While presenting his keynote address in the Founders Day at the Golden Jubilee Auditorium of SD College, Prof. N.R. Madhava Menon, SD College alumnus and a well known legal educator hinted the importance of a Centenary plan for SD College. He narrated the current higher educational scenario of Kerala and the problems persist on quality bench-marking. He outlined the opportunities in bringing our institutions globally competent with ‘autonomy’ of curricula and academic administration.
He started his speech by explaining his graduating life in SD College in early 50’s and presented his much applauded career as a legal educator, institution builder and policy maker at the state and national levels. The speech was actually a refreshing pilgrimage through the soul of Indian higher education in the later half of 20th century. Please see the full text of Prof. Menon’s talk in SD College:
|Keynote Address at the Founder’s Day Celebrations at S.D.College, Alleppey,
on 20th June, 2016
|Prof. N.R. Madhava Menon
“Esteemed President and Members of the Management Committee of the Sanatana Dharma Vidyasala, Principal, Members of the Faculty and Staff of S.D.College, Alumni of the College present, Distinguished Invites and Dear Students,
May I first of all express my sincere thanks to the Principal and Prof.. Krishnan Nampoothiri who has been corresponding with me for having invited me to this important function and for giving me an opportunity to express my gratitude to the institution which laid the foundation in me to pursue scholarship and contribute to the development of higher education in many institutions across the country.
It is with mixed feelings of joy and sorrow that I am standing before you today. Joy at the great strides that S.D.College has made since I left the institution 63 years ago in 1953. Sorrow when I recall that many of my own teachers and others who made many sacrifices in building this great centre of learning are no more with us. Let me on this occasion pay my humble tribute to all those great men and women who served the cause of education under Sanatana Dharma Vidyalaya since its beginning over a century ago in 1905.
Few Remembrances of S.D.College of 1950s
Friends, I understand that the college started in this campus in 1950 when the Indian Republic was born under a new democratic constitution. I joined the college in the very next year. Kalarcode was at that time a relatively uninhibited area and the college stood in a desert of white sand with no boundary walls. Access was difficult as one has to either cycle down to the place or depend on private buses plying occasionally between Punnapra and Alleppy town. Initially I stayed with a friend who was also studying in the college who had a traditional home about 2 Kms to east on the banks of the backwaters. Reaching the place was difficult because there was no road and one has to wade through a canal all the way down to that house. Later I shifted to a house in Punnapra and took the bus ride. One of my senior students during that period was Susheela who later became famous by marrying the late A.K.Gopalan. SFI was holding the fort during those days and I was also drawn into its fold. “Enne Ningal Communist Akki” was being staged in Alleppy and I liked the play, particularly its music. On the annual day cultural function, I took courage to become an artist myself and did an “Ottam Thullal” which made the audience shout me down ending a possible career I could have made in dance and music!
On academics, I was a reasonably good student, one liked by my Professor Dr. Samuel Raj. I obtained a high second division in B.Sc. and stood first in my class, that secured me admission for M.Sc. However, as fate would have it, I joined the Government Law College, Trivandrum where my family lived and ended up as a lecturer in law in Aligarh Muslim University in 1961. Rest is history. Having spent 56 years in teaching law and having been Director/Vice-Chancellor of three different universities, I am now getting settled for a retired life near my ancestral home in Vaikom. I happen to be holding the office of Chancellor of the Central University of Chattisgarh and also Chancellor of the National University of Educational Planning & Administration (NUEPA) in Delhi, thanks to the Visitor, the Hon’ble President of India.
Higher Education in Transition :
Now let me make few reflections on the changes that are happening in higher education in India, many of which have not yet influenced the higher education scenario of Kerala.
Changes are happening on all fronts. They are driven by technology, globalization and new equations in balance of power. Quality, creativity and competitive excellence determine who gets what opportunities in the knowledge society of tomorrow. Demographically speaking, India does enjoy a tremendous advantage over other countries provided the young people get the best of education which the market everywhere is looking for. But the fact remains that we have a long distance to cover if our higher education institutions were to be prepared to compete with the best institutions elsewhere. Unfortunately, we have not yet made even a beginning in that direction for a variety of reasons social, political and economic. In some States, the social factors are the spoilers, in some others, the economic conditions inhibit reforms and in still others the politics hold up the reform efforts. I leave it to you to decide what is preventing higher education in Kerala in assuming its rightful place among world class institutions of its kind elsewhere in the world. We have the talents which shines with its full potential only when it leave the borders of India!
What makes a college or a university assume standards of excellence in teaching and research?
You will agree that bricks and mortar do not make a university. Nor funds or other strategic advantages. Only teachers and students can make a great university or college. Yes, the curriculum can make a difference; but it is teachers who make it. The management can make a difference; but again, it is the teachers who become Vice-Chancellors, Principals, Deans and Heads of Departments. A college can hope to achieve academic excellence only if it has a team of competent and committed teachers and a body of talented and motivated students, provided it enjoys the autonomy which it deserves.
Yes, autonomy is essential for higher education institutions. Teachers must be free to design the curriculum and manage the affairs of the college with minimal interference from the regulators including the Government. That alone will make them accountable to their performance and its shortcomings. Today many institutions have neither autonomy nor accountability and they have become factories producing worthless graduates holding paper degrees unemployable for the jobs they are certified by the institutions. The blame is put on everybody else excepting teachers and students and business continues as usual.
Let me explain the significance of autonomy from my own experience as a teacher and Vice-Chancellor.
When I was serving as Principal of Government Law College, Pondicherry, I could not do much in terms of reforming the curriculum or the examination system as the college was affiliated to Madras University. Even the college calendar or student admission was not in my control. Finances were under bureaucratic control of several Government departments. Quality was not a concern of either the college or of the Government or of the students.
The situation was slightly better in the Central University of Delhi where I was Head of the Campus Law Centre under Faculty of Law. Being a ‘unit of a large university, your freedom even in academic matters was constrained by the general rules applicable to all departments. You may have to wait for months together to get an item included in the agenda of the Academic Council in which you are a member along with 250 other members. Your teaching terms and academic calendar are determined by several factors in the university and politics within and outside university bodies. I could not get a subject included in the curriculum even after two years of continuous effort in different university forums. You have no incentive to improve standards nor any accountability for non-performance.
When I moved as Vice-Chancellor of the National Law School of India University at Bangalore, the scenario dramatically changed even though it is a State University. The University Act gave the University bodies including its Vice-Chancellor abundant freedom to organize things the way you wanted subject to the approval of the university authorities.
I am credited with introducing the Five-Year Integrated LL.B. programme and experimenting with a variety of teaching methods, examination arrangements, fee structure and admission procedures. We had the ownership of all we do and the satisfaction of changing the course of legal education in the country. Yes, it was an experiment when it began in 1986. When it succeeded in the next 5 years, it became a movement which everybody else teaching law wanted to emulate. We did make mistakes but we soon corrected them as they occurred and functioned in a transparent manner with total involvement of students, teachers and staff. Even when the funds from Government was not sufficient to meet even one-fourth of our budget, we could function with enhanced tuition fee and funding from outside sources which came in large measure. Results were declared within three weeks after the exams as valuation was entirely internal and the process was continuous throughout the year. No scams or scandals and teaching days in a year were close to 260 days unheard of even in the best institutions. We followed a trimester system to accommodate more subjects of study to the advantage of our students. The teachers had full ownership of the courses they taught having developed the syllabus, assembled study materials, evolved best teaching methods and conducted evaluation – all by themselves under parameters set by the Faculty and approved by the Academic Council. Autonomy was not with the Vice-Chancellor or Heads of Departments alone but percolated down to every individual teacher who was accountable for the performance of tasks assigned.
The outcome was there for everyone to see. Within a span of 5 years, legal education has undergone revolutionary changes commanding respect from the profession, academic bodies and the government. It became a model recommended by expert committees to be followed elsewhere in the country. The result, I believe, was largely because of Autonomy with Accountability.
The position is the same with IlTs, IIMs and AIMS. Outside India, in U.K., U.S.A. and Australia, universities and colleges enjoy complete autonomy not only in respect of academic matters but also in administrative and financial spheres as well. It makes no difference whether they are in the public sector or private sector. Every teacher of university has freedom to decide what to teach, how to teach and how to evaluate performance. With freedom there is accountability for what you do and how you do it. In short, autonomy with accountability is the norm in higher education all over the world. Of course, the parameters are set by national policies, professional bodies and academic experts.
It is with this background I ventured to introduce the concept in Kerala when the State Higher Education Council invited me in 2013 to Chair a Committee on Autonomous Colleges in Kerala. The Report submitted in 2014 was adopted by the Council and recommended to Government which accepted with unusual speed, framed the rules and gave autonomy to a dozen colleges whose. management’s applied for it. More colleges became autonomous in the succeeding year. My regret is S.D.College which deserves autonomy is yet not autonomous for whatever reasons. Are the faculty or students here against autonomy? Or is the management not yet ready for seeking that status? According to the new norms of UGC on autonomous colleges, I understand, you become autonomous automatically if and when the college gets `A’ grade from NAAC in three consecutive assessments. Yet, there are colleges in Kerala which refuse to become autonomous!
As a teacher, I have many thoughts to share with my colleagues in the college. But the Founder’s Day is not the occasion for it. Teaching is not just like any other occupation; it is a learned and noble profession where those involved are shaping new generations of human beings for taking civilization forward. It demands a sacrificial attitude for the welfare of
learners under your care. It warrants a character and discipline rare in other professions. A .
teacher is a role model for students and civil society. Quality of education is entirely dependent on teachers. Funds, infrastructure and management can only make marginal difference. No wonder ancient Indian tradition gave a place to teachers equivalent to that of mother and father.
S.D.College will be celebrating the centenary of its establishment in 2046, within three decades from now. All those associated with the college and its well-wishers need to have a vision of the institution they would like to see and have a work plan on how the transformation to a world class centre of learning can happen in this great college. If the vision and work plan are made public, all well-wishers including alumni can contribute to the refinement of the Plan and its reconstruction brick by brick, year after year. The world is changing too fast and knowledge is exploding. No one can anticipate the state of affairs in higher education even five years ahead. Nevertheless, a vision, however impractical it might appear to be, is necessary for directing growth and leadership.”