IIT Bombay director Ashok Misra may well have resigned from his post because of his wish for a more stimulating career abroad. But then, here’s someone who also had chosen to work in the country for nearly three decades, who may well have stayed on to lead and strengthen the premier institution. Had his work environment been free of government interference, that is.
It is was just a month ago that the government ordered caste-based quotas for faculty recruitment in higher education institutions such as the IITs. At a time when finding top-notch professors is already a tough proposition, given their short supply in the country, that move would only curb the quality of teaching.
Despite ample protest against it, the government’s diktat holds. Not just in recruiting further but also in promising six new IITs, apart from several other premier institutions, without having any inkling about where the required human resources would come from.
It is despite the command and control system of the human resources ministry that we see a new source for skilled talent. As Vivek Wadhwa says on these pages, it is industry that is taking the output of an extremely weak education system and transforming it into world-class scientific manpower through workforce training.
Unfortunately, the weakness of our higher education is set to be perpetuated, not corrected. The biggest constraint that the IITs — old and new — face today is retaining and expanding a high-quality faculty. What the heads of these institutions sorely need is a free hand to recruit and retain good teachers. Instead, continued interference from the government may well erode the existing base as well. We shouldn’t be surprised with more Misras going off. One outcome of this is that the IIT brand will continue to hold, in big part, thanks to the input it takes — high-calibre students. Government diktats will ensure it has little else to sustain the quality associated with that brand. New institutions will fare likewise.
The larger implication of all this is that in the absence of liberalization of India’s education system, industry’s efforts alone won’t be sustainable. The shortage of skilled scientific manpower will persist.
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