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Universities need more enterprise

Dinesh Singh
Dinesh SinghMar 21, 2020 | 08:40

Universities need more enterprise

JNU, DU and Jamia are unable to make it to the list of the top 200 as they have refused to change and grow in the directions that are truly needed for India's economic journey.

I have a strongly held view that a university must contribute to the well being of society. To support my assertion I have quoted a saying from the ancient Mimansa School of Philosophy of India: "Knowledge without action is meaningless".

The great Indian institutions and knowledge centres of the past are replete with illustrations of how the used knowledge to bring about benefits to society. As an illustration, I cite the invention of the rapalgai in India. This was a simple device that used mathematics to calculate positions at sea. For centuries, when European sailing vessels would regularly lose their way during voyages and then fail to return causing huge economic losses, Indian seafarers would venture into high seas and return in good time with their vessels intact.

Past and present

The rapalgai came out of Indian knowledge systems. This helped Indian traders to indulge in highly profitable trade practices-via sea routes-which in turn brought great wealth to India.

Similarly, in the classic historical episode of Gautama Haridrumat and Satyakama, described in the Chandogya Upanishad, the great guru Gautam Haridrumat, upon admitting the student Satyakam does not direct him to recite the Rig Veda. Instead, Haridrumat sends Satyakam off into the forest with 400 heads of cattle and enjoins that Satyakam-must not return until the cattle have multiplied to 1,000. There is great learning to be imbibed here. In those ancient times, wealth was measured in terms of the number of heads of cattle. The knowledge of how to successfully breed cattle is being imparted and emphasised in the Gurukul of Haridrumat. The point is that Indian knowledge systems for centuries contributed to the economic well being of India. It shall be worthwhile for us to examine the situation as exists today. And such an examination shall also throw light on why no Indian university has been able to figure in the list of the top 200 universities of the world.

We hear of three universities in Delhi, viz Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi University and the Jawaharlal Nehru University. All three are highly regarded and there is a mad rush during the summers caused by admission seeking students. In many ways, these universities have contributed to the India story by producing civil servants, business managers, scientists and academics. The issue for me is: how do they compare with the Indian knowledge systems of the past and the leading universities of today? I have tried to find tangible means by which I could measure the contributions of these universities to India's economic growth. Of course, if they produce administrators, bureaucrats, scientists and business managers that is also a sort of contribution. The moot point is: how are they different from each other and do they do anything else besides what I have just said?

Lessons to be learnt

Hence, in the quest for these answers, I took a look at a highly-regarded university of the West. And what better name for us than the University of Cambridge? There are now many other institutions to which Indians aspire; but the lure of Cambridge stays consistently strong. And that is justified, since in every single global ranking of universities, this seat of learning seems to stay in the top five. Does Cambridge do anything different from what these three venerated universities in Delhi do? In answer to this, amongst the many differences that exist, I found something that truly resonates with me.

The major difference between these three universities of Delhi and Cambridge is that many years ago Cambridge embarked on an enterprising journey.

This is best summed up in the words of Professor Patrick Maxwell who holds the Regius Chair of Physics and also heads the School of Clinical Medicine. Before I quote him, let me digress a little.

The way forward

A physics professor heading a school of medicine! Catch any one of our universities agreeing to appointments that recognise the fast dissolving boundaries between disciplines. This acknowledgement of the trans-disciplinary nature of knowledge is a major need of a university and it has been understood by all well-ranked universities of the world. Incidentally, Indian universities from our hoary past understood this but in modern times we abhor such a situation. And here is another stark change that Cambridge has brought about. I put this in the words of Professor Maxwell, "Part of my aim for the School of Medicine is that it should be highly entrepreneurial".

Actually, the University helped set up, years ago, Cambridge Innovation Capital, a 50 million pound venture fund in which the University is the biggest investor. The idea was to engender entrepreneurial activities stemming from the knowledge devices and output of the University. As an instance of the kind of entrepreneurial activities that have come out of this attitudinal change at Cambridge, the geographical region around the University is dotted with various entrepreneurial ventures; so much so that in a 30 square mile radius, there are more than 6,000 knowledge based companies related to the activities of the University. This is not just true of the University of Cambridge. The story repeats itself with all leading universities across the globe.

Now we know why JNU, DU and Jamia are unable to make it to the list of the top 200. They have refused to change and grow in the directions that are truly needed for India's economic journey.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Last updated: March 21, 2020 | 08:41
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