A university or a college is only as good as its reputation. Little wonder that educational institutions the world over are in pursuit of prestige: widespread respect and admiration for their achievements and quality
What is prestige in the eyes of the higher education institutions in India? What are the parameters on which a university or college is adjudged as prestigious? What are the quality benchmarks that the institutions themselves perceive as bringing them prestige? Is it quality faculty, a visionary leader, world-class infrastructure or brilliant students that make an institution prestigious? When we set out on our survey, some of you had raised the query as to why we are calling it, In Pursuit of Prestige and not excellence. The answer is: simply because while pursuing excellence it is really prestige that is our aim; we ultimately want to be among the best.
The EDU Survey threw up some interesting and enlightening results. On the index of importance of factors that influence the prestige of an institution; faculty scored the highest at 99. Academic programmes 94, students 93, and research scored 93.
But is it possible to attract quality faculty to your institution, without a leader who can command their respect and inspire them to give their best? Try introducing new programmes without a leader who backs them. Try to get your alumni involved and contribute endowments, with a head in which they do not believe. Try to get researchers to do great work without a leader who understands them and supports their cause. Just try doing anything without an inspirational leader at the helm, who believes that the ultimate goal of higher education is to be a contributor to society, and help students traverse the universe of knowledge, while learning the ability to adapt to change and be of use to humanity. It would be quite an impossible task.
The head of institution not only charts his own course by the simple choices she/he makes but also shapes the future of thousands of individuals. It is ultimately, the administrator of the institution who makes or breaks its reputation. It is the vision of the person at the top that sets the ship on its course, or leaves it adrift, a la Charles Eliot. Eliot made Harvard University what it is today: the most prestigious institution of higher learning in the world.
The Boston Experiment
In the 1860s, American higher education was in a crisis, with institutions undecided about whether to continue with the classical curricula or to go for more vocational offerings. Colleges were controlled by clergymen, who were in favour of the classical mode of study. But the rising class of businessmen in an increasingly industrialised America, were no longer interested in sending their sons to such colleges and felt that higher education should be made more vocational. In the middle of this conundrum was a college in Boston: rudderless and slowly fading away as three successive presidents in 10 years had failed to revive it. Its alumni, many of whom were now influential businessmen, wanted change: but no one knew what change they were seeking.