Not the same thing

For the most part, certainly in most STEM disciplines, good research often requires expensive infrastructure — labs, equipment, libraries etc.

Written by Pushkar | Published: December 16, 2014 12:04 am


Earlier this year, in September, Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani joined the vice chancellors of Central universities at their two-day retreat in Chandigarh. There, among other things, a working group of select vice-chancellors was constituted to frame guidelines on five key issues: a common admission test, a common curriculum, student mobility, faculty mobility, and a national system of credit transfer. The working group recently submitted its proposals.

These proposals are aimed at achieving standardisation on these five issues for all 45 Central universities in the country. It is not clear whether the working group considered linking standardisation to the imperative of improving the quality of education at these institutions.

In all fairness, some of the proposals of the working group appear reasonable. For example, there seems to be nothing particularly objectionable about introducing a common entrance test for admission to Central universities. However, there are other recommendations which, if adopted, threaten to diminish the quality of research and teaching at some of the best educational institutions in the country, such as Jawaharlal Nehru University, Panjab University and Delhi University, and damage their national and global reputation.

The most controversial of all the proposals is one that recommends faculty members to be transferred from one university to another. At this point, it is not known whether such transfers are to be voluntary or compulsory, the period of time for which each posting would be tenable, or who would be responsible for deciding when and where faculty members are to be transferred. But if the transfers are made mandatory, it will bring down the quality of education at our best Central universities without lifting the lesser ones. Further, the “power to transfer” could be routinely abused by vice chancellors, heads of departments or whoever else has the authority to effect them, to the detriment of faculty performance, especially in terms of research output.

On the face of it, the argument in favour of faculty transfers appears noble enough — lesser institutions that are normally unable to attract accomplished faculty members will benefit from the arrival of teachers and researchers from prestigious institutions. However, this line of reasoning doesn’t take into account the rationale for creating and maintaining Central universities. These are our flagship universities, which are meant to be both teaching and research institutions. Unlike the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management, they are also institutions that serve as models for state universities. Further, since it has become increasingly evident from world and regional university rankings that most of our universities are not up to global standards, primarily because of their low research output, we have been asking and expecting faculty at Central universities to do more and better research.

For the most part, certainly in most STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) disciplines, good research often requires expensive infrastructure — labs, equipment, libraries etc. Central universities are unequally endowed in this respect. Some of the older ones have built good infrastructure over time, so their faculty members are able to carry out cutting-edge research. However, many Central universities are functioning with jugaad facilities. Now consider the following scenario — a solid researcher at Delhi University is asked to move to a lesser Central university. It would be impossible for this researcher to replicate the same lab and working conditions at her new institution. This could bring down, if not entirely kill, her research output.

Consider another scenario. It is well known that the best research is often carried out in teams, when a number of faculty members with similar research interests work with a dedicated group of postgraduate students under fairly optimal conditions. Now imagine that one or two key faculty members of a research team are transferred out. It would be impossible to carry out collaborative research over long distances when the locations at which team members are based vary greatly in terms of facilities. Where does that leave the research team, including students?

The recommendations of the working group do not take into account the fact that transferring research-oriented faculty will hurt their performance and hence the standing of their respective departments and the university. Such transfers make sense for faculty that is made up primarily of teachers, as is the case with colleges where the faculty is required to be dedicated to undergraduate teaching. Transfers would also be reasonable for those faculty members who have taken to administration and can contribute to building institutions. They certainly do not add up for researchers.

The current set of proposals suggests that the members of the working committee either do not understand what good research involves or have deliberately aligned their proposals to suit the agenda of the human resource development ministry officials.

The writer is assistant professor at the department of humanities and social science, Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani.

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  1. A
    Angshuman Mukherjee
    Dec 16, 2014 at 9:16 pm
    The issues raised in this article are worth giving a thought . Therefore I guess we should have strict notified rules regarding transfers of the Central University faculties such as no transfer could be allowed before a specified term ends , transfers should not be used as disciplinary measure , transfers should be accomodative of the research work the faculty member is engaged in , and that researchers serving as faculties should be transferred to insutions with similar capabilities as the one they were previously engaged in .Also enough money needs to be spent to upgrade and update infrastructure to keep the faculties satisfied with their work . Also the transfer needs to be put in place to prevent the developement of personal fiefdoms in the respective universities .There should be an independent body to regulate these transfers .Books of goods libraries should be digitised or funds should be made available for their purchase before their transfer . There should be a central library for researchers throughout the country to stay updated on the various works of research appearing in national and international journals .As far as collaborative research is concerned , there could be a interlinked college or university hubs located in proximity to each other and with allied facilities to aid the researchers and could result in collective improvement of all the allied universities .Plus to promote independent research there needs to be an independent regulatory body of elected members to check rising allegations of plagiarism .
    1. Anil Maheshwari
      Dec 16, 2014 at 4:52 am
      More than four decades ago, Ale Ahmed Saroor, Professor of Urdu in Aligarh Muslim University had written in an article in the "Young Indian" that most of the university and degree college teachers get full time pay for the part time jobs. The situation has come to such a nadir that the university teachers get handsome pay for no work at all. They do anything but teaching and research.The time has come that teachers of central universities should be made available for transfers.
      1. A
        Dec 16, 2014 at 1:58 pm
        Our Human resources minister seems to be thinking of petty issues rather than fast modernization, academic freedom and actual autonomy of educational insutions of both private and public funded in India. The present status of Indian educational Insutions are below world standard. What's the urgency of Education minister is to involve and implement real changes with professionals, the way Sam Pitroda changed the telecommunication system in India.Let our education minister apply wisdom with reality.
        1. M
          M. H.
          Dec 16, 2014 at 10:13 am
          I fully agree. They are increasingly becoming non-productive and a big burdenon the resources of this poor country.They think time-p is their birth right.
          1. B
            Babubhai Vaghela
            Dec 16, 2014 at 3:27 am
            Like Indian Oil Corporation Limited, Power to Transfer can be Criminally Abused. Google - PG PMO 290109 Saibal Sarkar - .Read Doents on Heinous Crimes against Humanity.
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