Over at An Academic View of India, Vikram highlights key differences between the US and India in the way their higher ed institutions interact with the community at large. This is something that I haven't thought much about, but the differences he highlights are very real. Take, for example, the following:
One thing that startled me when I started college in the US was that the university campus was completely open, i.e., there was no line or fence demarcating the university from the rest of the city/community. People could come on campus freely without having to go through checkpoints and guards. This is true across the US, I recently the visited the University of Washington which is even more mixed into the surrounding city than the University of Texas. It is hard for an outsider to exactly differentiate between the city and the university. People tell me univs like Harvard and MIT are even more integrated into the cities they are in. This is a far cry from IIT Mumbai, on whose outskirts I grew up. Even entry into the campus for the common folk was not allowed and the campus was surrounded by walls on all sides. It was as if a deliberate bifurcation was created, so the ‘elite’ students inside could be kept insulated from commoners like me and my friends. It would not surprise many that Indian universities barely think, study or teach about their surroundings.
Once this difference is acknowledged, quite a few other things must follow from it, and Vikram fleshes a few of them out -- including the elitism it breeds.
The comments section pointed to a recent opinion piece with a provocative title: Building Bostons, Not Kanpurs -- Why Indian cities must leverage their universities. In this piece, Sanjeev Sanyal says India has failed to leverage its universities for urban development, renewal and growth. He makes a pretty persuasive case against stand-alone campus far from the city (and worse, out in some wilderness):
This is a very wasteful process at many levels. First, it is unnecessarily converting productive farm and forest land. Why does Vedanta need 6,000 acres in Orissa and IIT Jodhpur 700 acres in Rajasthan for teaching a few thousand students? Second, it requires the creation of expensive infrastructure in isolated locations, including staff housing, convocation halls, seminar rooms and so on. How many times a year is the convocation hall used by the institution itself? In a city location, these facilities would have added to the overall urban infrastructure. Third, such remote campuses are inconsiderate of the social, educational and career needs of the families of the faculty and staff. This is a major constraint to finding good faculty. We cannot build universities as if they are industrial-era factory townships where the wives stay at home and the children study in the company school. Finally, and most damagingly, these campuses are unable to generate the externalities that one would associate with a good academic/research institute. Students come and leave. There is no clustering or inter-linkage with the real world.
The proposed IIT in Jodhpur is an example of how we are perpetuating the flawed model. The government has already acquired 700 acres of land about 22 km from Jodhpur. There a lot of talk about how it will be a “green” campus with solar panels and electric buses ferrying people from the city/airport. A number of complex options are being discussed to supply it with water. This is all meaningless when the most energy-efficient solution is to have had a compact campus that is nearer to the city. This would have automatically reduced the need to travel long distances and recreate social infrastructure. In addition, Jodhpur city has a problem with rising water tables and there is absolutely no need for expensive water-supply technologies when it can simply be pumped out. Worst of all, given the distance, the existing city will gain nothing from the creation of all the new and expensive infrastructure.