Delhi v-c’s forced exit spotlights Indian governance crisis

Yogesh Tyagi suspended by government after he and executive council try to appoint rival candidates for registrar

November 11, 2020
Tourists ride on elephants up to the Amber Fort, Jaipur, India.
Source: Alamy

A governance crisis at the University of Delhi that came to a head with the suspension of the vice-chancellor spotlights much broader problems in Indian higher education that could hobble the sector’s competitiveness, experts said.

Yogesh Tyagi, vice-chancellor of India’s most prestigious institution since 2016, was placed on leave by the country’s government after he and the university’s executive council reportedly tried to appoint rival candidates for the post of registrar at the same time.

Professor Tyagi’s decisions were declared null and void, as he had been on medical leave since July. Leadership duties were handed to Pooran Chand Joshi, the pro vice-chancellor who had been covering for Professor Tyagi for the past few months.

The Ministry of Education published a litany of grievances against Professor Tyagi on 28 October. It claimed that “many statutory and key posts” had been left vacant, including those of registrar, treasurer, examinations controller, librarian, dean of colleges and others. It also alleged that cases related to “vigilance” – often meaning corruption – and sexual harassment had been pending for two years.

The Times of India reported other charges related to unpaid staff, suspected misuse of funds by professors and problems with online exams.

Neither Professor Tyagi nor the university responded to requests for comment from Times Higher Education. But academics said that the problems reached beyond Delhi and pre-dated Professor Tyagi, who is known as a fine scholar and teacher, if not the most efficient administrator.

Rajni Palriwala, a Delhi sociology professor who retired last month and has worked under numerous vice-chancellors, told THE that the many vacancies in teaching jobs accumulated before the most recent leadership. “The vacancies have severely hampered the functioning of the university, across faculties and schools, not least with teachers overburdened,” she said.

Corruption and harassment claims also existed under previous university leaders.

Professor Palriwala said that action on day-to-day matters has been slower in the past few years, but a combination of mismanagement, deliberate policy and politics had caused logjams.

“All of the problems are compounded by a political regime that tries to control education, setting aside academic rationales and the idea of education as a public good,” she said. “These institutions are made to function like elephants that cannot move, except in the direction that it wants.”

Palash Deb, an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, told THE that “mismanagement at the top is a common problem in both central and state universities in India”.

He added that one solution would be to overhaul the process for the selection of vice-chancellors “to reduce political interference”.

“Good governance is critical for Indian universities to be globally competitive,” Dr Deb said. “Faculty selection, reward and promotion are often based on considerations other than merit, which demoralises the more talented faculty members and provides them with little incentive to excel. Thus, weak governance has crucial implications for the competitiveness of Indian universities.”

Pushkar, director of the International Centre Goa, said that “the presence of vocal and deeply entrenched various political factions easily leads to management problems of all kinds, and what is happening today is not unusual or surprising”.

He felt that “the university is going through a transition phase during which there is also a clash between old versus new rules. I believe this adds to the difficulties in addressing management and other related problems.”

While Covid-19 was also causing a major challenge to higher education, “it is the politicisation of public universities and their limited autonomy, vis-à-vis the government, which is the biggest obstacle to their global competitiveness”.

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Indian HE in logjam

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Reader's comments (1)

Lau and theTHE produce consistently negative coverage of India. There are many problems of course in the Indian sector but they can be discussed rigorously rather than in the characteristically uninformed manner. In this piece Lau doesn’t explain how the problems identified are to do with political interference and what or who are engaged in such interference. Mere general statements from random professors whose expertise we aren’t told about.

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