Prof. Chadha, President, SAU: “Edu is a global commodity”

Prof. GK Chadha’s stint as JNU’s VC helped a lot in escalating intellectual weather at South Asian University (SAU).”I want consciously my university to become argumentative. This will be the real success of our teaching,” says the President of SAU, Chadha. While assimilating students, faculties from SAARC together, he firmly supports teaching system to have a global orientation. This integration shows that the problem of India’s higher education does not remain country specific problem.

Interestingly, three students across countries share one room at SAU. When a Pakistani student showed cold feet, Chadha humanely replied, “If you will not share space with your roommates, then how you will you share larger emotions of your respective country in the future. How will you absorb each other’s ideas?"


Q. You are unique international university in the national capital. How will you define your strength? 
In 2005, during one of the SAARC meetings, Dr. Mannohan Singh triggered the idea of creating a university which could utilise the talent of scholars from other countries. Later an agreement was signed by all the 8 countries for setting up campus in Delhi. South Asian University is in its nascent stage, just three years old. SAU is an academic aspiration not for just our country, but for students who flock from 7 other countries. South Asian University nourishes and encourages teachers, students to put across counter arguments. I want consciously this university to become argumentative. Certainly, that will be the success of our teaching. I am essentially an education animal, who has only one religion to promote good will, regional consciousness. When I took over as the president of this university – I said from this movement I am SAARC citizen.

Q. Sociologists, political scientists are trickling in from Pakistan, Srilanka and other countries. How was the experience of attracting foreign faculty from SAARC countries? Can India learn from your model?   
A. Honestly, it’s not that easy to convince them to teach in India. Initially, we could not escape from questions like - What are your promotion rules and other ancillary facilities’. I believe it’s natural to worry about future. Interestingly, our promotion rules are most liberal compared to other universities in India. Academic world is a place where you cannot afford to be careless. Our pay structure is mind boggling; do you know how much we pay to plain fresh lecturer? In contrast to vice chancellor who gets Rs. 80,000 in Indian public universities, at SAU a lecturer earns tax free Rs. 1,40,000 per month. It’s an appealing pay packet and it makes easy to retain them. So if you want people from all over the world then you have to pay them handsomely. The problem with India is that we have some world class minds, but if you gaze into their pockets they are third class. Just like other universities in India, even we face faculty shortage, but our main challenge is that our yardstick is high to recruit faculty. 

As opposed to UGC rule on minimum of 8 years experience for Asst. Professor, SAU is not fixated about number of years of teaching experience. Since our competing ground is western countries, we have consulted about the promotion and recruitment policies with top notch universities in the world. The teacher should not be able to make students understand but also inspire them to think differently. A good teacher is the one who allows students to grow over his shoulder. If students are reproducing what a teacher has taught then it is positive multiplication.

Our faculty consists of very young people, but extremely promising. We have consciously recruited people who can argue and can visualise the other side of the picture. These are the people who can really give turn in thinking process and re-shape the content. If my faculty is teaching the same economics, sociology the way other faculties are teaching in other parts of the country, then what I am bringing on table for my students. I don’t want to command over course content as the faculty will be suffocated to bring out the best. With mixed flavour of minds from different countries, I feel that ideas will breed inside and cross fertilize outside.

Q. You have chaired lofty posts of being Chairman of the UGC Committee, member of PMs India’s Economic Advisory Council and VC ofJNU. What’s your take on expansion and quality parameters of India’s higher education?
A. India has to take a quantum jump in the field of higher education, if it has to emerge, and stay on as a countable entity in the world social, political and economic circuits. Many academicians are under the impression that higher education has expanded to the ultimate point of saturation. Sadly, it is miles away from the saturation. One of the indicators is Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) - the proportion of young men and women between the age of 18-24 who are expected to be eligible to enter college. We have just reached 15 to 16% out of 100 people eligible. If you look at the GER of other countries, it’s close to 80 or 90 in some countries. Further if you split India’s GER in terms of rural-urban, religious groups, again you will see disappointingly low average level. The rural females are the most disadvantaged category. Nagaland and Jammu & Kashmir languished at the tail-end. It is indeed despairing to see that a preponderant majority of the eligible Indian youth do not go to college.  So the moot point is that there is tremendous unmet demand, so much of hunger for higher education.

So because of neglect, education has suffered a lot. It requires priority visioning, resource allocation needs to be rectified, without loss of time.

Q. Talk to any university you hear endless cries over faculty scarcity. How is it thwarting India’s educational development? Your thoughts.     
A. There is a deep reason why majority of good minds missing in Indian education system. A sizeable chunk of highly educated people hail from the urban areas picked up corporate jobs. It is this segment of the educated youth who could have been best qualified for faculty positions. Under the expanding influence of lobal market mileu, the jingle of corporate sector was too enticing for those brilliant men and women. Corporate sector could simply buy them away, primarily because of the monetary rewards, service conditions and career prospects. Hence, number of qualified persons opting for teaching jobs declined. Today, universities are left with part-time, ad hoc, or contract teachers. Typically, if there are 100 positions, then only 30 are filled. We have pathetic recruitment process in our country. For instance, A is recruited for B, unfortunately A is neither good for A nor B. The yardstick you have put for assessing those people is also faulty. There is no incentive for them to do good research.

Intensive efforts need to be made to attract bright men and women in teaching fraternity.  The entry point incentives must be substantially improved. The pay packet of lecturer should be at par with business executives and make them realise that career in teaching is not that bad. Universities must come out from outdated course structures, crumbling infrastructure, absenteeism of teachers. In this plight, you are proliferating colleges, universities. The festering outcome is that we are producing unemployable graduates. Unfortunately, most colleges are operated by profit-led private institutes in rural areas. 

To put it bluntly, more money for education would not make a difference if people have to administer the educational plans and programmes are not of right choices. These people should not put their heart into ‘lofty national plans’. 

Q. How are foreign students integrating with neighbouring nation counterparts?
A. We have a policy of putting three students together from different countries in one room. For instance, If one is Pakistani the other should be from Nepal and India. The rooms are bigger than the conventional size of hostel rooms. When a Paksitani student shows reluctance, I ask the student if you will not share with your roommates, then how you will you share larger emotions of your country in the future. How will you absorb their ideas?

Students are enthusiastic about to hear and learn about other countries. A student from Afghanistan once shared, earlier I used to think from Afghanistan point of view, now I have a global perspective. He further said: “the thought that we south Asians are similar is proven here. I can well imagine how a person from Bangalesh, Nepal, Srilanka to a particular global issue.”

When you are listening to a lecture in your class, then it is not necessary that all will react identically. You bring problems and solutions of the country together. It gives me a sense of joy when I hear from Indian and Pakistani students that “we have decided to celeberate independence day together”. Ultimately, it makes a healthy environment where you witness students of 8 countries with one voice.     

Q. What is your inference on student selection at SAU? 
A. I am not sure whether I am getting best of the students from 8 countries. Every country has its own merit list. If there are 500 applicants from India, then there are 60 applicants from Pakistan. There should be willingness to apply in our country, so I am hungry for brilliant lot to take our test. We have tutorial classes for weak students, so it’s not that we created an institution where people have no fear, hesitation. 

Q. How do you awaken educational interests of other countries in the global spectrum?
A. When we talk to academicians of other country, the problem of India’s higher education does not remains country specific problem. Education is a global commodity. The teaching system must have a global orientation. The universities in India must have humane, open, transparent, insightful, appreciative and supportive working atmosphere.  Everything does not come from government rules and official circulars! 

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