Read on our article by Dr. Onkar Singh on Strengthening Higher Education by Reforming Institutional Governance.
The higher education system in India has grown significantly since independence and has become the third largest higher education system catering to the second most populous nation in the world. In view of the increase in the population and thus the demand for higher education, there has been an upsurge in the number of Institutions in both the public and the private sector. This has essentially created a requirement of a good number of teachers and head of the Institutions to manage them. A look at the key responsibilities of an academic administrator who generally hail from the academic set up includes the academic, administrative and financial management and the growth of the Institution as a whole. Undoubtedly the country has empowered regulatory bodies for higher education which have been prescribing the governance model of the academic Institutions from time to time, but the deficiency in the quality of education imparted by the higher education Institutions smells of either weakness in the functional framework or non-compliance of the frameworks or these not being made in action properly.
Higher education & The Governing Bodies
The bottom-up approach based on the participation of every stakeholder is the premise of governance in Indian higher education Institutions. Generally, there is an apex body with the name of Executive Council / Board of Management/ Board of Governors etc. assisted by Academic Council, Finance Committee, Administrative Committee and so on below the apex body. An introspection into the poor quality deliverables indicates of deficient teaching-learning processes for which the governance of the Institution is directly responsible. A closer look at the functional system will reveal that one or more of these bodies at some level do not perform the jobs as prescribed for them by the act/by laws of the Institution religiously. Irrespective of the type of Institutions, the lack of commitment of different functional bodies or their marginalization leads to poor quality of education.
In general, the governing frameworks are not weak, but the weakness lies in how do they perform their role. One can easily see that the compositions of different bodies are based on the philosophy of making them rich in terms of diverse views from the most of stakeholders and have various members to be nominated by their organizations or to be selected based on certain expertise. But the prescribed composition of different bodies is usually influenced by the head of Institution who also happens to be a principal executive authority. It is seen that the nominating bodies do not have exercise their authority properly and populate the bodies with the individuals as advised by the respective Institution’s head which results into the situation of most of the members being one among the acquainted ones of the head of Institution.
Sometimes this is good for having the smooth functional system, but the acquaintance is liable to make such external members docile and their independent flow of thoughts, as well as wholehearted participation, gets constrained. As regards the internal member’s participation is concerned, usually the members themselves do not make independent participation due to their hypocrite nature/ favours to be sought from the Institution’s governance and also sometimes the head of Institution secretly imposes the intangible rigid hierarchical structure of respective Institution and the participation just gets reduced to agreeing to whatever is desired by the apex individual leading to failure of the philosophy of governance through collective wisdom. Under such circumstances, different bodies entrusted with the responsibility of proper functioning of the Institution fail to give their inputs and have fair regulation on its’ different activities, resulting into the Institution’s functioning decided by a very small group of selected individuals with no diversity. It is true that the Institutions having a practice of all inclusion in governance face a tough time to arrive at the conclusion, but the outcomes are most likely to be in the best interest of the Institution while assuring the involvement of all.
The Learners & The Educators
The views of teachers in any Institution ought to be different due to their professional contributions, academic accomplishments, interpersonal issues, teacher-taught relationship etc. but when it comes to the realization of good quality in education delivery, then all initiatives bringing in good quality in education should only be banked upon. No compromises should be made in the rigour of teaching-learning processes as well as the student merit should not be sacrificed at any stage. The education system should not be burdened by carrying the baggage of those learners who do not exhibit the requisite merit. Good and impartial governance with integrity can only exercise the exit of non-performers as such decisions tempt the suffering individuals to use all kinds of pressure, seek favours & obligations etc. which are to be sustained only on merit.
Amongst different measures for improving the quality of education one of the measures is to have the members of governing bodies as well as governing system functionaries identified and picked up with complete fairness and only on the basis of merit. The biasing considerations based on public perceived ‘my person-your person’ theory in identifying functionaries and persons to constitute governing bodies and head of Institution simply damages the Institution in due course of time, as it quite often results in non-meritorious ones taking the command at the helm and the meritorious ones getting off from the system.
The Higher Education Community
It is pertinent to note that the extent of damage to any system by non-performers will always be lesser than the damage caused due to the performers distancing from the system and limiting themselves to the essential role only. The higher education of the country is very critical for the growth and sustenance of the civilization should essentially be run by those having excellence in terms of academic merit, high integrity and visible accomplishments to command respect in the academic community. It is seen that if anyone at the helm is devoid of academic merit then there is lack of courage to face their own community and thus lesser deliberations on various issues of concern which eventually leads to the gradual decline of the Institution. The other challenges faced by higher education in terms of employability, gross enrolment ratio, cost of education, competitiveness, inculcating knowledge, discipline and integrity etc. can be suitably taken care through a worthy governing system which has capability of providing opportunity of free expression, highest respect to merit at every level and keep teaching as well as student community continuously reinvigorated for achieving the mission of ‘excellence through education.