What makes a good academic leader?
The former HRD Minister of India Mr. Kapil Sibbal in his address at Yale University’s higher education leadership seminar said that India needs 1,000 more universities and 50,000 more colleges in the next decade to accommodate 50 million students. This will help boost India’s gross enrolment rate from the current 12 per cent to 30 per cent by 2020. He further added that with a large increase in universities and students in the nation, the issue of academic leadership needs a serious thought. In October 2011, HRD minister Kapil Sibal and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton met and emphasized that access to and the development of technology and skills are cross-cutting requirements to meet the challenges that their two countries face. Building on Charles M Vest’s vision of a meta-university, the two countries looked at setting up a global network for higher learning, focusing on collaborative learning and collaborative knowledge production, operating on a web-based platform.
Academic leadership includes of a variety of positions that involve managing groups of various sizes and compositions such as Vice Chancellor, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Registrar, Department Chair and Associate Chair, Dean, Associate Dean, of undergraduate and post graduate schools, Faculties, Senate members, Directors of research centers, Board of studies members, and lots of other positions in the universities.
Knowledge is the driving force in rapidly changing economy. The government of India has been promoting higher education since the past two decades, due to which we are seeing spurt of growth in the higher education institutions in our nation. The surge in educational institutions in India calls for some serious thinking especially in the area of academic leadership. The nature of academic leadership in the education setting is different from business leadership. It calls for profound understanding and outlining the institutional mission, vision and goals which defines purpose and shapes the functioning style. The success of an educational institution cannot be measured by the bottom line of profit alone; it needs to be measured in terms of quality of education and placements of students. Educational institutions require precise governance, which is sharing of responsibility at different level that involves domain expertise for leading the intuition. The delivery of education comprises of complex and variety of mix elements such as teaching, research, pedagogical tools, service, assignments, examinations, assessments and finally diffusion of various programs. The success of education depends upon the teaching-learning process, which is the crux of academic leadership.
The core mission of an educational institute relates to teaching, research, and grooming of students who contribute in long run to the community welfare. Sadly, in India there are only a handful of institutions which have clearly defined mission statements. Most of the institutions fail to define their vision and mission statements; they are either too complicated or unachievable or they lack direction. Programs are run in a pitiable fashion with no focus on research or further development. Conceptual clarity lacks in the class room sessions. The curriculum lacks pragmatism and common sense completely.
In the private segment of education, majority of the institutions are driven by a singular focus on profits or surpluses, which means that they run purely a business model. Most of these institutions lack the pursuit of learning.
Goals and philosophies are just printed in glossy prospectus, brochures, and on the boards which are lost in practice. The biggest challenge that a private institution faces today is of conflict between academic quality and objectives. The simple formula used by the promoters is of expecting return on investment from the very first year of its existence. This shifts the measures of success from profits made by promoters, to more unformulated ones like peer recognition, rankings, accreditation and prestige. In such institutions, the heads are chosen not by certified norms but personal contact; unfit heads i.e. the Principals or Directors mislay the entire academic orientation. Also, countless growth of institutions is unmanageable by state. The credibility of the academic leadership has become dismal. The state-run Universities have lost the charm; they have become unmanageable because of uncannily filling the headship positions.
The positions of Vice Chancellor, Registrars and Deans of Universities are filled purely with political motives. You get wrong people sitting at the helm of affairs in the universities and the objective of education is lost; the techniques, process and rationale of education gets diluted. The universities are run in slapdash manner. While, we are talking about number of universities and colleges to be increased, are we looking at the deserving and trustworthy academic leaders to head these universities and colleges?
The key aspect of academic leadership is visualization. Leaders must have an understanding of core activities of each department; in some cases, they need to have extensive knowledge and the ability to undertake those activities themselves. They must participate in the aspects of running departments that are crucial for the institution’s survival. In my opinion, financial management must be fully understood by the leader. Academic leaders are often chosen based on their success in research. If they are good at research, they command the respect of researchers and they encourage research activities. Institutions are run by people; hence the leader’s people skill matters. How a leader deals with them, their concerns, requests and development is obviously crucial. Most importantly, leaders are not judged by their own individual accomplishments, such as important publications or teaching awards, although achieving these establishes credibility. Leaders are judged by the successes of their subordinates. They do not operate in a vacuum; getting advice and feedback from people is an important aspect of academic leadership
Today we need academic leaders who work on programs in accordance with the business environment requirements. Keeping the syllabus updated at regular intervals, giving importance to research, formulating effective policies, and most importantly giving priority to the welfare of students is crucial. Leadership in education generally receives less attention in our country than it should. It is time that the new Government looks into the matter and takes remedial actions.