I was addressing students at VIT University (Vellore Institute of Technology) in Chennai when I was told that the varsity is the only one in India to receive a 4-star rating from QS — the international ranking agency — and has been consistently setting records of campus placements, giving students a high-flying career with a good earning capacity.
While they were sharing their several achievements to a loud applause, I started to wonder if there were other parameters for a university of merit. Like for instance how many patents an institute succeeded in filing? Or how many laureates an educational institutes produced in innovation of research?
Focus on community a must
In my presidential address, I offered the following nine parameters that a university should have to be an institute of excellence.
First...What kind of transformative community leadership does it create in the society? This means how many and what percentage of its current and past students have contributed to community development, truly transformative in nature, within the academic year or by annually reviewing the performance of its alumni.
The seeds of such results have to be sown while in the university, which implies that the students, along with academics, during their college years take up field work for community causes, individually and collectively.
One thought which came straightaway was when crimes against women are a national shame, why should the onus of the movement of stopping this menace not be on male students? What better time than when they are together in the university for them to collaborate?
My second parameter for adjudging a best university was that when such universities produce meritorious students, many of them do join government services, why do they not remain courageous enough to stand up to illegal directions of corrupt political leadership in certain places?
Why should they be afraid and insecure? One of the key qualities of sound education has to be courageous men and women joining government services and staying upright to serve the people. They should go to the people rather than wait for the needy to come to them.
Inculcating proper leadership habits
The third criterion I proposed was about the kind of respresentative leadership the university sends into the community. It was about leadership at all levels —starting from the grassroots to the top. Love for social work and community service could be instilled among youth early for the society to have alternative leadership to break the monopoly of the few.
Fourth was contributing entrepreneurial generation — a group of students who are innovative and like-minded. In other words, how many companies or start-ups are born on the campus? Further, how does a university ensure that students get involved in practical learning and plan proper internships?
Creative professionals add weight to varsity
Fifth was how many creative professionals — musicians, journalists, activists, sportspersons of repute and more — the institute churns out.
Sixth criterion was developing passionate patriots who contribute to a mass of law-abiding citizenry and also are being proud of being Indians. This also means producing honest grassroots politicians. Does the university in any way contribute to it?
Seventh was ... How many ‘giving Indians’ does the varsity create? For this, the spirit of giving has to be inculcated while they are students. Giving does not only mean doling out money, but also your personal time as service to the community. The idea is to make things better for others. Swachh Bharat is one such initiative.
Eighth criterion is developing lifelong learning habit in students. It means students while learning also teach others in small clusters.
My last measure for a varsity of reckoning is the ability to inculcate deep values among students.
For a ‘New India, this is the foundation. So when do we begin?
(The writer is Lt Governor of Puducherry. The views expressed are personal)