Round Table on World Class Universities Calls for Higher Education Reforms

4th September, Sonipat: O. P. Jindal Global University celebrated its eighth anniversary with a round table discussion on World Class Universities on 30th September 2017.

The distinguished participants were Mr. Kewal Kumar Sharma, IAS, Secretary, Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Government of India; H.E. Ms. Mariela Cruz Alvarez, Ambassador of the Republic of Costa Rica; Ms. Sun Meixing, Head of Education Affairs, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in India; Dr. Bertrand de Hartingh, Counsellor for Cooperation and Cultural Affairs, Embassy of France in India; Mr. Stephan Lanzinger, Counsellor and Head of Science & Technology Section, Embassy of Germany in India and Mr. Frederick Hawkins, Vice Consul, Embassy of the United States of America, New Delhi.

The round table was organised to initiate a dialogue amongst academics, practitioners and international diplomats towards understanding the characteristics of world class universities and how the phenomenon of global university rankings have created new opportunities and challenges for Indian universities.

The round table took place in the backdrop of the recent announcement by the University Grants Commission (UGC) to open applications to the Institutions of Eminence proposal. The initiative aims to establish 20 such institutions, 10 each in the public and private sector, which will be incentivised to break into leading world rankings. 

Mr. Kewal Kumar Sharma, IAS, Secretary, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, began his address by congratulating JGU for its achievements over a short span of eight years. He reflected on the evolving landscape of global higher education and the challenges facing Indian higher education institutions. In the context of the ongoing debate on university rankings exercises, Mr. Sharma noted that although many Indian institutions, particularly in the public sector, will face structural challenges in meeting the rankings criteria, the rankings exercises have cultivated an appetite for excellence. He added that the MHRD’s Institutions of Eminence proposal will encourage deeper partnerships between top Indian and foreign universities. Mr. Sharma added that other ongoing higher education reforms initiated by the MHRD are aimed at reducing regulatory control of well-performing higher education institutions.

Founding Vice Chancellor, Professor (Dr.) C. Raj Kumar said, “As we aspire to increase the quantity and raise the quality of higher education institutions in India, we need to draw from experiences around the world. There is a reason why there is not a single world-class university run on a for-profit basis. Public and private universities, which are top ranked in the world and are reputed for excellence in teaching, research and capacity-building, have all been not-for-profit institutions.”

He added, “The growth, expansion and evolution of the Indian higher education sector today has indeed transformed our country in unimaginable ways. However, there is a conscious need based upon a sense of conviction and purpose to build institutions of global excellence at a level which can compete with international institutions.

Reflecting on the need for greater investment and focus on education, H.E. Ms. Mariela Cruz Alvarez reminded the gathering that Costa Rica is a country without an army: “Being defenceless is our best defense. The decision we took in 1948 reaffirmed our commitment to the higher principles of life. We embarked on the task to unlock the full potential of our citizens.”

Dr. Bertrand de Hartingh, Counsellor for Cooperation and Cultural Affairs, Embassy of France was of the opinion that competing for rankings should not be the sole goal, rather it should be “higher education for all”. He defined a ‘world-class university’ to be “an open world university”, which receives students coming from all over the world.

Dr. Hartingh also stressed on the model of multilateral engagements of universities rather than only bilateral MoUs, where multiple universities can cooperate on a global platform.

Mr. Stephan Lanzinger, Counsellor and Head of Science & Technology Section, Embassy of Germany in India spoke about internationalisation, openness and autonomy of institutions.  The role of higher education is to “provide a purpose and a vision”, he added.

Highlighting how the Chinese government strove to consistently improve the quality of education at all levels through various projects, Ms. Sun Meixing, Head of Education Affairs, Embassy of People’s Republic of China in India said, “In the 1990’s, the government under various projects aimed to improve the higher education institutions of the country, as part of the effort over 100 universities were selected for developing and enhancing the quality of higher education.  The government allocated specific funds and resources to these institutions as major centers of research and excellence”.

Ms. Meixing added that joint and dual-degree programmes have become a very popular option among Chinese students. The Chinese government has also invested significant resources in attracting foreign teaching staff to China thereby allowing students to experience global standards of education without having to undertake expensive study at foreign universities. China has also seen a paradigm shift in how higher education is provided in the country through in-country campuses set up by top ranked foreign institutions. Programmes offered by these universities are entirely in the English language and enable Chinese students to compete on an international level.

Ms. Meixing emphasised the importance of student scholarships and the need for increased student exchange opportunities between India and China. 

The discussion also touched on the role of regulatory bodies such as the UGC and to what extent this impacts institutional performance.

Several speakers also noted that India faced particular challenges that stem from the scale of the higher education system in the country, unique issues facing public and private institutions and challenges in providing equitable access to education for all. These objectives need to be dovetailed into the larger objective of having World Class Universities in India, the discussion concluded.

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