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December 23, 2009

Universities must again become hubs of research

Sam Pitroda, Chairman, National Knowledge Commission,
and Technology Advisor to the Prime Minister

Sam Pitroda, Chairman, National Knowledge
Commission, and Technology Advisor to the Prime Minister, was associated with
the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in the 1980s. In an exclusive
interview with IGNOU's fortnightly newsletter  `Open Letter', he spoke
about how the university can harness new education tools and adopt new models of
learning, while imparting education to millions.
Q: As the head of the National Knowledge Commission
(NKC), you have advocated the use of information and communications

technology in education. As you know, the Indira Gandhi National Open
University has been using it for years to impart learning to millions. What is
your view on the university?
A: I was associated with the Indira Gandhi
National Open University in the 1980s. It has done some very good work and
offers some very good course modules. When it comes to use of information and
communications technology in education, I would not like to comment on
individual universities or institutions. But I would like to say that there are
several layers of using technology to impart education. This is an age of
information. This is an age of Wikipedia. This is an age of online libraries.
So, there has to be mobility. You cannot replicate a static classroom on-line.
There has to be interactivity. Satellite broadcasting has shown that there are
different levels and layers of disseminating information and education. As
information and communication technology changes, the available tools and
applications also change. So we need to harness these tools and look at new
models of learning as well. Organisations like IGNOU have tended to impart
education in the traditional format. I have already said the university is doing
good work with some good courses on offer. But there is a need for a lot more of
such good work. There should be some romance in education at all

Q:  As the head of NKC, who is looking at new ways to
improve higher education, what would your suggestions be to improve IGNOU as an
educational institution?
A: We have not made any specific recommendation on
an individual university or institution. But we have made a
series of
recommendations. We have said India has around 350 universities and this number
is simply not enough with reference to our needs in higher education. We need to
create many more, appropriately scaled, universities. And 1,500 is an
approximate figure we have used to indicate the magnitude of the expansion
required in the higher education system. This is necessary to raise our
enrolment to levels comparable with most developing countries. We have also
recommended 50 national universities that can provide education of the highest
standard. Then we have suggested a portal on higher education and research to
increase interaction and accessibility. A knowledge network will connect all
universities and colleges for online open resources. We have also said
universities should revise or restructure the curricula at least once in three
years. The recommendations are many and in the public domain.

Q: Of late, IGNOU has been tying up with many
private institutions — some of them are of repute and others are small brands.
How do you view this development? What kind of courses would you like to see
IGNOU providing, which you think will be contemporary and job-oriented?
A: I
again cannot comment on individual university or institution. But I certainly
believe in autonomy — but autonomy with accountability. Therefore, I would say
it is for their respective decision-making bodies to ascertain what is best and
go ahead with that. Collaborations can help in amalgamating the best of two
institutions. But if it is not handled properly, it may also not yield the
desired results. So there cannot be a one-size-fits-all policy in this

Q: You have always emphasised on the importance of
research at the university level. How do you rate IGNOU’s performance in this
A: I am not well versed about this aspect of IGNOU, so it would not
be proper for me to comment on a specific university. But we have maintained
that universities must become the hub of research once again to capture the
synergies that exist between teaching and research. This goes on to enrich the
two areas beautifully. Also, there has to be proper orientation of policy. There
has to be appropriate changes in resource allocation. The reward systems, and
importantly, mindsets of people, must

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