Institutions are built on both principles and belief. Institution builders must respect statues, ordinances, processes and systems. But the mere mechanics of established procedure cannot build beyond that which is already erected. Currently our university system is structured to produce mere consumers of knowledge. The challenge is to create producers of knowledge to enhance our country’s knowledge capita. Higher education in India today therefore demands outstanding academic leadership; we need at the helm individuals who can steer change through belief and conviction, and most importantly empathy – for all stakeholders. Our goal should be to create producers of knowledge though our university system.
I was born in Delhi University, so to speak. My father, Late Amba Prasad, was professor of history here, and I have known the university ever since I have been aware of the world around me. I know its secret by lanes as well I do the specificities of departmental functioning. I have grown up here, studied here, taught here and have been an administrator here these past 56 years. The University of Delhi is as much a part of me as I am a part of it. I understand its ethos and I believe in its value and contribution to academics and the nation. I know how change can and should be ushered to take the university forward without compromising its existing strengths. In an institution as large as the University of Delhi, organic growth is preferred to changes that are grafted piecemeal. My achievements as an administrator is demonstrable proof of my beliefs.
I became principal of Ramjas College in 1985 at age 33, the youngest ever in the University. I found myself surrounded by gloom. Ramjas was an unhappy place then, torn asunder by cynicism and internecine turf battles with teachers, karamcharis and even students joining the fray. The past few years had witnessed 17 principals occupying office, only to soon demit it. Such was the ethos of the college that it was continually berated as a failed institution. It took me no less than ten years to set things in order. In 1995, Ramjas Foundation, in its 83rd Foundation Day, presented a plaque to me in which was inscribed, the following: “… the College was engulfed in grave academic, administrative and financial crisis and its corporate life was torn asunder. Dr Prasad’s youthful effervescence and dynamic leadership not only contained it but nurtured the College to excellent health.” I succeeded where others lost courage because I believed in the institution and I because I belonged. I understood the dynamics at play, and I knew that by privileging the right priorities, I would win over right minded people. When right minded people are willing to come on board, half the battle is already won. But these processes take time. They cannot be forced, and if they are, any success that is achieved will not endure. Enduring change can only be wrought through participatory action by those who are endowed with both merit and are driven by dedication.
Parallel to my principalship I have remained involved in wider social projects through my involvement as Chairperson of the UNESCO club of the University of Delhi, a Chapter of the Indian National Commission for Cooperation with UNESCO, Ministry of HRD, Government of India. I have been responsible for promoting its aims, goals and responsibilities, especially with regard to World Conference on Higher Education and Managing Social Transformations. In 2007 I visited Afghanistan as an expert on ‘Strengthening of Higher Education in Afghanistan Program’, a World Bank initiative. I have been the Visitor’s nominee to various North Eastern Universities, giving me access to the needs of students from that region, who I must add, have always found in me an extra sympathetic administrator when it has concerned their special needs in the University of Delhi. As the Visitor’s nominee, I have been involved in crucial administrative initiatives at the university level -- like structuring of courses and curriculum management, teacher’s training programmes, and modernizing student facilities to create greater access, and so on. Moreover, I have remained involved in education initiatives across diverse fora, including ASSOCHAM; Consultant Advisor, National Advisory Council – South Asia Affairs, Washington DC.
Most claims on CVs appear ephemeral in the absence of a proven track record. I am proud of what Ramjas College has achieved in the past 25 years or more I have been Principal. It has been ranked (in actual rank based on real parameters as opposed to ‘perception based’ rank) by India Today in its annual ranking for 2010 of colleges as the number ‘five’ college in Arts and the number ‘six’ college in Science ALL INDIA. How has this transformation been brought about from 1985 when the College was in the grip of lawlessness and uncertainty?
The foremost priority for an academic institution is academic leadership. Garnering the best faculty, supporting research, encouraging scholars, and rewarding success are the simple things that need to be always kept in focus. In Ramjas I worked hard to get the best facuty, never allowing any consideration but merit in determining appointments. It was not easy, but some initiatives never are. These young people then became the aggregators. We already had a crop of very distinguished teachers. Well intentioned people freely associate to generate positive energy, and that is what gave an academic push to Ramjas. Along with staff, we emphasized top class infrastructure support.
By the mid 1990s we drew up a long term modernization plan, which continues to be implemented through scaled up projects even now. We introduced computers and a LAN system to begin with, linking all departments. We digitized library records. We then built state of the art media rooms to support film clubs and so on. Soon we began work on a students’ information system. Initially it was an ‘excel’ based off line system. Over time it evolved into a top rated web based ERP type software which today takes care of 360o administrative and academic data and systems management of all stake holders in Ramjas. Bringing technology to some of the older colleagues was not easy, as is obvious, but not impossible either. In any case what is the point of giving up even without trying. Along with our Students Information System (SIS) we introduced WiFi connectivity and LCD projection systems in all class rooms, besides conducting workshops on the presentation mode of teaching, which most young faculty members have already incorporated in their classroom pedagogic strategies.
Students today need to be continually exposed to the changing and ever expanding frontiers of knowledge. Aware that syllabi in India perhaps do not change as soon as they ought to and also realizing that many members of the faculty had things to share outside the structure of the formal syllabi, we introduced as many as 28 ‘add on’ courses under the aegis of a ‘Knowledge Centre’, where scholarship could make fresh inroads outside the straight jacket of the classroom. We also opened a ‘School of Foreign and Indian Languages’ (SFIL) with university certified courses to give students of Ramjas College access to the learning of new langugaes. We have tied up with foreign universities and regularly exchange students with various international universities.
Ramjas is an equal opportunity college with gender sensitive policies. We fought hard with entrenched mindsets to establish in 2005 a women’s hostel, working in record time through the holidays to have it ready. Ramjas was once thought unsafe; today it boasts of a co-educational residence for its students.
Ramjas hosted the first ever South Asia Economic Conference for students involving colleges from SAARC countries in the year 2002. After hosting the first two meets, we took the initiative to enlarge the movement. Today, championed by Ramjas Colege, the South Asia Initiative has become a South Asia Centre for Excellence, with the broad theme of providing a platform for meaningful discourse between intellectuals, scholiasts, members of the media and professionals. The contribution of this Centre to South Asia issues cannot be emphasized enough, and we at Ramjas are proud of what we have achieved.