In Search Of Excellence
WHERE ARE THE INCENTIVES?
By Dharmendra Nath (Retd. IAS)
New Delhi, May 06, 2010
Ostensibly we seem to be suffering from a surfeit of
excellence. It is strewn everywhere around us as a part of
almost every name. We are surrounded by all kinds of
institutions of excellence, Schools of Excellence, Colleges of
Excellence, even Colleges with Potential for Excellence under
a UGC scheme. If excellence was a matter of nomenclature only
then there would be no problem.
‘Water, water every where, not a drop to drink,’ perhaps
describes our situation aptly and also the limitations of a
short sighted name-based excellence policy. Such a policy
clearly raises unrealistic expectations and runs the risk of
giving less than promised.
Harvard, Yale, Massachusetts or Oxford and Cambridge do not
describe themselves as institutions of excellence; they are so
rated by the people. In our own country before the craze began
nearly a decade ago, we had widely known and respected
institutions of excellence without any mention of it in their
names. Everyone knew and flocked to them. In fact, their names
Of late, however, we are seeing excellence more in the name.
Are we thereby replacing efforts to achieve excellence with
excellence bestowed from above as a baptismal gift? Do we read
excellence in names only and are quite unable to recognise it
in its true colours?
A look at our performance paints a rather dismal picture. Our
institutions of excellence are frequently manned by contract
appointees, who are paid even less than the regular ones. This
is ostensibly done in the name of scarce resources. But how do
we hope to attain excellence without adequate compensation? As
for money, there is no shortage of it in the country today.
Turn any stone and you will find a hoard beneath it.
Commonsense says that contract employees are to be paid higher
than regular ones partly to compensate them for the future
uncertainty and partly to offset various other benefits that
regular employment entails. But that does not seem to bother
us. We would not like to recognise this and instead we merrily
recruit those who are prepared to rough it out or to
shortchange the system. This necessarily excludes the best and
reduces the size of the talent pool tapped.
If our search for excellence is genuine it can be no excuse
that there are long queues of applicants even under the
present regimen. We all know that we can buy any thing cheap,
only we have to compromise on quality. But that surely is not
the road to stardom.
The bard of Avon said ‘What is in a name? A rose called by any
other name will smell as sweet.’ We do not seem to subscribe
to that at all. We try to put it all in the name. He also said
‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have
greatness thrust upon them’. From the evidence around us it
appears that we are earnest believers in the third route to
greatness. Greatness is to be bestowed rather than achieved.
Not only with institutions, but in other walks of life too we
seem to place a disproportionate faith in names. So we call
ourselves Suyash,Vishal and Pragati. Our shops and
establishments are named Santushti, Samarpan and Niramaya. Our
residential colonies follow the same pattern Rameshwaram,
Indraprastha etc. Our food articles and food supplements are
similarly named to support their high-flying claims. A body
trimming food supplement currently being advertised is
suitably named Fatgo. For nutrition you clearly take
Nutricharge. Are we so full of ‘hollow men’ and hollow
institutions and such great believers in names?
The logic seems to be: just put it in the name and every thing
else shall follow. Taste of the pudding is in the eating.
Whoever said that? Not we. We would not like to go beneath the
Name and face value carry such a lot of weight with us. Does
our cultural orientation favour profession over practice?
Swayed by profession and tall promises we see around us a lot
of gullible people taken for a ride by conmen and fake
salesmen. We read of those stories in the newspapers all the
time. Turning ashes into gold!
It has been said that nothing compares with the misery of
holding a position and not deserving it. That too does not
bother us. In personal life the effort by and large is to get
there by any means and not to look back or reflect too much on
why and wherefore of things. But is that the road to
Even so, tall claims without substance will not delude even
the credulous for long. And surely this kind of hide-and-seek
entails loss of precious time and opportunity. We should be
considering some alternative approach. For example, we could
go in for some kind of an open grading system, something like
star-rating of establishments. One could grade institutions on
a star scale and also provide for some incentive scheme to
improve star-rating. These ratings can then be assessed and
reassessed periodically. That is far more likely to generate
Building and maintaining incentives to excellence in the
society is an ongoing task. The issue should therefore be
taken seriously. To illustrate my point I will cite just one
instance where we did away with an existing system of
incentives to excellence.
We once had a system, perhaps by accident, to motivate
achievement in public services. There were Municipal services,
then State services and finally Central services, all with
different grades of pay. Municipal services had the lowest
grades, then came the State services and finally the Central
services, which had the highest grades. People strove to
improve their position by moving from the lower to the higher
one. That provided an incentive to excel, to do better. In the
name of equal pay for equal work we did away with that. Now
almost all grades are the same and the advantage of an inbuilt
incentive system has been lost.
Let us take a lesson from this. Communism has already
inflicted a setback on our search for excellence for long by
limiting human concerns to food, clothing and shelter. Human
horizons cannot be limited in this way. Education, health,
culture and self-improvement did not figure in their list of
human aspirations. They never realized: ‘What a piece of work
is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in
form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like
an angel, in apprehension how like A god! the beauty of the
Let us not dither nor delude ourselves. Let us put in place an
open hierarchy of institutions to nurture the competitive
spirit in them and to encourage superior performance by
whoever can. Bestowing the honour of excellence in name is
ill-conceived and counterproductive.—INFA
(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)