Vice Chancellor: Colonial, Obsolete & Redundant

August 21, 2021

In an examination of our past five thousand years, one discovers that several civilisations emerged and got destroyed. Of course, some of them were destroyed because of natural disasters and some others because of human interventions of destructions. The most notable factor that a researcher may concentrate on will be the establishment of systems of learning and development, especially for the youth. Though recorded matter is available from around 3500 BCE, historical references to learning centers from China between 2400 and 2300 BCE is clearly perceptible. During the time of the Chinese Shang dynasty between 1400 and 1200 BCE, a sort of education for the young is said to have been established. As far as India is concerned, sometime between 1500 BCE and 600 BCE, learning centres were established in Takshashila, presently in Pakistan. Similarly, the Mahavihara, a Buddhist learning center in Nalanda, existed between 400 and 1200 CE. The Gurukula systems are considered to have started in these learning centers. Sometime between 600 through 1200 CE, there existed the Vallabi Centre for Buddhist learning in Gujarat.

A casual perusal of the history of education in India reveals certain historical moments which were responsible for the establishment of structured education. Historians have recorded that the first college in India was established in Goa, sometime in the first half of the sixteenth century. However, we should also mention the institution established by Pala emperor in the eighth century and the temple schools of twelfth and thirteenth centuries or even the eighteenth century Mughal institutions in Delhi. During the first quarter of the nineteenth century, there were thousands of schools in the then Bengal, Bihar and Madras provinces.

The most powerful event in Indian education happened, disastrously indeed, when Thomas Macaulay, a British historian turned politician, brought in a law for Indian education system titled English Education Act in 1835. He replaced the Sanskrit and Persian education in India with English as the medium of instruction because he believed the former two systems were superficial, especially because their literature was very poor. Since then, there were commissions after commission or committees after committee which was appointed by the Government of India, indeed more after independence. All the same, the content-centric British system of education still prevails in India. In many cases, most of the recommendations were peripheral and did not ask for fundamental changes.

The Nineteenth century showed British education well planted in India. The establishment of the three universities in 1857 at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras gave some structure to higher education. The British system with the Vice Chancellor as the head of a university and several academic bodies below him to advise him was established and it still continues, despite its ineffectiveness. No doubt, one need not forget the establishment of the Hindu college at Calcutta earlier, which became the presidency college and later presidency university presently. Around the same time, CMS College Kottayam in Kerala was also established. Very soon, within a decade, after the three universities were established, there was a proliferation of universities towards the fourth quarter of the twentieth century, with state universities, central universities, private universities and ‘deemed to be universities’. There are chances that the establishment of new universities will continue to happen. However, the structure and its associated systems in the universities did not change.

If one makes an assessment of the universities in India, there may not be many which will provide the standards that are provided by many of the universities across the world. A close scrutiny of problems that are faced by universities in offering higher standards in higher education makes one discover that what kills quality is the structure that exists at the universities across the country. The structures in an establishment called university, right from the Vice Chancellor, are an outmoded model of the British colonial universities that were established in the nineteenth century. No doubt, it is irrelevant and not keeping with the demands of the times. It is also redundant, rather superfluous, from the perspectives of the structures that exist in modern universities in different parts of the world. It is high time that these structures are broken down or destroyed or replaced so as to bring in agility and forwardness in the administration of universities.

Whatever suggestions are being written hereafter are based on the experience of the writer who taught in a college affiliated to a university for a quarter of a century, represented graduates in the university senate, functioned as a member of Board of Studies as well as Board of Examiners, visited colleges as a member of the Local Inspection Committee, performed as the Secretary of the College Teacher Association, and more than anything else, established a new institution with a single degree course which was the first of its kind affiliated to any university in the country. So, suffice it to say that such experience of university structures makes one say that, as it exists even now, they are detrimental to university’s productive functioning and the well-being of institutions affiliated to it. No doubt, individuals do matter; however, there are possibilities by which the quality of university education can be improved by not only having a New Education Policy but also by making definite strategic changes in the structure of university administration.

Structural changes in the Universities have to start from the top. Universities need a leader who can guide them and understand the intellectual and physical needs and act accordingly. Most of the Vice Chancellors get selected through methods that vary from context to context and from individual to individual. Any educational professional will know how someone becomes a Vice Chancellor despite the selection processes. There is no need for us to go into it. One has only to consider the ineffectiveness of a Vice Chancellor, particularly because he gets that position at the far end of his career and is left with very little energy or willingness to experiment or keenness for innovations or open intelligence without fossilised thinking. He is also well aware that he has a short term after which he has to leave and hence does not want to try anything new.

Among all structural positions in the university system, the first that has to be dispensed with is the post of the Vice Chancellor. Even if one removes all the Vice Chancellors of around thousand universities in the country, nothing will happen to the type of education that the universities offer at present. However, if the Vice Chancellor is not there and is replaced with an administrator, who is qualified to execute different decisions at different levels, the universities will function better. These administrators have to have competencies in management, decision making and organising, both materials and people. An academic who somehow manages to get into the position of a Vice Chancellor is devoid of administrative competencies that are desired even when they are excellent professors. One does not forget here that there could be exceptions, but they are very few and exceptions do not make a rule or role.

It is common knowledge that the civil service examinations are one of the most rigorous in the country and those who qualify and come within the specified ranks receive very good training and therefore the IFS, IAS and IPS officers are normally successful as administrators. These officers, generally, succeed in any position where they are posted. Of course, one does not forget that there could be persons, rarely though, who could be incompetent. However, even these will get the minimum of training unlike many a Vice Chancellor that we have in our universities who could even be excellent teachers and miserable failures as administrators.

What do we do after removing this post of Vice Chancellor, or even a Registrar? There is a need to seriously think about replacements for these as the first change of structure.

Under the civil service Examinations, alongside IFS, IAS and IPS, there is a need for an IES, Indian Education Service, equal to the former three. The most intelligent generally get through in the civil service examinations, especially whichever they opt for. There could be some who could opt for IES, Indian Education Service. They could undergo the civil service training that is being offered to the first three mentioned. The writer had experience of offering learning and development interventions to IAS officers at Lal Bahadur Shastry National Academy of Administration at Dehra Dun and at The Institute of Management at Trivandrum. In both the places, during those interventions, one deeply desired that our Vice Chancellors and Registrars also got administrative training, not after they were nearing superannuation or at short term conferences.

Once these IES officers go through the training like the IFS, IAS and IPS they could be posted as Vice Chancellors of universities, not in that name but as Directors or Administrators or even as Presidents. They would look after the administration because they would be trained for that. They would be the best of replacements for the academic Vice Chancellors who are decorations for universities. One can easily see that the need to remove certain structures in the university systems should start from the selection and appointment of vice chancellors whose functions are at present purely academic in nature, in fact, many of them would have been excellent professors. The greatest advantage of the IES officers as professionals in education will be their competence to administer and also get posted in different universities as and when desired or needed, like any IFS, IAS or IPS officers. An IES officer should remain the Administrator of the university and nothing more. A decision should be taken by the Ministry of Education that no professor will be entitled to become an Administrator or Director or President of a university, only a trained IES can become one. Let the professors continue to teach.

The suggestion to remove the post of Vice Chancellor should also be supported by the establishment of university bodies differently. Some of them are constituted in such cumbersome manner that many of the senates and academic councils are with many people who have no idea of education or educational administration. Therefore, structural changes are necessary in the university bodies by which teaching, learning, developing and measuring should be the professional work of professors in universities and colleges. However, formation of university academic bodies should be by members who teach, and not by politicians or trade union leaders.

University education in India can become useful and productive only when fundamental changes are made in the organisation and administration of universities. One is disappointed that the New Education Policy does not envisage possibilities of fundamental changes in structures and also in defining and describing new position roles towards greater effectiveness in offering quality education to the youth of the country.






By Sunney Tharappan
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Comment on this article

  • Ullhas Rasquinha, Mangalore

    Wed, Aug 25 2021

    Mr Sunney Tharappan has put forward a valid argument to replace the existing system of appointing Vice Chancellors who though academically sound, lack administrative capabilities. An Indian Education Service would be a good idea to bring in academically brilliant, trained administrators who could take Indian Universities to greater heights. Also the age factor, as the author has put it, VCs are usually appointed at a late age where they lack the determination and ability to bring in modernisation and newer technology. Young IES officers, would come equipped with the dynamism and enthusiasm that is currently lacking in our Centres of Learning.

  • vishnu bhat, bangalore

    Wed, Aug 25 2021

    Macaulay did what he thought fit in his time - no point second guessing and hair splitting now. The model allowed education to become more available to the general public than before. If India has modernised today, a lot of credit must go to what he brought in. Sadly, the country with its short sighted and clueless 'leaders' lacks the wits to improve on his model even after 75 years of 'independence'.

  • francis lobo, Mangalore

    Mon, Aug 23 2021

    Coupled with the government universities the private universities and deemed ones have joined the bandwagon. The owner of the university is devoid of any qualification or may be qualified in a field different from the education field that operates the institution. The government vice-chancellors who are selected based on caste, religion, etc. are sitting ducks to the political bigwigs who control the board and universities. Even if it is an old education policy or the new NEP their duty is to listen to Their Master Voice of politicians or political parties who will put hurdles in any changes. This is the reason why our engineers, scientists, accountants, investment bankers raise to top most positions in other countries and not in our own.

  • Mangalurian, Mangaluru

    Mon, Aug 23 2021

    Great comment Mr Melroy Fernandes. Margaret Thatcher knew what was choking Britain: it was the public service, and the many industries controlled by the public service. There was absolutely no drive to excel. All that the public servants did was to oversee that the public filled up the forms - and more forms - correctly. Of course, ensuring their jobs were safe. India remains at the mercy of public servants (babus). Mostly from the two bankrupt states - Bihar and Kerala. The countries that have clipped the wings of the babus are making tremendous progress.

  • Melroy C.F.Fernandes, Mangalore

    Mon, Aug 23 2021

    The late Andrew Coulson’ research on free-market based education has been uploaded on Youtube, titled School Inc, by Free to Choose Network. The 3rd episode shows his findings on India at abt. 15mins of the video. James Tooley' work 'The Beautiful Tree' may be read . +++++++To replace a “colonial, obsolete & redundant” designation with a “colonial, obsolete & redundant” ICS–o-saurean system may turn out to be far more disastrous. A good manager needs not only managerial abilities but also qualities like honesty, ethics and morality. Sadly most(not all) of those who join the ICS to “serve the nation” severely lack the aforementioned qualities. Below is extracted from Mr.Sanjeev Sabhlok’(resigned from IAS) book “Breaking free of Nehru – Let’s unleash India”: Chapt. 5 – Why our bureaucracy is so inept? “The problem does not lie with the innate ability of IAS officers but with their professional competence and suitability for the jobs they perform. It lies in the end with their rigid, tenure-based incentives. There is no passion, no hunger in the IAS to adopt the world's best practice; there are no rewards for outstanding policy advice and innovation; and there is no punishment for failure to deliver even the most basic outcomes. Instead, there are massive rewards for corruption and sycophancy. ....... Advanced countries have taken on board the latest advances and learnings of the past 40 years - from the literature of agency theory, public choice, knowledge management, innovation, human resource management and leadership - to build competitive, merit-based public service systems............Our stagnant and rotting model now stinks for miles and compares badly with the clear and fast flowing spring of dynamism found in the West............. Australia has therefore remade its administrative framework three times in the twentieth century ........ unlike India which has not reviewed its bureaucracy since the 1850s or so.”

  • Stephen P. D'Souza, Mangalore / Melbourne

    Mon, Aug 23 2021

    I beg to disagree with the negativity of the following statement: Quote “The most powerful event in Indian education happened, disastrously indeed, when Thomas Macaulay, a British historian turned politician, brought in a law for Indian education system titled English Education Act in 1835.” End quote I for one believe this was the positive turning point in Indian educational history and not a disaster as the writer has opined. When the sun never set in a British empire, the English world going on to win World War II, the Americans started to rule the world - the result was proficiency in the English language that was much sought after becoming the most used language on the planet. Thanks to Lord Macaulay, the Indian diaspora is flying high in nook and corner of the globe and in the United States, it is the richest and the most successful ethnic group. The rest of the world especially the Chinese, the Russians, the South Americans look at us with awe. A Brazilian friend of mine once confessed: ‘Wish the British ruled us instead of the Portugese’ aptly sums it up.

  • mohan prabhu, Mangalore/Canada

    Sun, Aug 22 2021

    The writer makes rather unsubstantiated statements that modern structures exist in different parts of the world that improve the quality of education. He does not give any examples of such structures in Western countries which boast far higher standards that many of Indian universities that have mushroomed in the last half a century. Universities in the UK, US and Canada - such as those I attended (University of London, Columbia University in the City of New York), University of Saskatchewan and Alberta (where I had taught) and the University of Ottawa where I taught as well as earned a doctorate at law, are generally administered under the leadership of a President who is the chief administrator and the Vice Chancellor plays a formal role. In some cases, the Governor or Lt. Governor of a Province is ex officio the Chancellor of every University in the Province and has the "Visitor" role. An IES structure proposed by the writer without solid academic credentials is a poor substitute; instead the President who is selected to head the administration should have good managerial experience and supported by management committees. The pity in all public service sectors, whether it is IFS, IAS, IPS or other , is that academic standards are compromised when quotas based on the caste system (SC/ST/OBCs, etc.) and reservations for these castes are provided if they meet the minimum qualifications and unless the teaching staff is up to par in institutions and universities headed by those getting in under the reservation system, the educational system will suffer.

  • Mangalurian, Mangaluru

    Sun, Aug 22 2021

    "[Thomas Macaulay] replaced the Sanskrit and Persian education in India with English as the medium of instruction". This is a very misleading and incorrect statement. There was NOT A SINGLE formal Sanskrit teaching system that existed in 1835. Sanskrit basic literacy teaching was part of the Brahmin community, while the rest of the Indians remained illiterate. Even just 120 years ago, 98% of the people of Coastal Karnataka were illiterate. It was the European missionaries who introduced literacy to non-Brahmins. Indeed, the British Government readily provided grants to set up schools and pay the teachers. Sanskrit was definitely not available to non-Brahmins before 1900 AD.

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