President’s legacy, beyond politics

| | in Oped

Once a college teacher, Pranab Mukherjee as India’s President has focussed on placing education at the core of human development efforts in this country

President Pranab Mukherjee's legacy will be his unique and distinctive contribution towards the transformation of higher education in India. Mukherjee’s relentless efforts to seek a new vision and imagination that will pave way for fundamental reforms and bold thinking in higher education is unprecedented in the history of Indian presidency. It is even more significant that President Mukherjee's continuing efforts towards raising the quality of higher education and promoting excellence has occurred within the constitutional framework of the limited powers exercised by the President of India in a parliamentary form of Government.

Since he took office, Mukherjee has tirelessly engaged with educational institutions, regulatory bodies, policy-makers, Ministries within the Government, and most importantly, the faculty, the students and all stakeholders in the field of education.

Illustrious individuals have held the office of the President of India with distinction. The first three Presidents of India — Rajendra Prasad, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Zakir Husain were outstanding intellectuals and brilliant scholars. Prasad had an academic bent of mind and taught at the Langat Singh College of Muzaffarpur and the City College, Kolkata. Radhakrishnan was a distinguished professor at the University of Oxford and later served as the vice chancellor of the Andhra University and the Benares Hindu University. Husain was one of modern India's most outstanding educationists and institution-builders who founded the Jamia Millia Islamia and also served as its vice chancellor.

In recent years, the Office of the President of India was occupied by distinguished scholars who have had academic stints and were reputed for their knowledge and expertise in different fields such as Shankar Dayal Sharma, KR Narayanan and APJ Abdul Kalam.

Mukherjee himself was a college teacher and taught at the Vidyanagar College of the University of Calcutta. But there is something remarkable and unique about this presidency. Mukherjee has recognised the central role of education for human development. There are five significant contributions of Mukherjee that has brought the Indian higher education system to reflect about its future.

First, President Mukherjee brought to bear what was critical for seeking reforms in higher education. He galvanised an intellectual consciousness and brought together stakeholders of universities and higher education institutions to imagine a future that will seek excellence.

Second, Mukherjee has emphasised on the need to create knowledge and for research to become the central pillar of higher education reforms. He engaged with leaders of academic institutions and worked with them to recognise that research and knowledge-creation must lead to innovation.

Third, Mukherjee made the Rashtrapati Bhavan open and accessible to academics. Never before in the history of Indian presidency, has the Rashtrapati Bhavan been more open and accessible to ideas and perspectives brought forward by academics. The Conference of Vice Chancellors, the institution of the Visitor's Awards and the Festival of Innovation are important examples of how Mukherjee democratised the Office of the President of India

Fourth, the internationalisation of higher education acquired new impetus under the support of Mukherjee. He took substantive efforts to create opportunities for the Indian higher education institution to collaborate with universities around the world.

Fifth, Mukherjee strongly advocated for higher education reforms that will make Indian higher education institutions respond to the challenges of the future. Through his ability and tactfulness to address complex and contentious issues in an effective manner, he brought a renewed sense of urgency in the regulation and governance of higher education.

In fact, the remarkable contributions of Mukherjee that deservingly will recognise him as the Education President of India is his ability to identify issues that have already impacted the higher education system. Mukherjee's contribution to the field of higher education is unparalleled, given his strong and sustained efforts to translate many ideas of good governance into higher education to tangible and implementable ideas for policy action and public policy reforms.

(The writer is vice chancellor of OP Jindal Global University)

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