INTERVIEW WITH WORLD BANK CHIEF ECONOMIST KAUSHIK BASU
By bappaditya paul
Expressing dismay over the declining standards of higher education in West Bengal, the World Bank’s chief economist Dr Kaushik Basu today said that the state government should not interfere with the autonomy of institutes such as the Presidency and Jadavpur University. The advice comes at a time when several colleges in Bengal are grappling with unrest over student union polls and the students of Jadavpur University have been agitating for months now demanding the resignation of vice-chancellor Abhijit Chakraborti for calling police into the campus. They allege that Mr Chakraborti is a political appointee.
“The politicians must realise that education is a vital sector and they should leave it to the experts to handle. There should be autonomy, which should not be interred with by the government; the government must be kept at a distance,” Dr Basu, who is also the senior vice-president of World Bank, said in an interview. He was in Kolkata for the Infosys Awards 2014 for which he had been a Jury Chair.
Terming the ongoing fiasco at Jadavpur University as “very unfortunate”, he refused to take a stand on the demand for the VC’s resignation or the police foray into the university campus saying he was “not aware of the entire episode”.“West Bengal was once at the forefront of the knowledge sector. Presidency once used to be a globally renowned institute, which it is no longer…After Presidency, Jadavpur used to be the next best institute but overtime things have gone wrong. The nurturing of the best brains that used to be done here have shrunk remarkably. All these have to be rebuilt,” he said.
Saying that the erstwhile Left Front government’s policy of sending teachers from Presidency to the districts was partly responsible for the decline as that made talented minds leave the state; Dr Basu made it clear that the new dispensation had also failed to take the right course.
“Institutes like Presidency and Jadavpur must have the full autonomy in terms of appointments and designing their syllabus. In order to draw and retain the best brains there should be no cap on the salary of their teachers,” said the 62-year old economist, who was the chief economic advisor to the government of India until July 2012. He maintained that the “elitist nature” of Presidency and Jadavpur University must be retained to enable them regain their lost glory. “I am talking about intellectual elitism and not financial elitism.”
Dr Basu pointed out that while in the short run economic polices, GDP growth etc were important, in the long run it is the human capital that would matter most. “Nurturing and incentivising the best minds are the key to lasting progress.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This is an elaborate and modified version of the news report that first appeared in The Statesman on 6 January 2015.)