India currently is at a stage in its development cycle where its focus on ‘Education for All’ is leading to a general neglect of post-primary learning particularly higher education in the country’ education strategies. Policy makers seem to be working on the assumption that high elementary and secondary education literacy rates are crucial drivers of inclusive growth and development. However, studies of India and cross-national data from over 100 countries in the last decade indicate that this in fact distorts national economic growth.
The co-relation between higher education and development seems to have got ignored in our country’s growth agenda. And in the absence of direction, higher education in India is riddled with many critical impediments like management and administration of higher education, pedagogy of higher education, role of ICTs in shaping the existing system, autonomy, accountability, accreditation. Worried, University Grants Commission has stressed that re-engineering the process and structure of education while benchmarking for future growth and development of higher education have become crucial for India.
At this momentous point Institutional Excellence Forum in furtherance of its mission to strengthen the capacity of countries to plan and manage their development systems, set out a brilliant international dialogue on how every higher education institute in India, regardless of its size, can use benchmarking to revolutionize its performance in globalization. .
The latest in a continuous progression of endeavors by IEF to turn around India’s ailing higher education sector, the confab resulted in quite a few crucial outcomes that ranged from discovering concepts and practices of collaborative benchmarking and selection of fit-for-purpose indicators for benchmarking to the fundamental realization that benchmarking is not always about matching the best in others but surpassing our own excellence day after day.
The think tank included noteworthy experts with remarkable insight into harnessing education for development. There was Dr. Gautam Raj Jain, founder Giraffe Accolade. He is also the International SME/PSD Adviser at World Bank and Ministry of National Economy, Palestine and Consultant for Entrepreneurship Advisory for Technical and Vocational Institution in Nigeria at African Development Bank and UNICON International (UK). Joining him were Jukka Viitanen, CEO and Founding Partner of Hubconcepts Inc.; Registrar of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Dr. Sandeep Chatterjee and acclaimed management consultant A.N Singh.
Here are excerpts that spell out simple yet strong ideas on higher education benchmarking:
Interestingly, Singh pointed out that every single organization has some unique facet in which it excels. And this is the basic tenet of institutional benchmarking- to understand that everybody has that something, which is better than others’. This is the basic principle of benchmarking. Once we accept that each institute has got some outstanding exclusive aspect, we can scientifically find out what it is and learn to apply it. Drawing from India’s rich ancient wisdom, the education specialist delved into how Hindu scriptures offer valuable lessons on the concept of benchmarking.
In his words, “Dhanvantari was the most popular Guru of Ayurveda. He had a batch of 10 students. After they completed the course, they went to him and told Guru ji "Hum aapko guru dakshina dena chaahate hain". They wanted to offer him a gift as a token of thanksgiving for his brilliant teaching. The guru asked them to go and find out any plant that did not have any medicinal property as his ‘guru dakshina’. The students went on an exhaustive search, analyzed everything but could not find any such a plant. They came back and told their guru that every plant had some unique medicinal property. Benchmarking is exactly the same!” According to Singh, there are 4 aspects of benchmarking- course design or curriculum, teaching and learning process, evaluation as that determines student employability and ultimately the behavior. The last dimension of how students behave in society be it as managers, ministers, administrators or teachers is perhaps the most important as ‘a liberal education is at the heart of a civil society, and at the heart of a liberal education is the act of teaching.’
Most often, the big question is where to start; to which A.N Singh suggested of identifying one big gap in the organization and use benchmarking as a bridge to cover that gap. For instance, in Indian higher education most of the times curriculum is designed and developed by pure academics though the end user is the industry, and that is why there is a huge gap there.
Dr. Gautam Raj Jain presented a very important perspective- benchmarking vis a vis innovation, put simply- emulating others against new creations. Very rightly, Dr. Jain warned organizations from relying excessively on copying the best practices of others and compromising origination in the bargain.
“If the academia continues to benchmark all the time, it will not be able to bring out new educational products because institutes will end up just following what others have done so far,” he observed adding that we must strike a fine balance between benchmarking and innovation. Mr. Jukka Viitanen reiterated similar thought saying that benchmarking is a very valid tool to learn from others but then there comes a point where people don't have any one to look up to or somebody to study. Thereon, we need to trust individual thinking, understand local conditions, and have frequent dialogues with different stakeholders so that we can actually start creating new innovative solutions.
Giving an example of inventive developments in higher education, Dr. Gautam Raj Jain alluded to the evolution of ‘Entrepreneurial Universities’. With the expansion of private higher education over
the past two decades these institutions are now expected to help meet national social and equity objectives.
A new academic revolution of integrating a mission for economic and social development is transforming traditional teaching and research universities into entrepreneurial universities. The Triple Helix thesis postulates that the interaction among university-industry-government is the key to improving the conditions for innovation in a knowledge-based society. Benchmarking today thus must be done with entrepreneurial universities against conventional institutions, Jain emphasized.
Bringing another dimension to the subject was Dr. Chatterjee who put forth that benchmarking could be successful only when involving all key stakeholders of an organization as he shared his understanding about how JNU has reached and sustained excellence. According to him, students are primary stakeholders, along with teachers, administration and parents.
IEF’s consequential conference on excellence in higher education underlined unmistakably that quality assurance as currently practiced may ensure accountability but it does not sufficiently enhance the quality of higher education. Institutes at all levels must transcend current quality approaches and embrace collaborative benchmarking to achieve excellence through inter‐organizational learning.