Building world-class educational institutions

“The status quo of higher education industry around the world changes rapidly due to the challenges that it keeps facing due to the ongoing and new global challenges. The elite higher education institutions are forced to think globally and develop a strong student and a wider stakeholder value proposition so that they can differentiate themselves from their competition.

At an international conference in India, in late August 2019, sponsored by Indian Council of Social Sciences Research (ICSSR), a number of eminent educationists from India and overseas presented their views on how to build world-class institutions in India, with particular reference to tertiary education. Interestingly, there is no one definition of a world-class institution.

The eminent speakers believed the provision of the following abilities, as a minimum, were essential for any institution to be called a world-class institution.

  • Work experience and volunteering opportunities
  • Opportunities for international experiences
  • Links with industry partners and professional bodies
  • Incubator facilities and engages with start-up communities
  • Extracurricular activities

A philosophical perspective

Logically, the purpose of world-class institutions must be to produce world-class citizens, and not those close-minded, world-haters. Therefore, for creating world-class institutions, world-class humans are required to run them and world-class humans are required to learn and teach there. One may ask, ‘What does that mean?’ The answer to this simple, innocent question possibly leads to a pathway of creating world-class institutions; however, the answer may also be potentially challenging, rather confronting, to a polarised mind, living in a capitalistic community, with a nationalistic bent of mind.

What do we understand by the term world-citizen?

  • A world citizen is expected to regard people of all nations, ethnic communities, religious faiths, genders and sexual orientations equally, with dignity and respect, without bias and discrimination.
  • The world citizen may act locally, but must accept being globally responsible. In doing so, the person must remain aware about all pertinent global issues in view, such as the environment and sustainability, global peace, human and natural resources etc.
  • The world citizen must humbly acknowledge and respect the inputs made by humans from across the globe – past and the present – in all fields of learning – science and technology, medicine, mathematics, literature, arts and humanities – without trying to be overly boisterous and proud about the local input.
  • The world citizen must never stop being a student even after achieving the highest possible professional or academic level.
  • The world citizen must transcend all man-made divisions – national boundaries, religious faiths, socio-economic hierarchy – in order to gain a world view and be able to cater to the demands of the world.
  • The world citizen must understand that it is not very important what kind of work one does but how does one do what one does. A conceptual understanding of this mantra will help to inculcate a sense of respect in the person for all kinds of works and workers, develop respect for human dignity and labour. Unless this happens, a community will never witness human development, thus undermining the core purpose of education. Unless humans develop, communities will never be happy and progressing. Social hierarchy caused by socio-economic divisions, driven by class, wealth and power, acts against overall community well-being.

As far as educational institutions are concerned, a world-class institution would mean an educational institution that can:

  • Meet the academic demands and requirements of any person from across the globe in the fields of learning, research and teaching – in terms of both hardware (infrastructure) and software (human brain, experience and expertise);
  • Meet the global demands and requirements of the present time and the foreseeable future; and
  • Strive to develop responsible, law-abiding and unselfish world citizens who must be considered as good and happy human beings, as per common definitions of these terms, thereby, meeting the core objectives of education itself.

World rankings of universities

Based on their attributes, world universities are ranked on a number of systems, including the following:

  • QS World University Ranking
  • Times Higher Education World University Ranking (THEWUR)
  • Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)

No Indian university figures on the list of the world’s top 200 universities in 2019.

As per an article by Forbes, dated 10 August 2009, What Makes a University Great, the following three factors set the top international universities from the rest:

  • Talented teachers, researchers and students: Open-minded, bright and talented faculty and students from across the globe.
  • Several sources of funding: Government funding for operational spending and research; contract research funding from public organisations and private firms, and earnings from endowments, gifts and tuition fees.
  • Freedom, autonomy and leadership: Unrestrained scientific inquiry, critical thinking, innovation and creativity, without external bureaucratic and political influences.

As per an article by Deloitte, Seven global key challenges faced by universities and their leadership teams, the world universities face the following seven key challenges:

  • Rising student expectations
  • Technology and digital innovation – the norm
  • Operating in a global context
  • Linking estates strategy and the student
  • Attracting and retaining the best talent
  • Rising costs and shifting funding
  • Making research sustainable

Six desirable academic virtues of a world-class institution

  • Freedom to purse truth: Scholars have the necessary freedom to pursue truth.
  • Freedom to pursue all ideas: Scholars can pursue a full range of ideas – popular and unpopular, familiar and novel, probable and improbable.
  • Respect for knowledge and expertise: Expert knowledge is valued and respected by students and faculty.
  • Respect and value creativity and innovation: Acquired knowledge is respected and the intellectual skills, gifts are valued; individuals can challenge existing beliefs and develop new ideas and understanding.
  • Merit is rewarded: Rewards and success depends solely on the academic merit, and one’s commitment and capacity to do the work.
  • Inclusiveness: Membership not reserved based on gender, race or ethnicity, religion, socio-economic hierarchy or any other personal characteristics.’

Invest in the foundations of educational infrastructure 

At the conference, only one young speaker (frustratingly) emphasised the need to invest in the foundations of the educational infrastructure, i.e. the quality of education received by students at the pre-primary and primary school levels before world-class institutions can be made. And he was so very right; he may have nailed the issue right on its head. He spoke in Hindi to vent his frustration.

For higher learning, importance of independent, critical thinking – with an open mind, as required for undertaking genuine research, and not through plagiarism, at tertiary level – can never be over-emphasised. Unless this essential art of learning is inculcated in young minds, particularly in the first ten years of their life, quality, cutting-edge research is not generally possible at the later stages of education. Young minds must be encouraged to fearlessly ask questions – why, how, when, where – and not reprimanded for doing so by their pre-primary and primary school teachers, or by their parents, particularly if their parents claim to be educated.

Only when the young minds are allowed to think independently and develop open mind and the art of critical thinking, the foundations of an educational system can be deemed to be sound. For sound foundations, therefore, the educators that deal with young minds must be specialised in the art of teaching pre-primary and primary school students, and considered as professionals – similar to engineers, doctors or lawyers. Most importantly, the educators must be amongst the brightest minds and remunerated at the highest possible professional levels.

Whilst it may help to call an institution world-class from materialistic and business point of view, any institution that develops world-class citizens, as defined above – with holistic, global education – can be practically considered as a world-class institution.

On the basis of the above, and in the context of Indian education infrastructure, the role of India’s National Council of Educational Research and Teaching (NCERT) acquires an extremely high importance in (re) laying the foundations of the educational infrastructure across the country, which is necessary for the construction of a vibrant, research-oriented tertiary educational infrastructure. NCERT has, therefore, an essential role to play in shaping the destiny of the country.” … Bill K Koul (13 September 2019)

One thought on “Building world-class educational institutions

  1. A good piece. India needs to do a radical restructuring is education sector. Its education policies are not in tune with demand of the time.You have rightly said that one foremost aim of education must be to produce a ‘world citizen’. You have also explained who is a world citizen.
    I agree with you that the best approach to create educational institution of excellence is to first occur on the goals we need achieve, rest will follow.
    Warm regards
    Ashok Peer

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