Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bihar Government sets terms for President mentor group

The Presidency University mentor group, with Harvard University professor Sugata Bose as its chairman, doesn't want the new university to be just another addition to the list, encaged within the run-ofthe-mill Act passed in the West Bengal assembly during the Left regime.

The Nalanda mentor group will be looking at complete overhaul, right from setting up search committees for recruitment of teaching staff and officers up to the level of the vice-chancellor, and streamlining the admission procedure to attracting the best talents. The group is also leaving open the option of keeping the newborn varsity a state one, or giving it a central university status, or recommending the "new innovation university" tag for it. At least, that is what the terms of reference for the mentor group indicate.

The Harvard professor and chairman of the mentor group handed out the terms of reference to the media on Wednesday after he called on chief minister Mamata Banerjee at Writers' Buildings. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has agreed to advise the chairman. "The chief minister will be meeting Sen when he comes to Kolkata on July 8. As you know, we are both in the Nalanda mentor panel," said Bose.

Jadavpur University emeritus professor Sukanta Chaudhuri has been included in the 10-member mentor group, despite his resigning from the committee set up for improving higher education as a whole. During his meeting with the CM, Bose also took note of the suggestions made by the illustrious Presidency College alumni and teachers in several platforms, the latest being a seminar organised by the Presidency College Alumni Association.

The aim of the mentor group would be to suggest ways to groom the new university into a centre of excellence with emphasis on merit and high quality teaching that was once the USP of the premier education institution. While charting out the terms of reference in consultation with Sugata Bose, the chief minister took care to plug all possible loopholes that might frustrate the goal.

For instance, the state government wants the mentor group to come out of the confines of the Act, and suggest a model university governance structure appropriate to pursue "excellence and equity." They include introduction of multi-disciplinary studies, electronic access to library, cross-registration agreements with research institutes in West Bengal and India and also develop international partnership with select universities all over the world.

In a bid to achieve all these, the new university needs an outstanding and diverse faculty who can foresee and innovate changes in the curricula and make amends to it from time to time to keep abreast with the latest changes in the academia. At the administrative level, the mentor group will try out ways to remove all sorts of "red tapism" as far as possible that had stunted the growth of the teaching staff in terms of conducting research, attending international seminars and also getting grants from several funding agencies. The mentor group also leaves room for participation of the alumni in the development of the university, both academic and financial. The university vice-chancellor Amita Chatterjee, while speaking at the alumni seminar, referred to some of the teething problems such as space constraint, dearth of sanctioned teaching posts, a rich library and state-of-the-art laboratory, apart from teaching staff.

According to chairman Sugata Bose, the 10-member committee will submit some short-term and longterm recommendations and progress reports to the government in phases beginning August 2011. The next four reports will come in January 2012, August 2012, January 2013 and June 2013. The mentor group has eight members at the moment with a provision to co-opt two more members adding up to a total 10. They include Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Harvard professor Sugata Bose, Isher Judge Ahluwalia of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, MIT professor Abhijit Banerjee, director National Library Swapan Chakraborty, Jadavpur University emeritus professor Sukanta Chaudhuri, Freiburg professor Himadri Pakrasi, Allahabad University professor Ashoke Sen.

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