It is great news that leading economist Joseph Stiglitz will address the convocation ceremony of the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata in January. It represents a larger trend of the country’s major institutions increasingly viewing convocation ceremonies as long term strategic brand-building exercises. Stiglitz is not the only one. The Indian Institute of Management in Kolkata is trying to get economist Jeffrey Sachs to deliver its convocation address in 2012. The significance is that Indian institutions are going away from the system of official convocation addresses, mostly delivered by the President or the Prime Minister, in order to brand themselves. The ceremonies are not to be just for conferring degrees. The need to stay in the government’s good books is receiving less attention. Indian industrialists are looking more and more to build their institutional brand by getting globally famous and respected personalities as chief guests at these convocations. The chief guests for their part are feeling the need to make their addresses more relevant to graduates.
All this seems to be in sync with the discussions held between Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington urging the strengthening of ties between India and the US in different fields of higher education. There is no doubt that the US today is the fountainhead of advanced learning. But all this does not mean that India’s indigenous academic resources and talent should not be properly utilised. It must be remembered that a Nobel laureate economist like Amartya Sen is primarily a product of the Indian educational system. And he is not the only one.