Autonomy of Educational Institutions is essential for an higher educational institute (HEI) to achieve excellence. But, of course, autonomy is not sufficient. If autonomy of governance is to help move towards excellence, and not degenerate into hiding mediocrity behind autonomy, it is essential that governance structure for HEI should be solid with suitable checks and balances.

There are two broad governance models in India – one of them is a creation of the British, who wanted no check on the powers of their administrators. This model still continues, and effects are not very good, as records of so many universities show. A few years ago, Prof. G. Barua (Director of IIT Guwahati at that time) and myself had written an article in TOI on it – I am giving this article below – its thesis remains fully relevant.

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Learning How To Teach – Getting the governance model for our universities right is a must for boosting the education sector (appeared in Times of India Editorial Page), by Pankaj Jalote and Gautam Barua

 

There has been considerable discussion and debate on autonomy of educational Institutions. But very little attention has been paid about the Governance in Educational Institutes. There are two main governance models that are prevalent– one is what we will call “the IIT model” (IM) which prevails in all IITs, IIMs, and many other Institutes, and the other is “the University Model” (UM), which is employed in most Universities.

First it should be clarified that institutions under both these models are universities in that they can give degrees,  etc., and an University can adopt IM and an engineering Institute can follow UM.

In both the models, there is a chief executive, called Director in IM and Vice Chancellor in UM, who  is supported by Deans, Heads, Registrars, etc. There is a Board which is the principle executive body –the Board of Governors (BOG) in IM, and the  Executive Council (EC) in UM. There is an academic body which looks after academic governance –often called the Academic Council in UM and Academic Senate in IM.

A sound principle of governance is that in critical matters the recommending body and accepting body are separate. This separation is important to keep some form of check on the recommending body. In an educational Institute, for most administrative matters, the recommending body is often the executive, and the final accepting body is the Board/EC. And it is here the two models differ fundamentally – in IM the Board is chaired by an external person, while in UM, the EC is chaired by the Vice Chancellor him/herself.

With the EC and the Executive both headed by the VC, the VC has far more in his control than in the IIT system. This is perhaps a legacy of the British Raj, which works well if the VC is visionary, as was the case in early times when we had towering VCs like Dr. Radhakrishnan.  However, it can seriously damage a university if the VC is malleable or not competent.  In our country we can be sure that appointment of VCs will sometimes be political which can put people not competent for the job in the top position. In other words, if we take the university over a period of multiple decades, we can be almost sure that there will be some periods in which it would be headed by a not very competent VC who is a political appointee.

One crucial area where this can show up is in faculty selections. In both the models, recommendation for faculty selection is generally made by a selection committee, which has experts as members, and is  chaired by the Director/Vice Chancellor. However, the power to actually make appointments rests with the Board, which a Board often delegates to its Chairman for speedy acceptance. This weakness opens the VC to political pressure for faculty appointments, as it is the VC who effectively decides on appointments. In IM, as the recommendations have to be accepted by the Chairman, political pressure is harder to apply. And nothing hurts an academic institution more than appointment of poor quality faculty – even a few appointments can help mediocrity to set in, as a faculty member may be with the University for 30 years. The negative message it sends out will dissuade good candidates from applying, thereby creating a snowball effect, from which it can be very hard to recover.  This is one of the key reasons why good faculty candidates simply do not apply to universities that are perceived as supporting mediocrity (despite the fact that the salaries across Institutes are same in India.) And in a 10 year period, a VC can easily appoint a quarter of the faculty to fill vacancies created by retirement, and new posts. This system also creates problems in other areas such as awarding contracts, etc.

Interestingly, this aspect also encourages internal politics in UM, which can make it harder for well meaning VCs to implement desired changes. For example, a VC, as the chief executive, is usually the best person to defend a proposal before the EC, which is the final accepting body. But since he is the Chairman also, he often cannot do so strongly, and, in fact, has to often rely on the Registrar to defend the proposal. As the VC is himself not making the proposal, EC members, many of whom are internal faculty members, are able to lobby against the proposals more easily (and in the process indirectly criticize the VC himself on his face!)

It is not an accident that over the last fifty years, the institutions that have enhanced or preserved their reputation are mostly the ones that follow IM – IITs, IIMs, IISc, etc. Examples of Institutes that were once great but have declined in stature over the years are often universities, including many which were once highly reputed temples of learning.

In modern India, the governance of Universities should reflect the modern and tested systems of Governance. The IIT model  is more robust and can better handle occasional “bad appointments” at the top position. As India increases its Universities, to prevent them from becoming mediocre with time, it is important that they are created with this model, rather than the University model.

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