Friday, May 04, 2007

Adopt Your University ! Part 2

How to go about it?

I am elaborating a solution to remedy the mess in higher education, whereby a university is adopted by a local community, making the process very interactive, transparent, and responsible. I introduced in my earlier post the "Adopt Your University" campaign.

The basic idea: To adopt a university, and create a fund from the local community, council, city by `trading its shares', whereby common man buys those shares individually or through societies. The university is run from one-time fund and other running local funds. Then, local population will remain involved in deciding the content and direction of university programs.

Here we lay out ways to raise enough funds for the university from the public around, and involving the local community in growing and maintaining the university operations.

  1. Create funds for the university by selling certain number of shares to the public. The shares are sold in such a way that no one person or group gets entire control of the shares. This will create a large amount, about 50 crores for the university. This will remain a one-time generation. In case of Shivaji University, Kolhapur district generates about 1000 crores each year, if my information is correct. A fraction of it is required here. People can trade these shares, under certain conditions. A part of the sales profit will go to the university.

    What do these shares mean to the public? It is similar the stock market companies in spirit. However, there are bound to be differences, for example, clearly there are no yearly dividends in cash or cheque.

    The shares will imply different things to different kind of people.

    For most, such as middle-class citizens, they would mean immediate benefits in the form of priority access to university facilities. These could include, but not limited to, astronomical observatory programs, auditorium lecture/demo programs, sports gymnasium and weight training, or discount in training fees for vocational courses (music, computers), etc.

    For farmers or small industrialists, it could mean priority access to different orientation programs, manpower training camps, or awareness campaigns. They could also mean, higher priority listing in receiving solutions of their queries/problems from the university.

    Any major change in University policy is explained in a general investors' meet (like Reliance Companies did). An approval is sought and then major decisions are taken to a vote.

  2. Local community pledges support to the university by providing certain amount yearly. This will pay the salaries of the staff. This guarantees that the staff remains loyal to the cause and if the administration is lethargic, the city council could (in principle) stop their salary payments.

  3. The research funding should come mainly from services to the local population, industry, including farmers. Some of it will also come from the central government grants, mainly for basic sciences.

  4. The above conditions mean that
    • University remains committed to the local cause. Those programs which are not relevant for the community will not naturally receive any money. This is similar to ways of mother nature, where an organism has to evolve to remain relevant. University will keep transforming itself to grow.

    • Staff and administration will be responsive. If not, they will be unpopular in the local community, and the community can demand correction.
    • University is not subjected to large-scale politics. Since money is generated locally, it will not remain hostage to state/central government policies. The initial funds (50 Crores) will serve as a buffer if the local funds drop over a short period of time (5 years or so).

  5. Programs of the university are decided by a committee of citizens. However, there is a danger in going local, one will certainly loose sight of global standards. Such issues of quality of university programs and maintaining standards is a major task.

    • The global focus is maintained through an expert senate committee with many outside experts in various fields. The committee, through independent enquiries, ascertains quality of university programs. It will also guide academic/research programs on campus...

    • There would be, in general, no fixed idea about having degree and doing a certain kind of work. Someone with BA (English) can dabble in other areas, if certain level can maintained. The pay scale will be less biased towards those with higher degrees.

    • Programs are implemented by administration adhering to global standards set by the committee, without any local interference. Rejection of political influence will be ensured by direct citizen support to the committee.

  6. The operations could be decentralised. No one needs to come to university campus, one could log on the website and do many things. It will involve a generous use of radio network and computers to ensure quick communication and dissemination of knowledge to the community. One could use cheap and easy tools, such as campus radio station (by students perhaps?) or hand-held mobiles, with specialised programs developed for this need. With minimum training, volunteers & workers should be able to operate computer data bases, involving tools such as voice recognition and internet transfer of information from the central server to mobiles via SMS, etc.

  7. The proposal keeps a lot of faith in committee running the university. This requires that the rule book is good, and the wo/men in charge must be honest and tough. They will be responsible for all the activity and retain all the rights and freedom to carry out every activity to perfection. This is possible, although expect political influences of all kinds. It is imperative that the local community is made aware about this issue and it has to support the persons-in-charge against any pressure.

In a future post I will outline one example, using Shivaji University from my hometown.

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