Today, Delhi University has been referred to as the backwaters of the global ranking. With a similar tale playing out in universities all over the country. But there is a way out.
Indian Universities have undergone greatly due to the combined impact of twirling headships and near-automatic promotions for all.
It started in 1970 at the University of Delhi. Now, almost everybody gets promoted regardless of merit, and generals of departments are appointed by rotation so all promotees get to be HOD without being qualified or eligible.
But not too long ago, the University of Delhi would have easily ensured a very high rank in any global ranking system. During the 1950s and the 1960s, it had won a zenith in terms of its academic reputation. The roll call from those years rambled of prominent names such as D.S. Kothari and A.N. Mitra (Department of Physics), P. Maheshwari and B.M. Johri (Botany), B.R. Seshachar and M.R.N. Prasad (Zoology), M.N. Srinivas (Sociology), V.K.R.V. Rao, K.N. Raj, Amartya Sen, A.L. Nagar, S. Chakravarty, and J.N. Bhagwati (Economics), T.R. Seshadri (Chemistry), S.R. Ranganathan (Library Science), U.N. Singh (Mathematics) and Nagendra (Hindi). And this list is by no means exhaustive.
Professor Dinesh Singh, former VC Delhi University, and Educationalist has expressed his views in The Print media.
When merit wasn’t a mere word
There are several elements that have provided for this extensive deterioration. One of them has its origins in an action that was unwittingly initiated at the University of Delhi in 1970, and which was readily and unthinkingly acquired by universities around the nation over that decade.
Until 1970, all educational headquarters of Delhi University were headed in similar customs by professors of great stature. It helped vastly that they were at the helm for a substantial number of years, which facilitated them to provide strengthened momentum and direction to their departments.
Of course, there was a downside to this interpretation. Sometimes, personal biases and even highhandedness would trickle into the determinations and actions of those directing a department. But overall, they released their responsibilities meritoriously. One of the most significant outcomes of their stewardship was the fact that, in order to be able to acquire an intellectual position or gain growth in any department, an individual needed strong certifications because genuine merit was the main standard. In varying degrees, such a situation was widespread in most universities across India.
DU’s feeble act
But a marked decline commenced to set in at Delhi University when, in 1970, it suddenly transferred to a procedure where departmental headships were rotated among almost all faculty — regardless of merit — and that too for the brief duration of three years. Soon, this criterion began to be adopted by almost all Indian universities. It had a destructive effect since more often than not, a departmental head would be erratic to the task of clutching to high norms — both academically and administratively.
To complex this problem, the University Grants Commission (UGC), in 1982 and under serious political tension, enforced a system of promoting academic faculty — ‘Merit Promotion Scheme’ — which, in practice, emerged in the automatic peak of all and sundry on the basis of length of service — a minimum of eight years.
It may be insisted that a vice-chancellor has the strengths to dissuade near-automatic promotions but as the reports show, very few of them have shown any desire or responsibility to execute stricter standards. Similarly, vice-chancellors dare not impede the business of headship by the process even when they have some freedom in this regard because the practice is heavily ingrained. This too could be ameliorated to a large extent if vice-chancellors were nominated with great care and then granted longer terms subject to execution.
Adding further, ex VC said, I have often asserted that any university in India or abroad with a proven track record has progressed primarily because of its vice-chancellor, who not only enjoyed total freedom but had their tenures lengthened for the extended feature to achieve what they had set out to. Maurice Gwyer served at Delhi University for 12 years and many of the eminent personnel were brought in at a young age during his term. The same happened during Robert Goheen’s differentiated tenure at Princeton University.
But all such instances are in the yore. It’s time Indian universities reexamined their wonderful days by bringing back some of the notions from the yesteryears. The nomination of deserving vice-chancellors can be the starting juncture.
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