Do read this interview of Deepak Nayyar in the Hindu. Nayyar just stepped down from the Vice Chancellorship of Delhi University, India's premier public university. First, some excerpts from the interview:
- When I took charge, I found that of every 100 rupees spent, 73 was on salaries and superannuation benefits. Of the remaining 27, 15-17 was used for electricity, medical reimbursement, etc. So you had 10 rupees of every 100 to meet all needs of maintenance. It is no wonder that physical assets languished. ... Capital expenditure as a percentage of total expenditure in universities is at best 3 per cent. Think of a firm, an economy which invests only 3 per cent and you'll see the problem.
- We have too many structural rigidities in our system. The University of Delhi provides a telling example but most universities in India are caught in that warp. They are divided into departments and the walls between them are so high that the possibilities of interaction, intersection are few and far between. So a person with an MA is sociology would find it difficult to go on and study law or history, the kind of flexibility you have everywhere.
Nayyar gets away with presenting a long list of bad things at DU together with a bit of diagnostics, without getting pinned down on any of the specifics. For example, what does he mean when he says, "the education sector looks like the health sector did 20 years ago"? It is clear that he finds a lot to dislike about the health sector in its present state, and worries that it could happen to education also. But, what is it? Similarly, what does he mean when he follows it up with this dire warning: "those of us who work in public institutions, the sooner we realise this, the better". What should we do? At another place, he says, "I think we need to break our mindset". What is his contribution to this noble endeavour? It is not clear at all.
Now you understand why I found this interview deeply disappointing. Sure, there is some interesting information about the economics of running a large public university. But, there is very little sense of DU's history and of Nayyar's accomplishments as DU's chief. There is virtually nothing about what made Nayyar tick as an economist, what made him accept DU's Vice Chancellorship, what kind of vision he had for DU, what he has learnt during his tenure, what kind of reforms he would recommend (including how to get them done), what challenges he leaves behind for the next VC, grand themes and big questions in higher ed in India, role of private universities, etc, etc, etc. May be, all this is too much to expect from a responsible newpaper when it presents an interview of an important public servant and intellectual.
Towards the end of the interview, he says
There are many distinguished academics who would be excellent vice-chancellors. But they do not wish to become VCs or the system will not appoint them. And there are many who are simply not good enough and yet are appointed.Did Nayyar do anything to change how the VC's position is viewed by the capable people? Does this interview make you feel that becoming a Vice Chancellor could be a great career move?
Siddharth, this is a crappy interview you have given us here. Perhaps you will do a story on DU and its decline with the same passion with which you did your recent op-ed about the decline of Modern Food Industries.
Update: (20 May 2005) I now believe I have given a wrong impression about Deepak Nayyar's tenure at DU. See my comment (No. 5) below. I realize now that I should not have taken my eye off the ball (Nayyar). While my rant about Siddharth Varadarajan is still valid, and is actually strengthened by what I know now, I realize that I should have avoided giving a false impression about Nayyar. My apologies.