Prof. Kamlesh Misra, Vice Chancellor, Rishihood University, India

Prof. Misra graduated with a Postgraduate Degree in Economics from Allahabad University, India. After completing his Ph.D. from Northeastern University, Boston, he taught there as a lecturer until 1990. He did his advanced training in Financial Management of Local and Regional Governments from Harvard Institute for International Development, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA under USAID funding. He served as an Economist at the Center for Social & Urban Research, Pittsburgh University from 1990 to 1994 when he returned to India to Join as an HDFC Associate Professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi. As a member of the NIPFP team, he was the technical advisor to the First Punjab State Finance Commission.

Prof. Misra is known for creating some of the most successful business models in the education sector without compromising the ethical dimensions of teaching as a profession. He is a team builder and has created institutions that are talked about due to their work culture and the free environment for academic pursuits.

 

Let’s start by accepting that research and teaching are the two sides of the same coin called academics. Both are equally important for the training of the mind. The purpose of the research is to create and or discover new knowledge, which then gets transferred to students through a process that we call teaching. If there is no research taking place in institutions of higher learning, it would mean that we are only disseminating the existing knowledge which leads to stagnation.

The sad part of the Indian University System has been that much of good research has now been restricted to centers of excellence like the IIC, BARC, IIT, IIM, TISS, TIFR and a few others. The culture of research in our universities was lost about 30 years back. Today, the poor quality of faculty, poor quality of Ph.D. programs and lack of research funding by the Industry has almost destroyed the culture of research. The quality of faculty publication and the research work of doctoral students has been reduced to a Master’s level report. We will have to work very hard to come out of this mess that we have created over the past three decades.

Now, there is a severe shortage of good faculty members in all Universities in India including the IIT and the centers of excellence. This is evident from the fact that many of these institutions have over 40 percent vacancies that have not been filled. There is also an issue of quality of faculty due to the introduction of the reservation where candidates with lower merit have to be given preference in recruitments. This may not be a politically right statement, but the fact is that reservation for faculty in higher education has had a devastating impact on both the quality of research and teaching. Thus, one of the biggest challenges that we face in higher education institutions is the lack of incentives for research. A faculty who is recruited as an assistant professor is guaranteed to retire as a professor even without producing any research through the automatic promotion scheme.

There is also an issue of availability of funds for research at institutions of higher learning. The gestation period for any research outcome is too long and funding is required to carry through the research work over a long period of time. Finally, we need to revamp the whole Ph.D. program in India, and it should be made very demanding. Doctoral students have to go through a very rigorous process to earn a degree which is not the case right now. Our Doctoral programs are truly a walkover for students with cut and paste work promoted by the research guide as well.

Importance of Global Collaborations

Collaborating with Universities across the globe is always good as it leads to the sharing of knowledge and the pooling of scarce resources. However, collaborations work only if they are between equals. In a situation where we are poor in the quality of research, there is less likelihood of foreign universities collaborating with us in the field of research. The collaborations that we are currently having are in the field of faculty exchange, student exchange, and to a large extent as a feeder to Indian students for overseas education. Most of the collaborations in the private sector are geared towards marketing rather than for research and innovation. Some public institutions have collaboration in the area of research and innovations and are working well.

It would be very important for Indian universities to return to the research mode so that they can forge good collaborations leading to high-quality research and innovation. It will help us move forward at a faster pace, it will enhance our faculty engagement with faculty across the globe and help us understand the world of academics better.

Turning Intellectual Capital into Marketable Products

It is important to understand the meaning of intellectual capital in relation to universities to appreciate what universities can and cannot do in this area. Besides teaching students, universities have traditionally had the responsibility of creating new knowledge through cutting edge research. Universities that have focused on high-end research have the potential to find solutions to social and human problems that can be translated into patents. These patents can then be used by industry to create commercial projects for the marketplace.

Universities in the United States have taken the lead in this area as they are highly driven by the research agenda. Universities such as Carnegie Mellon are known for research in Robotics and the same have been patented and commercialized. Massachusetts Institute of Technology has played a pioneering role in Nuclear and Defense research which has commercialized. A classic example is the WorldWideWeb, which was an outcome of University research and had today been commercialized and has transformed the way we live today.

All this has been possible due to the high level of research funding for universities in the United States by the government and the industry. Such research support has not been coming in India either from the government or the industry. Most of the high-end research in India is happening in the centers of excellence such as the IITs, BARC, TISS, IIC, ISRO, DRDO. They are thus, able to generate an extensive amount of new knowledge that gets commercialized.

At present many universities have started getting their new knowledge patented but we have not had any major research output that has been patented or commercialized from the Private Universities and the situation is the same for most of the public universities. Without extensive funding to university research centers, the situation is not likely to improve. There have been success stories like Pantnagar University and CFTRI Mysore who have commercialized a large number of their research.

Research and Education in the Era of Industry 4.0

Are our students ready for the industry when they graduate is a question that has been debated for a long time now? Well, one way to understand this is to try and understand how the universities in the west have managed to keep pace with the Industry. It’s a fact that it is the University system in the west that actually drives what happens in the Industry. Industry funds Research at the Universities, faculty, and students work on such research projects. The results of the research are then commercialized by the industry. Thus, there is a perfect sync between Universities and the industry. In India, however, this relationship is missing, and we are not able to train our students to what is happening in the industry. Unless the industry is willing to come forward and start funding university research, this link will remain weak and we may not be able to reach the expectation of the Industry.

The second aspect that is crucial in our training of students is to move away from the concept of teaching and adopt learning as a model of knowledge acquisition. We have to engage the industry to ensure project-based learning by our students. We have to make our students work on real-life projects which are based on industry requirements. How can we have a student who graduates with a degree in computer science and not be able to write code? Where will he fit in the industry? It is time for universities to move to applied and action learning and we will be able to solve the existing problem.

Leadership Conundrum in India Universities

If we reflect back on the history of Indian Universities, we can look very proudly to the kind of leadership we had in place. What went wrong and what lessons we can draw from history is something that we all need to ponder. It also raises questions on what type of leadership can we put in place to ensure that slowly we are in a position to begin to salvage the decline of our universities. The political invasion in public universities is so high that we still need to see a higher degree of damage before an order can be restored. I am beginning to see a day when most public Universities in India will have IAS officers who will be Vice-Chancellors and Registrars and the universities are likely to become parking places for a lot of incompetent Administrators in the government.

The leadership of the university is critical to its academic culture. It is thus, necessary that the right person is identified for the job. Besides being an academic he needs to be able to carry a large team of people from diverse backgrounds together towards a single objective and to create an academic culture of quality teaching and research. It is important to invest in good faculty as this has a long-term benefit. Above all look at ways of determining the eligibility of students not just based on their marks/grades but their overall aptitude for the degree program. In recruiting faculty look for ways to identifying those that have strong credentials in research and publications. This will be a rare product in the market as the research culture among the faculty on the decline.

There is a need to create a culture of trust among the faculty, staff, and administrators. Such a level of faith will create a University that is highly student-centered, progressive and experimental in its approach. Private University administrators should be ready to take the challenge of extensive training of their faculty resources not only in the areas of academic delivery but in the areas of personal development as well. The fear that if we invest too much on faculty and they leave is unfounded. If every private university thinks on the same line, we would all have created a set of good faculties irrespective of which university they are going to work. I feel this is a service to the academic fraternity. Some of these steps will go a long way toward creating good universities.

Final Words to the Educators and Students

We don’t live in an isolated world anymore and it is important for those in the field of higher education to understand this fact. There are new alignments that are being formed worldwide and it is being backed by a wave for Nationalism across the world. India is also forging ahead with dramatic changes and there is an acceptance that such changes are necessary for the country to move forward to become an international economic power.

Universities can and should play an important role in inculcating a sense of National feeling, pride and a sense of belongingness among the students and teachers. At Rishihood University, we will have programs where students will be fully involved in local communities to understand the problems and find solutions for the same. We will need to bring back the concept of National Service which was very strong in educational institutions some thirty years back. Universities need to create awareness through various programs including short courses and activities to help the student community about their culture, history and national identity.

To the students, my advice is that they should take education as a serious activity but at the same time, they need to be aware of the environment in which they work and live. They need to understand not only about their own country but the world in general.

I would also like to advise that students should choose their careers wisely as in the next ten years more than half of the jobs today will not exist. Creativity and skills will be the focus during the remaining of this century. There are going to be no short-cuts to success and you will have to acquire cutting edge knowledge, develop the ability to translate that knowledge into marketable skills, work on the attitude required for your success, and above all, learn the art of working hard. Yes, there have been instances where people have succeeded in life without education but as a teacher, I can tell you that never try this trick on yourself. Education is the only tool known to humans that has made life better for the vast majority of people in this world. Rishihood University has developed special programs besides your degree to ensure you have a truly transformational experience and become Nation-builders. Always keep your focus and let me tell you that this is going to be a rough ride for you in this age where there will be many distractions on your way. But always remember that once you cross this stage, it’s a beautiful life out there waiting for you with open arms. (As told to the Editor)

More about the Author

Prof. Misra served as the Director of the Institute for Integrated Learning in Management, New Delhi from 1996 to March 2000 and was the founding Director of the Institute for International Management & Technology from 2000 to 2008. He was Director of GD Goenka World Institute, Gurgaon until September 2010 and went on to become the founding Vice-Chancellor of Auro University, Surat as well as the Vice-Chancellor of Ansal University, Gurgaon.  

Dr. Misra is a well-known and reputed strategist and innovative leader in conceiving, organizing and managing educational and research organizations. He combines in him qualities of vision, building, organizing, motivating and leading teams to perform at their peak level. He is well regarded as a thoughtful leader and speaker on the formulation and implementation of corporate strategies, knowledge and innovation management. He has rich experience in creating and transforming institutions. He has a special interest in turnaround and Greenfield projects in the field of higher education.

Strategic Management, Public Finance, Urban finance, financial management, Management of Government Finances, and Economic Restructuring are the areas of his special interest. Dr. Misra is the author of six books and has written over fifty papers in refereed journals.

 

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