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Friday, March 18, 2011

Transparency in Educational Institutions

Last weekend was a treat. So many distinguished IITK alumni gathered on campus for various alumni related events - the Alumni Day, Giving out of Distinguished Alumnus Awards and Satyendra Dubey Award, 35-year reunion of 1976 graduates, the Student-Alumni Interaction Day, etc. It is always a pleasure to meet and listen to great minds. But the biggest treat of all was a 2-hour session by Mr. Shailesh Gandhi, the Central Information Commissioner, on Right to Information Act. Mr. Gandhi was here to receive the Satyandera Dubey Memorial Award from IIT Kanpur.

This set me thinking about transparency. Do we follow transparency in our dealings as an educational institute. I also discussed the matter with a few colleagues. Unfortunately, the answer every time was, "we are far more transparent than others." That may very well be the case, but is that enough.

We have seen that the holiest of the holy cow, the JEE, has a tarnished image today because it had no transparency (it still has less than desirable), and till now, there has been no explanation for some of the past acts.

When we give our awards, like the Distinguished Alumnus Awards we gave on Saturday, there are always some murmurs. Would it not be proper to put out a list of all nominations with a brief summary of their achievements (if not all the details) on the website. Anyone can then see that there was no "much better" nominee who was overlooked by the awards committee.

We spend good money to attract students for summer internship at IIT Kanpur. But are we selecting the best ones amongst those who applied. I think we should put up a complete list of all applicants with their brief credentials, and those who are selected.

When we collect feedback from students about our courses, shouldn't such a feedback be available in the public domain. Shouldn't it be known to taxpayers as to how the highest paid faculty members in the country supported by their taxes are doing in terms of tasks that they are expected to do - teaching, research, institution building, etc.

When we set up committees to inquire into misdemeanors, shouldn't the reports of the committees be made public.

When we are constructing buildings at the cost of 10s of crores, it should be mandatory to put up the building plans and the estimated cost (and the final cost) on the web.

When we terminate the programs of academically weak students, and then consider their appeals, shouldn't we be giving reasons as to why some appeals are accepted and some are not. After all, it is a serious matter of career for those whose appeals are turned down.

Doing all this and many more similar things would improve the public confidence in our system, and encourage other institutes to follow our processes, and hopefully, this will improve accountability in all institutions, and thus excellence.

Of course, I can submit a series of RTI applications to the Public Information Officer of IIT Kanpur, each with a check of Rs. 10 only, and ask for all this information, and then I can share that with the rest of the world.

But that is not good enough as far as the Act is concerned. The RTI Act says that the public authorities will take steps to inform public about the information that could be asked under RTI. So all this information should be put on the website suo moto by educational institutions before anyone asks for it by filing an RTI application. If one is not doing that, one is violating certainly the spirit of the act, and perhaps the letter of the act as well.

Thank you, Mr. Shailesh Gandhi.


poweredbybmw said...

Sir - excellent post.

I hope IIT Kanpur will soon share such excellent talks held at the institute by (recorded, not live) video over the internet.

Even many non-educational organizations, eg, Google & Facebook have started disseminating knowledge this way. There used to be a lot of work in the Electrical Department for teaching over the internet.

Avinash Dhoot
B. Tech, CSE, 2003

rmandala said...

Awesome retrospective. Would love to see some of that transparency in the IIT system.

Ravi Kumar Mandala,
M.Tech, CSE, 2006