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Post-COVID19, let’s work to get world-class degree in India

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Bimal Prasad Mohapatra
Bimal Prasad Mohapatra
Columnist is a Senior Research Fellow in Defense Research and Studies (DRaS), Faculty of Management Studies in Trident Group of Institutions, Bhubaneswar, and author of novel "Travails of LOVE" and "Bimal's ANAND MATH". He writes column on Geopolitics, Indian Politics and Media for MyVoice.OpIndia, DRaS, The Kootneeti, The Diplomatists, The Avenue Mail, Delhi Post, Orissa Post, Outlook Afghanista, The Manila Times, etc. And also Moderated Panel Discussion on Geopolitics, Politics and Media

Indians as a whole have foreign university degrees mania on the pretext of world-class education. Yes, it is true that, as per the criteria laid by reputed university ranking agencies such as QS World University Ranking, Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), etc., no Indian university has been one among the top 100 world-class universities so far. And, at the same time, all foreign universities, where large number of Indian students study, are not world-class universities. But, ‘foreign degrees are foreign degrees’ like foreign spouses, dresses, foods, jobs, etc. for many of us Indians.

But, it is only rich and elite (less than 5%, as per some study, of India’s population) who are privileged to avail the foreign degrees as they can afford financially apart from miniscule few non-rich and elite but highly meritorious who can secure this privilege through limited available government scholarships and corporate sponsorship after appearing competitive tests and screenings. Upper middle-class, another 10% or so of the population, though very keen yet can’t go for the same partly due to cursed ever increasing exchange rate, now hovering above Rs.74/- per dollar.

Foreign degrees are considered a proud possession

Many so proud of their foreign degrees that they do not hesitate to demonstrate their and their class people’s foreign degrees as and when required in order to grab special privilege which might not have been achieved on merit. For example, when economist and former RBI Governor Dr. Raghuram Rajan did not insist for second term as the Governor of RBI in favour of academia in University of Chicago, US as per his earlier commitment, one Lutyen elite having Harvard Law degree allegedly mocked, “The US educated Dr. Rajan forced to resign by Indian University educated Finance Minister”. In 2018, while traveling to J&K via Punjab, I had noticed a salon signage that highlighted ‘Hair-dresser trained in Australia’; such is the foreign mania that sway Indians’ psyche.

In knowledge of this author, no sincere attempt has been made by people who matter so far to get world-class university in India though large numbers of Indian born faculties and top academic administrators are part of world-class universities around the world, done world-class research there, got world-class patents and publications, build world-class enterprises, etc. Why Raghuram Rajan shown commitment to foreign university, why not to Indian university if he was not comfortable with his the then boss i.e. Finance Minister? But, unfortunately, this issue has not been considered for discussion and debate in our blistering TV studios, in much talked-about Literary Festivals, print editorials, etc. Is it for reason of foreign mania?

India and its eminence

Truly, non-existence of world-class university either as per Western laid ranking criteria or otherwise is unfortunate for a nation of second largest population with third largest economy as per PPP (and fifth largest in dollar term) with more than seven decades of self-rule. Yet, we aim to be Vishwa Guru. Besides, India is home to world’s one of the oldest and richest civilizations, has rich scientific language (Sanskrit), plenty of rich literary and spiritual works, architectural marvels, Ayurveda, Yoga-the most scientifically designed health exercise, and last but not the least is the invention of ‘Zero’ without which no scientific work is possible in modern world. Indians should not forget that human civilization’s early universities or centre of learning’s were set up at Nalanda, Taxila, Sharadapeeth, etc. in India.

World-class university proposal and this author’s point of views

To carry forward this author’s point of view, here, he brings to the notice of his readers the interactions/debates (over social media and Letter-to-Editor pages in The New Indian Express, Bhubaneswar edition) he had with some natives but foreign educated academicians and intellectuals in the wake of Odisha Assembly passing of Vedanta University Bill 2007 proposed by industrialist Anil Agrawal to be set up on Puri-Konark marine drive with initial endowment of $4 billion with stated objective to make the university one among the top 50 world-class universities within two decades. But, the proposal is as on date a non-starter mainly due to overt opposition from influential educationists and the so-called intellectuals, and covert opposition of corrupt bureaucrats and politicians.

Why did they oppose? A billion dollar question! Reasons, among others, they gave overtly were: 1. Vedanta University will dwarf state premier varsity i.e. Utkal University. 2. It will destroy area’s holy sanctity and culture (Puri being Lord Jagannath’s abode and holiest place in Hindu religion apart from Konark being Black Pagoda). 3. Odisha is a backward state. Odisha government instead of wasting time to promote world-class university should concentrate in universalizing primary education. 4. Local people don’t have required skills and academic standards for employment in the proposed university. 5. Anil is an industrialist. Industrialist can’t be honest education promoter. 6. Why 7,000 acres of land? University can be set up in less than 50 acres of land. Industrialist Anil, in the disguise of promoting education, is trying to grab precious land as a land mafia, etc. etc.

This author went on countering them point by point with following rejoinders: 1. I am a proud graduate of Utkal University. However, if my university can’t grow to be world-class university for whatever reasons, what is the fault of other university in its vicinity to be world-class? Further, a world-class university in the vicinity might inspire/guide my university (Utkal University) to scale new height from present standstill. 2. In Indian culture, education and religion are complementary to each other; whereas, in West, education and industry are complementary. With setting up Vedanta University at Puri, religion, education and industry can grow together and can bring economic development and prosperity to the state. Further, Holy Lord Jagannath’s abode and its unique universal culture and value would get more exposure and attention. By now without having VU, has the Odisha culture not been invaded and academic sanctity in institutions not destroyed? Per example: Earlier, in college annual function, eminent speakers in area of philosophy, literature, education, politics, culture, economics, media, etc. were invited. But, now, Bollywood half-naked pop dancers have almost replaced them. 3. Yes, agree that Odisha is a backward state. Was the US a developed nation when in 19th Century its industrialists went on founding world class varsities there? Here, I present some data of only two US universities’ direct contribution to local economies and employment opportunity*. In 2006, Stanford University spent over $2.1 billion in its local counties, which was just under half of its total revenues. Additionally, in 2006, SU was Silicon Valley’s single largest employer. As reported in 2007, University of California, Berkeley, 81% of its $1.6 billion budget spent on salaries, goods and services in the Bay Area and employed 25,700 people. The 2011 report showed that by the time, it was paying more than $2.5 billion in salaries and employed over 43,500 people with economic output of more than $4.6 billion. More impressively, a 2014 report revealed that the varsity had created 2,610 active companies which employed 5,42,433 people with estimated revenue of $317 billion per year and 55% of those companies were located in the local Bay Area. 4. Regarding the allegation that local people don’t have required skills and academic standards for employment, I reminded project opponents that when India’s first IIT in US’s MIT model was about to be set up in early 1950s at Kharagpur, India didn’t have required Western criteria skilled people. So, Swiss architect Dr. Werner M. Moser joined for infrastructure development and European scholar Prof. R. A. Kraus and Prof. H. Tischner’s services requisitioned for development of course curriculum. Later, one of them went on becoming first HoDs of Electronics department. 5. In so far as allegation that Anil is an industrialist and industrialist can’t be trusted for academy, I simple asked them, “Who is founder of IISc, which is No.1 varsity in national ranking of higher education in India now, and what was he?” And who are founders of world class universities in the US? 6. As argued ‘if university can be set up on 50 acres of land’ why then an engineering college allotted more than 100 acres of land in the same Puri-Konark marine drive, Utkal University got 400 acres and IIT-Kharagpur allotted 2100 acres? For further explanation on need of large track of land, the examples of Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley can be referred.

Hidden agenda against world-class university

Sadly, even after long seven decades of self-rule, India could not get a university’s name among the top 100 world-class universities. Is it because those, who supposed to facilitate building of world-class universities, are not committed to do so? Or there is any hidden agenda? During early days of independence, India had laid the foundation for world-class university in the name of IIT. But, the same zeal did not get the required steam soon after, and till date, the issue remains a non-starter.  And Indian students (about 7.5 lakhs as the Ministry of External Affairs data released in 2019) spend $7 billion or around Rs 45,000 crore per year, which is 60% of national annual budget allocated for higher education, on foreign education because of “sub-standard” quality of higher education in the country, according to a study by industry body Assocham and Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences as reported in 2015.

Now, as reported in several media months back, during the sway of dreaded COVID19, the US administration have decided not to allow foreign students to remain in the country if their classes are going to be held online mode. Also the move will hit those who have secured admission for the fall session beginning in August/September and those who had returned to their home countries due to pandemic. Several foreign universities sent students back home, while classes have now been switched to online. Though foreign universities have resumed virtual sessions, many students and parents are not satisfied with digital classes. “The online classes are bit difficult for beginners as the foreign education system is different,” said Jayesh Jacob of Royalae World, education and career services as reported in Deccan Chronicle.

In the given situation, one can understand the mental plight of teenaged admitted in foreign universities, and their parents. As every crisis comes with an opportunity, let us use this opportunity, which has come in disguise of dreaded COVID19, to build world-class universities to acquire world-class degrees back in India forgetting maniac foreign degrees. In the process, not only the flight of precious foreign exchange can be rescued but the same can additionally be earned by way of getting foreign students apart from the reversed the brain-drain of academics, scientists, entrepreneurs, etc. And the world-class universities status for Indian universities will follow.


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Bimal Prasad Mohapatra
Bimal Prasad Mohapatra
Columnist is a Senior Research Fellow in Defense Research and Studies (DRaS), Faculty of Management Studies in Trident Group of Institutions, Bhubaneswar, and author of novel "Travails of LOVE" and "Bimal's ANAND MATH". He writes column on Geopolitics, Indian Politics and Media for MyVoice.OpIndia, DRaS, The Kootneeti, The Diplomatists, The Avenue Mail, Delhi Post, Orissa Post, Outlook Afghanista, The Manila Times, etc. And also Moderated Panel Discussion on Geopolitics, Politics and Media
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