In older times land was the major source of production and agriculture main occupation. With the advent of industrial revolution in the late 18th century, capital displaced the land from high pedestal of growth engine. The machine age required a different set of skills to succeed. The education system was geared to meet the requirement of capitalist society and machine age. However, over the last few decades with increasing explosion of new knowledge a paradigm shift is taking place. This has resulted in technology powering competitive edge in market place. The universities have also repositioned themselves as knowledge power-house and idea factory to propel high-tech entrepreneurial ventures in its vicinity. Stanford University driven Silicon Valley is the most famous example in this regard. Other prominent cases include Harvard and MIT supported Route 128 in Boston. Presently more than 1000 university-sponsored business incubators are in operation in USA alone. Almost all the leading universities in the world have created infrastructure and support system to encourage, nurture and handhold high tech ventures in its surrounding. In India, IISc. Bangalore has played the pivotal role in promoting IT and ITES in the city.
In fact the positive spillover effects of universities are much more comprehensive than commonly perceived. Universities through their research and teaching help to produce expertise, manage development, engineer social transformation, and preserve social values and cultural ethos. Academic research point out that economic growth depends on the capability to produce knowledge- intensive goods and services. But for sustainable competitive advantage such economies must be able to create new knowledge through research and development. This necessitates upgradation of higher education institutions as steady fountainhead of new technology and newer capability.
There is a widespread myth that economic growth and development depends only on primary education and to some extent secondary education. It is also alleged in some ill informed circles that the higher education (HE) increases income inequality and return on HE does not warrant allocation of scarce public resources on it. However the evidences demonstrate conclusively that the basic education can at best keep a person marginally above poverty level, while HE can always put the beneficiary into much higher orbit.
In spite of this, the policy makers as well as opinion builders continue to focus exclusively on basic education, seriously neglecting higher education. Sustainable socio-economic development requires constant infusion of new ideas, methods of organisation and technology, the supply of which is possible only through quality higher education.
Most of developed countries and a large number of developing countries have been putting in place strategies to leverage presence of universities to create, enhance and sustain regional competitiveness. (For example, Higher Education and Regions: Globally Competitive, Locally Engaged, OECD, 2007).The empirical evidences pertaining to sustained economic development of a city tells us that either political patronage or presence of university can kick start the process. However, experience in our country just does not support the hypothesis.
We take the case of Haryana, a state known for strange situation where economic growth has not been able to make serious dent on its social sector problems. Moreover, the economic growth has refused to spread beyond few pockets despite best efforts by the government.
In fact, both the issues are interlinked. As already highlighted, universities play leading role in uplifting and promoting regional economy and society. However, the GoH has also established a large number of universities in public sector as well as in private sector without any visible impact of positive spill over effects on regional development. The reasons are not difficult to identify. The universities are in fact pathetically poor in terms of quality education and relevance of research. The extent of callousness in managing state universities can be gauged by fact that the Vice Chancellors are invariably appointed with non-academic background. The universities are started without specifying their mission/objectives. The senior academic positions are filled by promoting persons on local political considerations. Other academic positions and non-teaching posts are simply the extension of political patronage.
This lack of seriousness has damaged the education system enormously in the sense that presently we do not have adequately trained academicians. Unfortunately, in most of the cases the quality as well as attitude of the teachers is so poor that it is extremely unlikely to improve even if arrangements of their training are made. Untrained teachers lead to below quality research, pitiable teaching performance, and demoralized students. Obviously such institutions cannot be expected to give direction to the local/regional/national economy and society.
Interestingly university and HE institutions building can provide disproportionately large political gains to foresighted visionary leaders. In India Nehru understood this and established IITs, IIMs, Indira Gandhi established JNU that created intellectual support for her policies. It is no brainer that until we develop an alternative University out competing JNU in terms of respect and recognition it would be extremely difficult for a government to deviate from left leaning policies and market-friendly approach shall always be taken as anti-poor in the country.
At state level, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Sh. Chandra Babu Naidu leveraged the formation of ISB Hyderabad to attract high tech industries in Hyderabad. In the process he also earned personal goodwill amongst the educated class in the country and abroad. The relationship between HE and local development is direct. The true HE institutions are frequented by globetrotting academicians having close linkages with captains of industry, banking, finance, and media. Therefore, the leaders establishing and nurturing world-class university would automatically earn the goodwill and respect of global community. The respect would help attract investment in desired areas giving a big fillip to the local economy. More investment is synonymous with more employment, more income and wealth creation. Further, interaction with teachers and faculty from different background brings about appreciation of dissent and diversity leading to more civilised society.
Therefore, if Haryana really want to move into higher orbit of knowledge economy and spread its gains to all the parts of the state, there is only one effective strategy. Dismantle political interference in universities and make them truly world-class. The experiment can be initiated with selected one or two universities having the potential and willingness to upscale. Otherwise we can go for altogether new university located strategically in the heartland of the state. After all, if per capita income of Haryana is highest in the country, why can't it have a university surpassing IIMs, IITs and Central Universities in terms of facilities and quality?