Saturday, October 20, 2012

Global varsity dreams hit a familiar wall !!

When you have a professor in the prime minister’s chair, the creation of academic institutes is expected to be high priority. Manmohan Singh hasn’t disappointed, announcing the South Asian University and Nalanda University and envisaging these not just as an extension of India’s soft diplomacy but also as its attempts at creating its own Ivy League.

Unfortunately, the two have failed to soar above the mediocrity that defines most of our educational institutes and due to reasons that are familiar — lobbying, unimaginative academic leadership, coterie building and red-tapism. The blame must be shared by the MEA for taking up the running of the universities — a sector it has neither expertise or understanding in.

While the infighting within the SAU has increased to the extent that an eminent faculty member recently wrote to the PM warning that the “dream would die” unless action was taken, the university has also failed to create an academic environment that would attract students as well as faculty from the SAARC countries it is targeting.

Nalanda University, which is yet to start its first academic session, has other problems. Prof Amartya Sen, who headed the Nalanda Mentor Group, had to write to the Prime Minister complaining about red-tapism. According to sources, the MEA is now attempting amendments to the Nalanda University Bill 2010 to iron out problems.

Where Nalanda scores over SAU is in the greater sense of ownership in the project. While SAU seems to be just drifting along, Nalanda, steered by heavyweights like Sen and Prof Sugata Bose, and assisted by Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, stands a better chance. A model that the MEA could take note note of is that for revival of Presidency University in Kolkata, where the Prof Bose-headed Mentor Group is making waves, attracting globally reputed faculty.
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