Saturday, October 08, 2011

Manmohan's vision behind Oxford's new governance school

At home, he may be seen as a “weak” leader presiding over a dysfunctional government but at Oxford University, his alma mater, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is regarded as a “visionary,” whose ideas have gone into setting up a £100 million high-profile centre of excellence which will train a new generation of world leaders.

The Blavatnik School of Government, set up with a £75-million endowment by the Russian-American philanthropist Leonard Blavatnik and headed by a self-confessed “Indophile,” will have close links with Indian academics and policymakers. University sources told The Hindu that Dr. Singh was among the world leaders “directly consulted about what was needed in the curriculum.”

Professor Ngaire Woods, a leading figure in international relations and global economic governance, who has been appointed Dean of the School, said Dr. Singh had been “an inspiration to our endeavours.” “In fact, the words we are using to define the mission of the School, ‘pursuing a vision of better government, stronger societies, and richer human opportunities across the world,' actually come from my notes of Manmohan Singh's interventions. We hope to engage him and bring his wise counsel and formidable experience more closely into the school,” said Professor Woods describing herself as “shamelessly Indophile.”

Her own personal engagement with Dr. Singh began when she was a member of the Commonwealth Expert Group on Development and Democracy, which he chaired. “He was an outstanding chairman. He pushed us all to think harder and better about development and democracy,” she said.

The School, formally opening its doors next year, will invite senior academics and policymakers from India and other countries to take part in a fellowship scheme at Oxford designed to produce country-specific case studies that would then be made available to students of public policy and public administration at universities across the world as teaching material. There will be a special focus on India.

“We are very keen that the best and the brightest students from India join our global cohort,” she said. Professor Woods, whose own academic research was on India's relationship with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in 1970s-1990s, said the country was a “fascinating” case study of how governments worked.

“It is a whole world to study in and of itself, with its different regions, traditions and systems of governance providing endless examples and counter-examples of how government can work; it's highly active civil society; the role of the press and media; the government's constant balancing of commitments to growth and prosperity, on the one hand, and to equality and greater opportunity, on the other. India's foreign policy is an equally riveting study of how a country can assert and defend its sovereignty and independence, and yet engage fully and with great experience and skill across all international organizations.”

About her own experience of working with Indian officials, she said: “They were so smart and so well prepared that they were able to challenge officials of international agencies such as the IMF, the World Bank, or USAID on their own ground — and very often end up with a far better deal than any other country.”

Professor Woods sought to play down stories of corruption from India, saying it was a problem in almost all countries that would be studied in the Blavatnik School. “Like so many other countries, Indians must work in all sectors, public, private, and non-governmental — to strengthen probity and integrity in government.” Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton said the School would not only “embody the best of Oxford's traditional strengths but also provide scholars with innovative practical ways of dealing with the complex issues that confront world leaders today.”

Source: The Hindu, October 8, 2011

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