Visva Bharati University founded by India’s first Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore has increasingly come under focus during campaigning for the Assembly elections in West Bengal to be held a few months from now.
Different political formations have been seemingly trying to outdo each other in proving who can better safeguard the legacy of Tagore given the huge influence that the venerated poet, writer, and composer has on the Bengali psyche.
While this is understandable considering that this year’s polls may witness a close fight between the two major political parties with a realistic chance of forming the next government in the state, it may possibly be better if discussions around Visva Bharati revolved more around the substantive issue concerning the university. Namely, the dip in the institution’s standards marked by its continuous drop in ranking in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF).
From occupying the No. 11 spot in NIRF’s ‘University Ranking’ category in 2016 (when the NIRF rankings were first introduced), Visva Bharati has seen its position drop to 19 in 2017, 31 in 2018, and 37 in 2019. Its rank fell to 50 in 2020.
At this rate, it may be hazardous to forecast what its position would be when the next NIRF rankings are announced later this calendar year. It would, however, be safe to state with a fair degree of certainty that it would be a huge miracle if Visva Bharati makes it to the top 20 in the upcoming list.
Given this scenario, it would really be in the fitness of things if those responsible for the day-to-day running of Visva Bharati – its academic and administrative leadership – could shut out the noise around them by leaving the politics to the politicians and instead focused single-mindedly on improving the university’s NIRF ranking.
The best starting point for Visva Bharati authorities could be through them looking inwards to assess whether their own shortcomings, including any likely tendency to perennially deflect blame, is contributing to the slide in the university’s standing. And, following such an introspection, make the necessary changes in their attitude and/or approach so that this, in turn, could lead to a degree of improvement in Visva Bharati’s NIRF ranking in future.
The involvement of civil society in a big way can also majorly help in the resurgence of Visva Bharati as an education powerhouse. One of the most effective ways through which civil society leaders can contribute to the betterment of Visva Bharati is by ensuring that discussions around the university largely remain confined to those around academics. Public intellectuals should shun the temptation to focus on issues that are not central to education as that would not come to any aid of this hallowed institution in the state at which it finds itself today.
On a broader level, all key stakeholders must learn to accept the fact that living in the past and expecting that the best students from India and overseas would flock to Visva Bharati simply because of the Tagore connection would not be in the best interests of the institution. And, also, that Visva Bharati needs to take a leaf out of the books of the world’s best universities – the likes of Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, et al. – which, despite their immense popularity, have never attempted to rest on their laurels and continuously tried to improve the way they can benefit students and society at large.
Visva Bharati is a glorious Indian heritage. It would be sad to see this institution going downhill and its glory progressively getting diminished because of the refusal of some relevant stakeholders to recognize and thereafter address the real problems facing it due to their apparent steadfast obsession with non-academic issues.
[The author is Advisor at the Gurgaon-based advisory on communications and stakeholder advocacy R M Consulting https://rmconsulting.in . Views are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Outlook Magazine)