Can India be an education hub of India? What will be the nature of education that India can provide? Where does India lags behind developed countries in the education sector? Why is India scoring poorly in research and development sector? These are some of the areas of education, Professor Suranjan Das, Vice Chancellor, Jadavpur University, has touched upon in his exclusive interview to BE’s Kishore Kumar Biswas.
Q. It is said that India has the potential of being an education hub of the world. Do you think so? If yes then what are the preconditions for it?
A. Of course India has that potentiality of emerging as an important education hub. A section thinks that this is related to globalization. But I think it is different for India as India has already a long tradition of it. A lot of scholars from different countries came to India in long past for studying in Nalanda, Takshashila and other places of learning. This is not so in many countries in Europe or elsewhere. But in this globalization period education has turned into a service sector element. Education has turned out to be a commodity. So while I have been talking of education hub I am considering it in a different sense.
I am thinking of an education hub in India where educating students will not merely be to train them for good jobs in the job market. The main purpose of higher education should be to create such a citizenship that can attain the power of thinking on their own, have information about what is happening in the world around them and are able to solve problems in their own ways. Swami Vivekananda thought education as a character making exercise and Rabindranath Tagore compared education with fuelling one’s own thinking process. Amartya Sen thought of Argumentative Indians, that is, in India there had been a long tradition of having logical argumentations among people. So, as an education hub in India, I am talking of this type of education.
Q. What is the basic difference between education system in India and that in developed countries?
A. First thing, that I came across in my student life in England and later elsewhere as a teacher is that India lacks proper infrastructure in education sector. Compared to the developed world we are much behind them. We also have world class institutes like Indian Institute of Science, TIFR, ISIs, IITs. But these are some isolated cases. Secondly, academic institutes in India have no connection with society at large around them. It is not so in the case of Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and others. I can give you an example. While I was at Oxford, suddenly crime incidence increased. Then local police gave the responsibility to the University to find out the reasons for that and the major areas of incidents. I myself was a part of the project. Linking society to university is very important.
I think that making centres excellence is not enough. We already have some excellence centres, like Jadavpur University. But so long as these institutes lack coordination with other institutions and society as a whole a fruitful education system is a far cry in our country. Development of society through our educational institutes is needed. The slogan for India should be `Partnership in Excellence’.
Q. India is not advanced in research and development (R&D). What can be done?
A. In R&D we are lagging behind developed countries including China. Our total expenditure on R&D is justa little over 1% of GDP. The reason is that the government expenditure in this sector has increased less than proportional to increase in GDP for long. Additionally, the private sector has not spent in the desired way. In the West and even China both the government and the private sector are spending good amounts in this area. In India most of the private educational institutes are running with a profit motive. The origin of most of the famous private universities of the world started with a philanthropic attitude. These institutes even today spend a lot on R&D.
Q. India is highly dependent on foreign technology. How can India be able to stand on its own to a great extent?
A. India is really dependent. The way is to substitute those technologies with India’s own. But, unlike China, the effort to go for substitution is lacking. I think so long as changes of attitude towards import substation come up among the entrepreneurs, the dependence on foreign technology will continue. In a globalized world economy, too, there is scope for being independent to a large extent. Unfortunately, we see that our young generation tends to imitate the West, ignoring its own culture. Young Bengalis are hardly interested in the writings of Rabindranath of Nazrul. But in the West there is now a renewed interested in its own past.
Q. It is reported that the quality and quantity of engineers and scientists are low in India compared to developed countries and of course in China. How can the situation be reversed?
A. In countries like China the government spends huge money on research. A large number of their students go for higher education to well known universities in US or elsewhere with government’s financial support. In India the scope for government funding in studying world class universities abroad is shrinking. Consequently, in our country it is mostly people from the advantageous social background who are going abroad for advanced studies. So there shall be considerable enhancement of state funding in higher education and research to enable Indians to effectively compete at the international level.
Q. It is sometimes claimed that th presence of multiple authorities in higher education, like UGC, AICTE, are hampering the higher education sector. Do you think it really is a cause for concern?
A. India is in a transitional phase of development. In this stage there should be supervisory bodies to ensure equity, access and quality in higher education. But supervision or regulation does not mean control. The UGC for example helps maintain parity in salary structure of the university or college employees, academic syllabus, etc. The education sector will otherwise fall under the grip of market economy.
But it is true that there is lack of coordination among different authorities. This must be corrected. On the other hand bringing the entire education system under one authority will lead to centralization of authority which is
not in tune with principle of federalism. So coordination must be strengthened among different bodies.
Q. Returning to the first topic I would like to know what steps are needed to make India an educational hub?
A. We need adequate state funding and proper long-tern planning. Quality institutes must be spread over the country as evenly as possible. Presently there is a tendency of setting up national institutes in Delhi. This is actually against the spirit of federalism. Moreover greater opportunities need to be created to enable higher education institutes to government has to provide adequate opportunity to scholars to foster national and international collaboration. Additionally the universities need to be granted considerable academic autonomy. In the developed countries universities enjoy such autonomy and that is one of the preconditions for better academic atmosphere.