Indian scholars call for more transparency in senior appointments

Public knowledge of reasoning behind picks ‘could have avoided past mistakes’

十月 18, 2021
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As the Indian government begins to fill openings for top positions in its central universities, scholars have raised concerns over the opacity of its appointment process. They say that past mistakes could have been avoided with more public knowledge of criteria for choosing vice-chancellors and of which academics make the shortlist.

On 8 October, Yogesh Singh took up the mantle as vice-chancellor at India’s prestigious University of Delhi (DU). His appointment is one of several the government is expected to confirm in coming months.

In June, top spots in more than one in three of India’s central universities remained open, with at least 21 of 54 central institutions, which are funded by the national government, without a permanent vice-chancellor.

The chosen applicants will determine how well their institutions weather the aftermath of a global pandemic, and Indian researchers will look to them to stand firm on critical issues, such as staving off the creeping privatisation of the sector.

But the current process, which takes place behind closed doors, does little to ensure the best applicant for the job is chosen, said academics speaking to Times Higher Education. They described an opaque process with unknown selection criteria in which they learn about shortlisted candidates – if at all – via the media.

“At the most you have the knowledge that a newspaper reports who has been shortlisted…15 to 20 days down the grapevine you get the official news,” said Rajib Ray, president of Delhi University Teachers’ Association, which advocates for academics employed by the university.

While selection methods vary by university, he said that typically at DU an internal committee puts forward a couple of candidates, while the government proposes its own – and then chooses between them.

Dr Singh and colleagues acknowledged that appointments were political, but said that regardless, explicitly stated selection criteria and more knowledge about candidates would at least let academics have some say over their future university leaders.

“We cannot deny that the v-c post in India is a political appointment, but it depends on that v-c how he governs, whether he maintains dignity of university structure or not,” said Dr Ray. “In past times there were v-cs who stood up to governments…we can only hope that on issues of importance, v-cs can rise to the occasion.”

Another academic, a higher education researcher who asked to remain anonymous, said that past errors could have been avoided with greater transparency from the onset of the selection process.

“Even after selection many appointments also were challenged in the courts…in some cases v-cs were removed,” he noted.

In one case, a vice-chancellor who had been appointed by an Indian state governor in Tamil Nadu was taken to court for allegedly lacking qualifications for the job. In another, the Kerala High Court found that an appointee had been nominated in violation of selection criteria. In yet another instance, a vice-chancellor was dismissed from her university.

“All these could have been avoided with a transparent mechanism,” said the academic.

Debjani Sengupta, an associate professor of English at DU’s Indraprastha College For Women, agreed, saying that “without doubt the appointments should be done in a transparent manner with subject experts of high academic credibility constituting the panels”.

“This is for the overall health of our institutions that seek to cater to a diverse and often marginalised body of students to whom education still remains the only path to social mobility,” she said.



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Reader's comments (1)

Well.. think this is only a problem at Indian universities? Think again!