to see one of the employees of the University…  So Rabi drew himself up to his full height of five feet five inches and said,” Mr President, the faculty are not the employees of the University. They are the University!

I don’t know what else I got out of that talk, but this made a great impression on me, as I imagine it did on Bethe, or on Rigden, or for that matter, on Eisenhower. The sense of identification, the sense of authority, or the sense of responsibility. This so defines a teacher, and in the end, this so defines a University.

The next few days in Washington were an eye opener in more ways. Visits to the University of Maryland in addition to The summit with Mr Kapil Sibal and Mrs Hilary Clinton. The U of M is one of the “land grant” universities, having 1250 acres given by the state for the purpose of education (sound familiar??). They started in 1857, so that is quite a headstart on us, but still… they now have about 3000 faculty, 39000 students,  a similarly impressive number of departments and subjects. Given, as I learned, that our (by which I mean the country’s) placement deficit with respect to the US is 100,000 student seats, it make one think again of where we should be positioning ourselves at UoH. On the size front, we are a tenth of the faculty and a tenth of the student body but at the same nominal area. But we serve a population that is at least 10 times as many… Without making unfair comparisons, I still think it should be possible for us to do better on the numbers game.

But more. A serious question as to how we should increase numbers is on the cards. First off, we need better infrastructure, both for teaching and for student hostels. And for faculty housing. But after that. What should we be teaching? What are the areas where we should be investing intellectually? What is important for us, as academics? What is of interest to us as a nation? What subjects, what areas of human enquiry are of relevance?

None of these are unloaded questions, I realize, but we do need to start thinking along some lines. The 12th Plan is upon us, and if we want this to be a plan in any sense of the word, it is important that we start thinking. Among the foci of discussion at the summit were issues of skill development, of community colleges. And yes, the usual dual degrees, twinning programmes, semesters in India and other intersections were talked about but in somewhat tired voices. What was really urgent is the final realization that in India, we will soon have about 200 million young men and women in search of an education, and it will be our lot to educate them as best as possible to take their place, not in India, but in a world that is even more borderless than we see it now.

How will we prepare ourselves for the challenge of providing a skilled workforce to the world? One thing is for sure, we need new strategies for educating more people, in ways that they want, and in ways that are effective, using methods that may not exist… yet.

What will the University of Hyderabad be like in the year 2024, when we are 50? I suppose that is up to us to determine, now.


13 thoughts on “Que sera

  1. Indeed, the faculty are the most critical component of a university’s manpower. And in the debates regarding the future of India’s universities, their input must be actively sought. Quoting the opinion of certain academics, India needs “a mechanism of mature debate amongst our academicians, and a process of consensus that would lead to policy frameworks to guide the evolution of our education system”.

    One such mechanism might be an annual higher education conference that can focus on issues of administration, pedagogy, curriculum etc. that affect Indian universities.


  2. At least this “voyager’s” (your) report should make us think on innovative lines and energize new routes. The key is of course developing the idea that ‘We are the University’.

    The issues you have identified have been making rounds for decades, but without much intellectual investment going into resolving them. As a university as long as we depend on MHRD, the journey is full of “road dividers” (like our road dividers at every street corner in the campus, which indicates a typical mentality of us).

    As per serious questions:

    1. How to increase numbers of both students and faculty?
    2. From where and how to mobilize funds for better infrastructure?

    While we are working on those questions, cannot we collectively start urgent dialogues among us on how to conceive and load the interdisciplinary courses and research agendas which can be intellectually challenging and socially useful and simultaneously empowering to students?

    As teachers our real concern is falling rate of student intake year by year. In Hyderabad alone we have several educational institutions. The numbers of student applications we get are so low compared, say Osmania University, I have this nagging feeling that there is something wrong with us, which we are not willing to diagnosis.

    Can we do something about it, to start with? For the next admission season is fast approaching. While doing something about it, we can think of resolving all the above issues and make a bid for better funding from the MHRD for the 12th Plan period.

    May be it is time to put our thoughts on paper and send to the Vice-Chancellor so that the ideas can be tamed and moulded to suite the goals of the University: (a) at a collective teachers’ meetings and (b) at AC and other academic statutory bodies.

    I suggest the University of Hyderabad Teachers’ Association to take the initiative.

    Thank you for nudging us in right direction. Somehow and somewhere in ‘recent history’ we have entered into this magic world of “number one university’ without actually being number one in real sense.

    Murali Atlury

  3. To get more applications for Integrated and M.Sc or MA courses ….. I think a better advertisement is needed…. May be installation of some counseling or information centers at major cities in India is not a bad idea….

  4. Students, faculty and administrators/non-teaching staff can all claim to be ‘the university’. Self-declaration of importance is easy. But one (i.e. my) way of deciding what defines a University would be to examine when its existence is threatened if that ingredient is defined. By this essentiality measure only students can make the claim made by Rabi. Administration, and even teaching can be outsourced; but students are indispensable to the existence of a University. I am in no way suggesting that teaching by ‘guest faculty’ is the ideal situation, but any claim of the value of yourself or your profession has to be considered critically. Even if it is made by a Nobel Laureate.

  5. Dear Professor,
    We are happy and privileged to know what is happening in summits and conferences of eminent academicians, administrators and bureaucrats.
    And I do agree with the view that Faculties are the University in the sense, as you have rightly pointed out, of “identification” and “responsibility.” I say this primarily because I have the notion that I came to this university not because I did not get through any other university but because I wanted to do my research under an eminent faculty, and that I am doing research not because I did not get any other job but I have been fulfilling one of my aspirations/dreams. In fact, I got two govt. jobs eight years before.
    For me, the sense of a “family” in an academic institution is more important than anything else. Just like parents mould their children and dream of and strive for the children’s better future, faculties should have certain obligations to and expectations of and hope for their students; and at the same time, students should also reciprocate this feeling to the faculties and the University, and fulfil their dreams. I say this because I am a student now and will be a teacher tomorrow.
    And, let me say frankly that I am fortunate enough to be a part of a department where faculties have a robust work ethics, and I feel proud and greatly privileged to work with/under my supervisor [Prof. Alladi Uma] in the university.
    But unfortunately, it is a bitter fact that many students in our university are not able to find a reason to feel this sense of privilege. It is where, I think, the difference comes. And, many people do not take the No. 1 tag very seriously primarily because they know at the heart of heart that they do not so far do anything significantly for it. When it is “given” to our university because of the hard work and commitment of a few faculties from a few departments, others are also become its beneficiaries.
    I am not saying here that all the faculties are like that. Yet, I hope we ought to have the honesty to acknowledge the fact that all the faculties and students of our university are not equally competitive and use their full potential to make our university a better research centre. And, I do see your logic in not considering the No. 1 tag very seriously, but there is a difference. I think, You, as our VC, accept the No.1 tag, but are not satisfied with the “given” status, and aspire for better infrastructure, environment, facilities, commitment and efforts, and hence for collectively “achieving” the No. 1 status comprehensively. That is the real hallmark of a winning captain. Our No. 1 status is like our Indian test cricket team once rated No1 because of the extraordinary efforts of a few like Dravid and Laxman!!!
    And, Yes, You will determine what will be the University of Hyderabad like in the year 2024, now, when You honestly assess the faculties and compel them/ encourage them by providing necessary facilities for better outputs, and when/if you are able to identify “Man Thinking/ thinking scholars with a sense of humanities” at the time of selecting/ appointing new faculties. Let’s hope for the best.

    • One must congratulate Dinesh Babu for the analysis of the situation in the University and about what is expected of a Captain and the team members. We must also appreciate the alert sounded by Chetan on the relative importance of the different components of the University.

      The University must find ways to tap the full potential of the existing faculty and look for new teachers on lines of the expectations of the students to think of a better ranking rather than look to the US Universities for a ‘partnership’.

  6. Mr.Chetan’s comment is slightly off the mark. The context of the Nobel Laureate comment is about a “Professor” getting nobel prize, being an employee of the University, not about other things.

    It is obvious that the University is comprised of all the components and not just students.

    The contempt with which he makes the following statement is surprising:

    “… but any claim of the value of yourself or your profession has to be considered critically.”

    If there is no value to teachers and their profession, why should students waste time in the University, to start with?

    Similarly his statement that “administration, and even teaching can be outsourced” is rather sinical. What he has to realise is that even by outsourcing teaching, the student is still going to depend on a teacher.

  7. In my time, and perhaps even to some years later, education meant learning to learn. Somewhere along the line, this has been replaced by acquiring degrees and diplomas as the sole end and so we see students pass out with qualifications but unemployable. Can young universities and young VCs change this paradigm?

    • Sir Ramana’s plea for young VC’s to change the paradigm: back to “learning to learn.” To do this like in the days of Sir Ramana (he likes to be called like this) both teachers and students should “READ”. Do we do that now?

  8. The lack of infrastructure and other related issues are known facts about several of the Indian educational institutions. We may have friends to join this club from some of the developing nations. We have a relatively big number of Indian scholars graduated in American Universities and moved back to India to work in academic institutions. Such academicians have to soul-search their efforts to enhance translational research in India with the experience gained in an environment that was conducive for translation. ‘Indian’ education system need not see only the ‘American’ system as the sole alternative if we are genuinely interested to improve academic systems for the Indian students. We need to take into consideration the socio-regional-economic factors (to be more inclusive) and put our heads together to design model(s) that best suit Indian context. We will certainly need multiple models that are unique, knowing the diversity of issues across the nation. We need to sit down and generate appropriate workable, ‘Indian models’ for the country. Charity begins from home! If UH demonstrates such a model(s) in a reasonable time we would prove worthy.

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