Tuesday, February 3

Why Do Vice-Chancellors Fail At Aligarh Muslim University?

I wrote before about Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, one of my hero's. He founded Aligarh Muslim University. So when I read about why Vice Chancellors fail at AMU, I just felt sad. Really sad. Here we have perhaps one of the premium educational institutions dedicated to Muslim education. Over the decades of its existence, it has constantly turned out strong Muslim citizens, but in the past few years it seems to be stumbling a bit. I quote:

If we look at the tenures of Vice Chancellors (VCs) at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in the last couple of decades we find that most of them, even though they were distinguished and competent managers, ran into substantial problems of indiscipline, students' strikes, violence, arson, forced shutdown of university, indifferent academic achievement, lack of pursuit of excellence and discontent in the community that AMU serves. That brings up the question as to why VCs fail at AMU.

The author has identified so many issues and reasons for the troubles at AMU, specially for the VC. And one issue that I have with his recommendations is that they do not directly relate to the problems that he has identified. I have no way of judging whether or not those issues are true, but after having been in the Indian university system before, I can well say that many factors apply.

My uncle has been the VC of two universities and both my parents were professors. My father then moved to the ministry of education and has been involved with several research institutes and quangos. Personally, besides the dubious pleasure of studying in the Indian education system, I was also a lecturer at a university. And yes, all those issues of politicising, violence, lack of teacher-student interaction can be seen, I agree and still see them. The stories that my uncle told me sometimes made me wonder at the venality of the Indian politicians.

The main issue is the political pressure that all VCs are under. Despite the fact that the VC reports to the Chancellor (who is usually the Governor of the State), they are all under political pressure to either get their politically connected students done well with or try to get their hands on the grants or allow political activity or something else equally stupid. Second are the bunch of frankly  stupid professors who are nothing but time wasters. And yes, I should know, as I have been in the system. By and large, the vast majority of the professors in the Indian University System are useless, specially when you have had a chance to compare them with western university teachers and researchers. And no, I am not talking about the federal institutes of learning, I am talking about the bog standard, vast majority of universities, who pockmark every A, B and C cities in India. The politics in the university departments is absolutely horrendous and the professors go about linking with the politicians and that's another cross that the VC's have to bear. A case in point which my uncle mentioned, is when he said that 25% of his time was wasted on dealing with court cases that ex and current members of staff had brought against the University. Go figure.

Added to that are the joys of dealing with various bodies such as AICTE, UGC etc. These, to a very large degree, are responsible for the foul and disgusting state of Indian education, because generally the people in them comprise of Babus whose last coherent and intelligent thought was way back in 1926. Most of these bodies are full of these  moribund Babus whose purpose in life is to accredit rotten institutions or stop any innovative measures from being taken. When I went to lecture at ISB, I spoke to a friend of mine who works there. He said that they have not taken Indian accreditation and are flourishing because of it. (Disclosure, I am going to hire from that school). According to him, the accreditation business is corrupt and is actually useless in getting anything done in terms of incorporation of a proper functioning modern business school with curriculum, training and teaching methods. So they just told the government agencies to buzz off, established ranks with international schools and they don't suffer at all because of that, (the Satyam issue is besides the point).

The university funding model is an utter disaster. Given that all the funds are from governments, the tendency is to suck up to their paymasters. The amount of petty corruption in universities is absolutely stonking. You want to sell books to the library then you have to pay. The infrastructure funding element is massively corrupt - shoddy building work, rotten construction, you name it. Hiring is almost always corrupt, despite rules regulating it ( political connections also impact here). Examinations are reasonably ok, but try to trace the answer books. I have seen with my own eyes what happens. How do politicians know that my mother is marking the examination books of 2 university students and how can they call her up asking for better marks on a particular student's answer book? University examination departments are a bunch of crooks. How about the University Printing Shops? Here's a test you can do yourself. Go to the printing press and just look at the vehicles standing outside the press. Then compare those vehicles with other vehicles belonging to the employees in other departments.

Actually, once one thinks about it, the fact that we have a functioning education system is amazing. If the bloody politicians have their way, the universities will turn into havens for criminals and dacoits, turning out students clutching worthless degrees. To a very large extent, this political interference has given rise to a huge private sector in education. My home town of Bhopal has suddenly become an educational hub.

In one of my recent trips there, I was giving a lecture to a group of Business School professors and leaders. The numbers which I heard were gobsmacking. There were apparently 30 different business schools in that one city of Bhopal, having an enrolment of approximately 30,000 business students. Mind you, all these schools are affiliated to the University, bizarrely called as Barkhatullah University (not once in my entire life has anybody ever managed to tell me what that means). The idea that so many teachers and professors qualified to teach business are present in a small town such as Bhopal is amazing. Lord only knows what kind of business students are being turned out there.

Anyway, why am I talking about Bhopal University? Well, because this is a university in a predominantly Muslim town and it frankly sucks in one of its objectives to improve the lives of its Muslim brethren. If a secular government owned university is so incompetent in this fashion, the fact that AMU is also facing issues as noted by the author is tragic.

Education is the key to our youth - our future. Allowing these politicians and goons to run riot in the universities is not good. But given the nexus of religion and politics inside this model university, the chances are not so high for something good to happen. But here's hoping for the best and the little I can do is to hope that the author's wishes are translated into action, so that the next few Vice Chancellors of AMU are strong and are able to bring the AMU back into its shining path.

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