Kovind could rejuvenate education
With Ram Nath Kovind's election as the President of India, our education system appears to be in a hopeful situation. And, if President-elect Kovind's contribution as Governor in the higher education of Bihar is any indication – he could be the torch-bearer of probable educational revival in the country. A close associate of former Prime Minister Morarjee Desai – always an advocate of highest disciplinary standards in public life – Kovind won accolades for bringing Bihar's 'politicised' academics back on track as the ex-officio Chancellor of all the universities there. And, that too – without any controversy! Yes, taking notice of the ills affecting education in Bihar, he tried to bring about structural changes in the higher education system by taking Chief Minister Nitish Kumar into confidence, instead of locking horns with the state government. There was no element of confrontation with the state government on innocuous issues. Though Kovind was always liberal in allowing the then vice-chancellors of the state universities to complete their tenures, he didn't hesitate to sack a few, those who dared to take the law into their hands. Bihar can never forget the most significant contribution of Kovind as the Governor that he set off the process of appointment of vice-chancellors in a crystal-clear manner. He appointed search committees – comprising eminent academicians and scholars – for picking out the names and personally interviewed them. It was for the first time in at least four decades that vice-chancellors were selected without quid pro quo, which had become a common practice, during the tenure of earlier chancellors. Giving a further push to the plebeian ethos in the management of higher education with his social background, the selected vice-chancellors were exposed to lectures on the issue of challenges in higher education by academic luminaries, including some successful former vice-chancellors of several Central Universities. Continuing the trend, it is no wonder that higher education would be the highest national priority of the President-elect. After formal swearing-in, as a visitor of all Central universities, he would have a bigger 'knowledge constituency' to serve in the country. Though Kovind is not from formal academics like some of his predecessors including Dr Rajendra Prasad, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Dr Zakir Hussain and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, being a man of 'consensus', Kovind would definitely be able to provide a healing touch to all the Central universities by establishing a dialogue involving the state, civil society and corporate India on the issue of higher education. The sagacity that he displayed in Bihar should be extended to the selection of vice-chancellors of the Central universities. With his predecessor Pranab Mukherjee's Presidency marking no 'playing to the gallery' or messy 'controversies' or 'confrontations', it would be a soothing atmosphere for Kovind to bring out positive changes in the Higher Education of our country. Like the Pranab Presidency left no chance for the government or Opposition to come out beating their chest in disgust, he would also adopt the 'engaging' tool in handling differences – for the larger interest of the nation.
One must never forget that development – social, political, and economic – is a complex and multifaceted concept. The development of a nation may be impacted by numerous factors that include domestic and international politics, issues of human rights and freedom, and the nation's access to resources. One of the strongest contributing factors to development is citizens' access to quality education. Education is a pillar of modern society and, as such, it is the backbone to creating active participants in a nation's development. It may be noted that Indian universities have tremendous potential and need to accelerate their pace. This can only happen if we have good leadership. The public sector needs a huge transformation in the field of higher education, and private universities need to be a model for quality and excellence. "The universities of today are required to compete globally for research-ranking to help build world-class universities. Let us not forget the difference between world-class and world-minded. We are now increasingly being called upon to think about the role of universities in the larger global context of an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world," these words of Pranab Mukherjee would also inspire his successor. Let's hope President-elect Kovind's term as the 14th Constitutional head of India's higher education administration will bring a new lease of life to higher education in India and create a global yardstick.