NEP 2020: Need to Reform University Regulations
| Prof. (Dr.) Shiv K. Tripathi, Edu Thought Leader, Jaipur - 27 Nov 2020

Will 'Conflict of interest and old regulation' allow us to realize New Education Policy Dream?

The Issue of Executive Leadership, Autonomy and Accountability in Indian Universities

The 'conflict of interest’ is affecting the academic freedom of the universities in India both private and public universities. The imbalance in authority and accountability is driving the system to an entirely different direction, which cannot be considered sustainable. When the country is preparing for implementation of NEP 2020, what are priority reform areas to address cause not the indicators?

By Prof. (Dr.) Shiv K. Tripathi

The New Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020), introduced recently by Government of India, clearly spells out that both the public and private sector institutions will be treated equally and there will not be any discrimination. However, the effective implementation of NEP 2020 requires strong cultural shift in functioning of our universities. Structural and regulatory reforms are inevitable due to the demanding academic autonomy (along with accountability and transparency). 

The issue of accountability, authority and autonomy of higher education institutions has been often analyzed from different lenses in different contexts. While the academic autonomy and independence of the academic institutions is one of the pre-conditions for the effective evolution of the institution towards developing high quality education services, at the same time, the misuse of autonomy is one of the serious issues that need attention as well as solution. In Indian context, the last two decades have witnessed significant expansion in the higher education in terms of number of universities and, thus, the shape, size and character of university education is greatly influenced.

In order to understand the different challenges of accountability and transparency, it is important to understand the context of Indian Universities. As per recent statistics, India has 993 universities, 10,725 stand-alone institutions and 39,931 colleges. The growth in university education has been mainly due to increasing private sector participation with 364 private universities.

However, despite the initial stages of massification, the quality and relevance of the higher education still remains a major challenge. The role of ‘executive leadership’ is considered to be critical (and pivotal) and promoting and ensuring high-quality education to the students and related educational services to other stakeholders. However, both the executive role as well as the autonomy varies significantly across the two different types of universities (on the basis of source of funding) i. e. public and private.

The public sector universities, irrespective of whether promoted by state (provincial) government or central government provides significant executive leadership autonomy with the aim of moving towards academic excellence.

However, the integrity, conduct and role of Vice Chancellors i.e. Chief Executive in public universities, has been in question. If we look at the Public University Act (although each university has technically different Act but with almost similar provisions), the source of autonomy and executive power is linked to the ‘academic freedom’, which is based on expected role of university in knowledge creation and dissemination without any direct financial motive. 

However, the evolution of the university as an organization has taken the overall system to a space where the words like competition, market, profit, revenue, etc. seem to dominate the day-to-day vocabulary. Under such an environment, expecting the Chief Executive Officers (Vice Chancellors) to function as ‘Kulpati (Overall head of the Gurukula, an ancient form of apex knowledge centre)’ appears to be a great contradictory role-design, ignoring the environmental reality.

As per the Act, most of the universities, have provisions for democratic academic decisions, however, sometimes, due to short-term interests of some of the stakeholder groups the system evolves with ‘comfort-zone structure’, serving to a few powerful stakeholder groups in the system.

In other words, the agreement on using ‘autonomy’ as a shield to serve the interest of a few becomes a norm and its’ effect on quality and relevance of higher education is quite evident. A recent article questions the liberty and autonomy of Vice Chancellors in view of their accountability to the different stakeholders of the system. The article shows the examples of alleged power misuse by executive leaders while still proving legally and technically correct, perhaps a larger ethical issue that need attention of lawmakers.

Let us have a look into the issues affecting executive functioning in most of the private Indian universities. The Private University Act, in most of Indian States, appear to be copy of the respective ‘Public University Act’. The aims, objectives, democratic structure and all the academic/ administrative functioning is similar to (at least supposed to be) in case of Public Universities. The Vice-Chancellor (or other equivalent positions) are ‘legally’ considered to be Chief-Executive of the university.

The qualification and experience prescribed for the Vice Chancellor position is similar in both private as well as public universities and, therefore, the roles and responsibilities also alike. However, there is a major point of departure in private universities regarding the role of ‘Chancellor’ who is appointed by the sponsoring body or the investors. Interestingly, as per the Act, the Chancellor can turn-down any decision of a Vice-Chancellor (or other university bodies) whether academic, financial or administrative.

In case of public universities, the position of Chancellor has ceremonial role and, therefore, there are no ‘prescribed’ qualification for the position. In most of the cases, either Governors of the States or eminent personalities are appointed as Chancellor. However, in case of many of the private universities, the Chancellors act full-time and above the Vice-Chancellors in hierarchy. In other words, its’ a creation of new position with enormous authority and almost very low legally prescribed accountability.

Further, the conflict of interest due to sponsoring body’s direct intervention in day-to-day academic functioning through their representative questions the suitability of the current framework to ensure the transparency and academic autonomy in the system. In some cases, where the Chancellors have acted maturely in larger interest, this arrangement has also contributed well, however, such positive impact cases are not many.

There are some who justify current arrangement on ground of the amount of financial investment by the promoter. Perhaps we forget that if protecting investment is the only criteria, we must try to allow profit-making organizations in higher education sector too instead of maintaining the current hypocritic stance of ‘education for good’ at face-value.

So. in both the cases i.e. private as well as public, the autonomy and accountability balance of executive leadership is in question under the current arranges. There appears to be need for strong regulatory reforms to first ensure the uniformity in work-systems and internal academic democracy across both public and private sector universities. Collective action and transparency is the way forward. There is strong need to drive transparency in functioning of the universities, irrespective of the sources of the funding and role of individuals.

Image-3 Courtesy - Getty Image

Prof. (Dr.) Shiv K. Tripathi

Professor and Dean (Training) at IIHMR University, Jaipur and India Chapter Lead of Humanistic Management Network. He is author of titles Corporate Yoga and Higher Education Management. He is one of the pioneering thought leaders on ‘Phronetic Wisdom in Management’ and ‘Higher Education Transparency’. The views expressed in the article are author’s own view. Email - shivktripathi@hotmail.com 


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