Leading economist Joseph Stiglitz will address the convocation ceremony of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata, in January 2012, the first time ever that a non-Indian Nobel Prize winner will lecture graduating students at a major Indian institution.
The ISI's pursuit of Stiglitz represents a larger trend of the country's institutions increasingly viewing convocation ceremonies as long-term, strategic brand-building exercises, top government officials and academicians said.
“It's a big catch, getting one of the world's leading economists, a Nobel Prize winner, to deliver the convocation address. It certainly helps improve the global branding of the ISI,” said a senior administrator at the ISI, India's leading theoretical and applied statistics school, requesting anonymity.
Anya Stiglitz, the Nobel Laureate's wife, and an adjunct professor at Columbia University, confirmed to HT that Stiglitz would be delivering the ISI convocation address. Stiglitz, who won the Nobel Prize in 2001, also teaches at Columbia University.
But Stiglitz is not alone.
The Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, is desperately trying to get economist Jeffrey Sachs, who teaches at Columbia University's Earth Institute, to deliver its 2012 convocation address, top IIM and government sources said. Sachs has not yet decided, they said.
“It's definitely a trend, one where institutions are going away from sarkari convocations to strategic convocations that are more branding events than just occasions to hand over degrees to students,” said an Indian Institute of Technology Director.
The choice of chief guest at convocations has traditionally been largely restricted to the President, Prime Minister, human resource development minister or health minister at most of India's top educational institutions, with the odd exceptions of a few Indian-origin scientists and economists. The perceived need to stay in the government's good books was to blame, senior administrators at some of the country's top institutions said. “You could call it the ji hazoori syndrome,” the ISI Kolkata administrator said.
But Indian institutions are now increasingly looking to use convocations to build their institutional brand by getting a globally famous and respected personality as a chief guest. Several months of lobbying are invested in this task each year, sources said. Chief guests who are icons in the field of study in which students are graduating also make convocation addresses more relevant for the graduates, sources argued.