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All for academic excellence

Three teachers, belonging to different generations, set out to discuss excellence in education (Utkorsher Sandhane).

The eldest of them — economist Amiya Bagchi — dismissed “global standard” of education as advertising jargon and the youngest — physicist Somak Raychaudhury — pointed out the inapplicability of international rankings in India. “The rankings take little cognisance of teaching standards and are based on parameters like research and number of international teachers and students in the institute — this, when our government is against recruiting faculty from abroad,” said the professor of Presidency University.

The discussion soon veered towards the challenge of retaining students. “Even if you get the best teachers, what would they do if students don’t turn up in class?” lamented sociologist Prasanta Ray. “There is no lack of commitment. I have students from Midnapore and Bagnan coming regularly,” countered Bagchi, an emeritus professor at the Institute of Development Studies.

All three agreed that the standard of available students was still very high. “The top institutes elsewhere have a staggering percentage of science students from Bengal. The reason they do not stay back is the divorcing of research and teaching by our planners. The best researchers are cooped up in ivory towers with no access to students leaving the latter to scout for institutes with some research opportunities like Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, or fly abroad. The skewed payscale and lack of infrastructure in universities make it difficult to wean a scientist back to classrooms,” said Raychaudhury, who came to Presidency University after a decade of teaching abroad.

A degree of freedom and generous public funding would allow universities to compete, felt Bagchi. For Raychaudhury, the answer lay in improving infrastructure and becoming a part of the global teaching network that would attract researchers to teach and make students stay back.