At the 150 year celebration of the Madras University the renowned educationist Dr M Anandakrishnan was asked: “when will an Indian University gain the renown of a Stanford, Harvard, MIT or Cambridge university?” The former Vice Chancellor of Anna University responded that in the present scheme of things this is unlikely for quite some time. He pointed to higher education in our country outside government is largely an edu-business: “these were promoted and owned by families of politicians, real estate barons or other sundry businessmen. Rarely one finds an educationist heading or managing a higher educational institute. He pointed to the Provost or President of MIT, Princeton or any prestigious Business School invariably a renowned academic. And contrasted it with the sons, daughters or in-laws (and outlaws) functioning as the pro-chancellors and vice chancellors of our educational institutions!
For state-owned universities in Tamil Nadu the political leadership in power decides the process of selection and hence the person for the post. The short tenure compounds the deficiency.
Happily some rules have changed making it mandatory to appoint only academicians of some standing as vice chancellors though the characters of most of these institutions continue as money making edu-business.
The changes in rules have paved the way for prosperous private institutions to scout for talent from across the globe to fill the post of vice chancellors. SRM has appointed Dr Prabir K Bagchi from the School of Business, George Washington University. SRM, like other private educational institutions, presented celebrities from Delhi in frequent seminars and lectures. A recent masterstroke was getting Ratan Tata as guest.
Ratan Tata had a long-standing invitation from Bagchi to visit his University. It is gathered Tata couldn’t make it at Washington. He chose to do this at SRM! In a short visit in his private jet, Tata seems to have spent a few hours on this visit interacting with Bagchi and his senior colleagues. He has also spent time with 40 brilliant students, all done without the glare of the media, including Puthiya Thalaimurai TV, promoted by the owner of SRM.
One finds vast difference between the fees charged by government-owned institutions and those run by private businessmen. Huge capitation fees have been collected, mostly in black. A few of these, bestowing care on quality faculty, have earned a reputation and hence better custom. These have invested on rich infrastructure.
SRM University and allied institutions are perhaps the most visible examples of the prosperity of the education business. The promoters have expanded in several directions ranging from multi-specialty hospitals, software, television and print media.
While most other private institutions of higher education are diversions from politics to education (eg. VIT, Sathyabama), the SRM promoter seems to play the reverse role: from education to politics. How adroitly he presented Narendra Modi for the latter’s campaign for the Lok Sabha elections and also had him as the chief guest at the university convocation. Like The Hindu’s N Ram sensing the change in mood of the nation and hosting a private dinner for A B Vajpayee before the elections in 1998, putting aside his Mani Shankar Ayyar like aversion to the RSS and BJP! - SV