Towards Strong Foundation of Higher Education Infrastructure
The storm of liberalisation and free-market that hit India in 1991 can be recalled in the form of unlimited expansion of Higher Education Institutions in the country. More than 750 Universities and over 30,000 Higher Education Institutions had come up in the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century. But many of those institutions were not able to offer quality education. With the entry of private sector in education and also offers of better salary and allowances, many educationists, employees and planners from government institutions had started turning to the private sector. In that transition phase, both the private and government institutions not only witnessed a kind of anarchy, irregularities and mismanagement but also saw newer kinds of loot, scams, uncontrolled expansion, incomplete infrastructure, shortage of quality faculty, employees and students, cheating, sell of degrees and mindless Westernisation.
Amidst this mindless race of greediness, there was a phase, between 2010 to 2014, when even the regulatory agencies like University Grants Commission (UGC), Medical Council of India (MCI), Dental Council of India (DCI) and All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) faced inquiries following disputes and scams. During that period, the changes in primary and secondary education had degraded education level there too. The adverse impact of all those happenings was seen on the recruitments done by various Selection Boards. During that period, we also witnessed many recruitment scams, irregularities and inquiries. Hence, it was the period of extensive dissatisfaction and disappointment among the youth of the country. We also saw the results of many surveys and reports of inquiry committees which warned that most of the youth passing out from many of the educational institutions were unfit for the jobs and employment they were trained. They did not fulfill the requirements of their future employers. There was a full generation armed with fake or purchased degrees, and India had emerged as a country with a huge network of directionless and unproductive higher education institutions.
Meanwhile, various movements and discussion began in the country for a big change particularly for new education policy, reconstitution of regulatory agencies, curbing commercialisation of education, control on fake faculty, students as well as degrees, ban on aimless expansion, connecting education with employment, skills, moral values and Bharatiya samksars. The present Government led by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi constituted two committees, first under the chairmanship of Shri TSR Subramanian and second under the chairmanship of noted scientist Dr K Kasturirangan, to deeply study and suggest extensive changes in all segments of education. These committees sought suggestions from various stakeholders for formulating New Education Policy and worked on a war footing. Compiling thousands of suggestions that these committees received and also the outputs of various discussions and debates the draft of a New Education Policy has been prepared, which will be put before the countrymen after General Elections 2019. Before that, the Government of India has taken many constructive and concrete steps to improve the standard of primary, secondary and higher education in the country. The prime objective behind taking those steps was to create the basic infrastructure, which can support the new world-class educational institutions in the country.
Our surveys have revealed that the government introduced some decisive changes in education system even while facing various allegations and contradictions. And those changes have effectively impacted the education sector with better output.
The strong foundation of higher education is impossible without effective and quality primary and secondary education. Effective steps were taken in most of the states of India to curb the copying mafia effectively, ban on parallel books published by private publishers, strict implementation of calendar system, curb on passing without appearing in exams, connecting the data of students, faculty and employees with Aadhar Card, introducing biometric attendance, impressive improvement in basic infrastructure with the help of private and government sector, huge investment in the infrastructure for imparting basic skills, skill development, lab, library, sports grounds etc for promotion of innovation, research & sports, digitisation of training and exam results, effective curb on fake faculty, etc. It is beyond any debate that without these fundamental changes and reforms, the desired change in higher education sector is impossible. Howsoever good education policy we may formulate, it will remain in principles only without showing any good result on the ground.
This very same campaign was carried out in higher education sector, both private and public, also. As a result of all the positive steps taken in the primary and secondary education sector, comparatively good stuff started coming to the higher education institutions. The institutions having poor infrastructure or showing poor performance, are being closed down or being effectively monitored. The departments which are unproductive in these institutions are also being shut down. The government institutions are provided with more funds so that their basic infrastructure is improved, they can focus more on research, innovation and skill development and employment-oriented education is promoted. Instead of multi-regulatory agencies, the country is now moving ahead for single regulatory agency. The students’ selection has also been started through an independent agency. Hundreds of Engineering, Management, Medical and Dental Colleges as well as other institutions are either being closed down if they fail on the set parameters, or their recognition is being halted. The data of faculty and students has been made available online. Dozens of big and good private and government institutions in the country have been granted the status of Eminence and efforts are on to provide them with more funds to make world-class institutions. Amidst these changes in education, there is also focus on restoring the ancient glory of Bharat in education sector so that the newer lights of knowledge come out from different houses providing original answers to the various problems being faced by the world and ultimately Bharat again regains the glory of Vishwaguru, the world leader. Efforts have begun to understand the ancient Vedic and Upanishadic knowledge in newer perspectives and they are being connected with modern needs as well as knowledge.
As a result of all these efforts, the trust of the countrymen in our own education system is gradually getting restored, and they are turning to entrepreneurship rather than jobs seeking, which is surely a major turning point. One more significant outcome of all these efforts is that the trust of the foreign students has also strengthened towards our education institutions and thousands of foreign students, during the last several years, have sought admissions in various Indian institutions. It is time to further strengthen this trust. The emphasis should be on opening the institutions where we can deeply study the culture, knowledge traditions, science, achievements, weaknesses, foreign policy, politics, natural and human resources of other countries in our own institutions. It is time for the development of ‘Pen India’ mindset with our age-old tradition of the welfare of the entire world.
We can say that if all these efforts continue with the same honesty for several more years, the education sector in Bharat will re-enter in the golden era. The need of the hour is that all the higher education institutions of the country start with original thinking focussing on research, industry-academia tie-up, innovation, international agreements, new inventions, patent, genuine research papers, students exchange and promotion of employment opportunities. They should be sufficiently honest, transparent and accountable to the level that the governments grant them autonomy without any hesitation and they genuinely emerge as the world-class power stations of knowledge.
Higher education in India Vision 2030
By the year 2030, India will be amongst the youngest nations in the world. With nearly 140 million people in the college-going age group, one in every four graduates in the world, will be a product of the Indian higher education system.
Over the last two decades, India has remarkably transformed its higher education landscape. It has created widespread access to low-cost high-quality university education for students of all levels.
With well-planned expansion and a student-centric learning-driven model of education, India has not only bettered its enrolment numbers but has dramatically enhanced its learning outcomes.
A differentiated three-tiered university system – where each tier has a distinct strategic objective – has enabled universities to build on their strengths and cater across different categories of educational needs.
Further, with the effective use of technology, India has been able to resolve the longstanding tension between excellence and equity.
India has also undertaken large-scale reforms to better faculty-student ratios by making teaching an attractive career path, expanding capacity for doctoral students at research universities and delinking educational qualifications from teaching eligibility.
The Road to Progress: 2013 to 2030
In recent years, India has undertaken massive structural and systemic changes that have started to yield encouraging results. The country has been touted to have the best-in-class post-secondary education system at present. Some of the significant factors that have contributed to this growth and can help envision the 2030 dream includes:
- Expansion of a differentiated university system with a three-tiered formalised structure
- Transition to a learner-centered paradigm of education
- Intensive use of technology
- Reforms in governance
India is among top 5 countries globally in cited research output, with 23 universities in global top 200!
To achieve the envisioned state in 2030, transformational and innovative interventions would be required across all levers of the higher education system.
Vision 2030: Where do we See India?
- By 2030, India will have the largest population in the world, in the higher education age bracket. Increasing urbanisation and income levels will drive demand for higher education.
- India’s economy is expected to grow at a fast pace; rapid industrialisation would require a gross incremental workforce of ~250 million by 2030; India could potentially emerge as a global supplier of skilled manpower.
- India has the opportunity to become a prominent R&D destination.
- Given the expected socio-economic scenario in 2030, India would need a robust higher education system that can deliver on multiple imperatives.
- A differentiated system of institutions with differing objectives and focus areas would be critical for achieving the proposed goals.
While it is important to address the existing shortcomings in the higher education system, it is more important to move towards a bold and aspirational vision.
We strongly believe that a stratified three tiered structure that enables seamless vertical and horizontal mobility of students would be able to create the desired intellectual, economic and social value. The implementation framework suggests the student at the center stage to foster innovation and choice, an ICT architecture that will increase access, equity and quality, and a transparent governance framework that will enable autonomy and self–regulation. A framework for governance has been detailed in the addendum document which proposes a mechanism based on outcomes and strong institutional accountability, clearly delineating the role and responsibilities of the government as well as public and private higher education institutions.
Highlights of India’s Education Sector
- India is the single largest provider of global talent, with one in four graduates in the world being a product of the Indian system
- India is among top 5 countries globally in cited research output, its research capabilities boosted by annual R&D spends amounting to over US$140 billion
- India is in the fourth cycle of its research excellence framework, with at least a 100 of Indian universities competing with the global best
- 23 Indian universities are among the global top 200, going from none two decades ago.
- In the last 20 years alone, 6 Indian intellectuals have been awarded the Nobel Prize across categories
- India is a regional hub for higher education, attracting global learners from all over the world
- The country has augmented its GER to 50% while also reducing disparity in GER across states to 5 percentage points
- The Indian higher education system is needs-blind, with all eligible students receiving financial aid. Two-thirds of all government spending towards higher education is spent on individuals, including faculty and students
- India’s massive open online courses, started by several elite research universities, collectively enrol 60% of the world’s entire student population
- Indian higher education institutions are governed by the highest standards of ethics and accountability, with every single one of them being peer-reviewed and accredited
How Higher Education in India is Transforming into broader education
Robust demand, growing investments, competitive advantages & policy support are the factors driving the exponential growth in Indian higher education sector – and will pave the way for pvt. universities to continue to soar into the new year
Home to the world’s largest youth population (about 500 million in the age bracket of 5-24 years), India is also a country with the world’s largest higher education system. Riding on the demand, the higher education sector in the country has witnessed a phenomenal growth in student enrolment. From 25.2 per cent in 2017 it now stands at 25.8 per cent this year. Estimated at US$ 91.7 billion in FY18 and expected to reach US$ 101.1 billion in FY19, the growth of India’s education sector is a result of the growth in number of universities, aided by an increase in awareness of the value of higher education. Moreover, the Government of India’s target Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of 30 per cent for higher education by 2020 is expected to drive investments in this domain. But increased access and investment in human capital is only one part of the equation – as the higher education sector in India continues to mushroom, capacity building will have to go hand-in-hand with quality, inclusion and a whole ne w way of thinking.
It is now a truth acknowledged in many quarters that our young graduates will have to live and work in a steadily more automated and disruptive world. The ability to think well, and think fast, will assume greater significance than it has thus far. The India Skills Report of 2018 states that “with the changing nature of work and workplaces, business activities … the traditional silos of departments are being questioned and this will mean a new set of skills are required at individual contributor and manager level. The desired skill sets of most occupations are likely to comprise of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today. As per certain estimates Cognitive Abilities, Systems skills, Complex Problem Solving, Content skills, and Social skills are … likely to be a growing part of the core skills requirements for many industries.”
With many reports and studies coming up with similar indicators, there is a need for the higher education system in the country to respond accordingly. The colonial system of specialised education, set up to serve a specific need, is no longer adequate for those who are in a race to be future-ready and acquire 21st Century skills. Whether it is B-Schools, Institutes of Technology or universities offering various other courses in the humanities and social sciences, all will have to be increasingly multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary in their approach.
This move away from silos in education and towards more collaborative and innovative learning is being reflected in the slowly growing engagement with the Liberal Arts in India. India had a tradition of liberal arts education, with internationally respected centres of learning at Takshashila and Nalanda. The curriculum at these grand institutions of the ancient world included grammar, philosophy, Ayurveda, surgery, politics, warfare, astronomy, commerce, music, dance and much more. The success of such educational institutions was evident in their graduates – Takshashila’s alumni included the philosopher and economist, Chanakya; the father of Sanskrit grammar, Panini; and the Chinese traveller and Buddhist scholar, Hiuen Tsang.
Today’s institutions are not just drawing upon such a tradition, but enhancing it with best practices from around the world. Efforts are on to incorporate the best of content, courses and knowledge that India has to offer and unite it with the best in contemporary pedagogy in terms of experiential learning, use of technology, grass-roots immersion and mentorship. As more and more students seek international exposure, many Indian universities and colleges have entered into joint venture agreements with international universities. The Indo-French agreement to facilitate Mutual Recognition of Academic Qualifications between the two countries is also a case in point. Through faculty and student exchanges, collaborative research, and the chance to study abroad for a semester or a year, students get the opportunity to broaden their perspectives and engage with a more global arena.
Year 2018 was a time when we witnessed the growth of these interesting trends in higher education. For instance, many institutions have been focusing on a multi-disciplinary approach, along with diversity and inclusion, to drive private education in India. There has been a small but steady growth in programmes and universities focusing on such an education, with many Asian leaders and educators investing in them. The long-held belief that Asian students and parents would not see value in such an education has been overturned, as institutions like NUS in Singapore and Ashoka University in India showed the steady increase in enrolments.
This interweaving of disciplines and blending learning between the sciences and arts has also resulted in better prospects for students. This year, the employability score has taken a big leap as compared to the last, reaching a new level of 45.60% which has a sharp hike of 5.16% over the previous year’s employability score as per the India Skills Report 2018. All of this indicates that while debates may ensue about the costs and relevance of such an education for the real world, Indian institutions are showing an innovative path forward. Robust demand, increasing investments, competitive advantages, and policy support are the factors driving the exponential growth in the Indian higher education sector – and will pave the way for private universities to continue to soar into the new year.
(The author is Deputy Dean, Young India Fellowship, Ashoka University)
INDIA : REGAINING THE STATUS OF global learning
India’s higher education system is the world’s third largest in terms of students, next to China and the United States.
Dr Vinod Bhat
India’s higher education system is the world’s third largest in terms of students, next to China and the US. According to a research by a private university in Lucknow, in future, India will be one of the largest education hubs. India’s Higher Education sector has witnessed a tremendous increase in the number of Universities/University level Institutions & Colleges since Independence.
The ‘Right to Education Act’ which stipulates compulsory and free education to all children within the age groups of 6-14 years, has brought about a revolution in the education system of the country with statistics revealing a staggering enrolment in schools over the last four years. The involvement of private sector in higher education has seen drastic changes in the field. Today, most of the higher education institutions in India are promoted by the private sector.
This made establishment of institutions quicker making India home to the largest number of Higher Education institutions in the world, with student enrolments at the second highest. However, despite these numbers, internationally many of these institutions are not being able to make up to the best of the world ranking.
Reason being firstly, the enrolment is quite low as compared to the developed as well as, other developing countries.
With the increase of enrolments at school level, the supply of higher education institutes is insufficient to meet the growing demand in the country. Secondly, quality is a multi-dimensional, multilevel, and a dynamic concept.
Ensuring quality in higher education is amongst the foremost challenges being faced in India today. Another challenge is poor infrastructure. Particularly the institutes run by the public sector suffer from poor physical facilities and infrastructure.
Further, most of the educational Institutions are owned by the political leaders, who are playing key role in governing bodies of the Universities. Further, faculty shortages and the inability of the state educational system to attract and retain well qualified teachers have been posing challenges to quality education for many years.
In addition, for most students, the idea of travelling to India would have been the simple idea of immersing oneself in a different culture—weather, food, sport, travel.
Such a cultural immersion is then given further strength by teaching courses, for example through the mode of open electives, on the distinct cultural richness of each country and state.
So there must be courses on history, or environmental policy, or religious philosophy. For a foreign student then, there is the double benefit of life experience and cultural exposure—this leads to an even higher academic performance, and often it is such an experience of education in India that has motivated them to sometimes even become scholars of India.
Such people are then motivated to both bring back many of their friends to India, as well as encourage their university to bring Indian students on exchange programmes. If those who have had a welcoming and satisfying experience in India do become scholars or entrepreneurs, many of their research interests remain centred on India, and they may thus bring in much needed expertise and research funds to India–this would be invaluable.
For higher level research, one will have to do more than provide such hospitality.
Research is a large and expensive topic with many sides to it— but ultimately, the best international researchers will work with Indian universities only if the latter have excellent facilities—the latest journals, labs, international networks, a common code of publication and research ethics and so on. Many scientists are most interested in working with applications. Hence there needs to be a strong encouragement in India of incubation centres, where basic science can get translated into products and services that have strong and immediate value—either financial or societal. The prospect of working in intellectually strong, dynamic, diverse teams—full of motivated scientists, entrepreneurs, postdoctoral fellows etc.—is what may well bring talented scientists to India.
Moreover, universities in India go after degrees over excellence and the same is being upon the students as well. In contrast, the western universities focus upon one subject and work towards specialisation. Not only that, but they have easily accessible high quality information that is freely available and have trained, articulate higher education marketers. Which is why, many of the students are seen choosing western universities over Indian universities.
Despite these challenges, higher education system of India is growing very fast and have lot of opportunities to overcome these challenges and have the capability to make its identity at international level. With the help of new-age learning tools, it is easy for country like India to overcome these problems and bring a paradigm shift in the country’s higher education sector.
With such a vibrant country with huge population properly educated, the possibilities are endless. In fact, India possess rich knowledge on broad perspectives which is underutilised and rather provided to other countries in the form of highly skilled people who in fact are doing well.
Above all, it needs greater transparency and accountability. For the same, the role of universities and colleges in the new millennium, and emerging scientific research on how people learn is of utmost important. Student exchange programmes which provide a platform to develop skills and understand world better are just beginning to trend in India. If knowledge is imparted using advanced digital teaching and learning tools, and society is made aware of where we are currently lagging behind, our country can easily emerge as one of the most developed nations in the world.
(The writer is Vice Chancellor, Manipal Academy of Higher Education)
Revamp without Ifs and Buts
If India wants to match the aspirations of its youth, it will have to revamp the higher education system without delay. Otherwise, the best and brightest will keep going abroad and we will keep having endless debates
Harsh V. Pant
Higher education has been in the news with the government announcing some of the most far reaching changes in the sector. Proposing to rechristen the central higher education regulator, the University Grants Commission (UGC), as the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has decided to go in for a complete overhaul by repealing the UGC Act of 1956. The HECI will be tasked with setting, maintaining and improving academic standards in Indian universities but the funding role of the UGC will be taken over by the HRD Ministry.
This was followed by the MHRD declaring six institutes as ‘Institutes of Eminence’ (IoE) under the highly ambitious scheme of the government for enhancing the quality of higher education in India. Though 10 public and 10 private institutes were to be granted exceptional autonomy under this plan so that they can work uninhibited towards moving into top 500 of the World University Rankings within 10 years, only six institutes could ultimately be finalised for this.
These are substantive changes in the higher education sector and will have a long term bearing on the health of higher education in India. Anyone with even a semblance of interest and experience of this sector can testify that status quo in higher education is not an option for India. In fact, many would even say that the time for debate is gone. India has to act now and act fast if it wants to salvage the future of its youth.
The UGC has been one of the worst performers when it comes to regulation. It was overregulating in areas where it needed to back off such as admissions and funding but was under regulating where its interventions were most needed such as ensuring if the quality standards were being met. Over time the UGC became incredibly adept at mismanaging funds even as it resisted the push for greater autonomy coming from institutions. The HECI comes with its own set of challenges but it certainly disrupts the existing status quo which was most needed.
The IoE debate has largely been overtaken by the Jio Institute’s entry into the fray. What should really be a cause for concern is the fact that in a nation with more than 800 universities, the panel could not even name 20 institutions which met basic parameters of institutional excellence in higher education. Higher education institutions of all kinds have mushroomed around the country over the last three decades but they are mostly of substandard quality and established with dubious motives. Various reports have pointed out that almost 80 per cent of our engineering graduates are unemployable and only 5 per cent of our graduates in other disciples are employable.
With such dire straits, the debate on higher education as is often framed between the left and the right is highly misplaced. We need to acknowledge first that we have got the fundamentals wrong. And our educators need to go back to classrooms to teach and research. As of now, most of our teachers in higher educations are not doing the two things they are required to do as part of the profession: teaching and research. Most of the time our educationists try to talk of grand political projects without becoming the instruments of transformation for their immediate students.
The decline in India’s higher education system can be traced to various factors. The blatant politicisation of academia from 1970s onwards where academics of a certain ideological persuasion were privileged by powers that be. As a result, our universities, instead of becoming spaces where diverse ideas and genuine contestation can flourish, turned into monoliths of political correctness. Major central universities became parochial in their outlook as opposed to attracting talent from all over the country and outside. The marginalisation of merit has had its own set of consequences where quest for excellence has given way to catering to the lowest common denominator. The idea that only my friends, my acquaintances, my students should get teaching and research positions irrespective of merit is now so pervasive that talented youngsters who are not connected dread their future in academia. As a consequence, we have witnessed a gradual withdrawal of Indian middle classes from the nation’s higher education system. Those who can afford are now willing to send their kids abroad even for undergraduate studies.
The answers to this crisis so far have been rather inward looking. When challenged as to why Indian institutions do not appear in global rankings, we tend to cast aspersions on the rankings themselves, calling for an ‘Indian’ way to rank universities. When challenged as to why Indian academics are absent from global journals, our academics point to the incredibly tough time they face in their work environment. When challenged on the poor quality of our PhDs, we tend to talk of the huge number of PhDs in the system.
If we compare this response to the way China has managed its transition to the top league of higher education, it is remarkably different. Instead of questioning global rankings, it went about systematically strengthening its own system. The result is several Chinese universities are now in the list of top global universities. For every problem that we confront, our response cannot be that India is unique and so global norms don’t apply.
If India wants to match the aspirations of its youth, it will have to revamp its higher education system without ifs and buts. Otherwise, the best and brightest will keep going abroad and we will keep having endless debates.
Issues to be Addressed in Higher Education
Education is the engine that converts knowledge into economic growth. But of the student population in India which crosses 315 million, how many actually succeed in building an envious platform, utilising their education that they can thrive on? Shockingly, small 8.15% students only actually graduate from colleges in India. It is high time that the Indian authorities ponder over and straighten out the problems faced by the system as early as possible.We need to understand the problems faced by the Indian education system at large. Here are some:
Lack of adequate funding
Most Indian universities are baying at government grants to satisfy their expenses for research and other facilities. There is an immense dearth of government funds, which leads to underpayment of teachers, poor facilities at universities and very little global exposure.
If we look at American universities which pride in producing some of the best world leaders in education, they raise their funds through tuition fees, government grants, donations and patents licensed to private companies and also endowments from universities like Harvard, Yale & Stanford.
Recently, the Union Ministry of Science & Technology asked the organisations involved in scientific research to start ‘self-financing’ projects and ensure that research is driven by factors that lead to social and economic development. This slashing of funds to the scientific society has increased tension within it.
The paucity of good research work, lack of proper infrastructure, lack of proper facilities, etc. have led to pushing down of the premier institutes of our country–the IITs and IISc.
Large number of student drop-outs
As per survey done by Nasscom, percentage of students enrolling for higher education is less than 6% of the world average. Out of the 100 million teenage students, only 19% of the students enroll for higher education, leaving an astronomic number of 80 million students dropping out. Out of the 20 million students who complete higher education, only around 3.5 million join the workforce, leaving another huge number dropping out at the second stage. The government has to take adequate measures to inspire more students to complete their education.
Booming of low quality, money making institutes
Education has changed from being a noble cause to a pure business practice. It has become an industry where gathering sizeable amounts of money is easy. For example, if we take Hyderabad, which is the hub for various courses, there has been estimated to be more than 700 engineering colleges. Low quality colleges as these, produce graduates who are found to be incapable of adequate performance. As a result, the percentage of unemployable graduates in India has come to a whopping 90%.
Lack of encouragement for hands-on project experience
Students are blindly spoon fed, both at the school as well as college levels, with loads of textbooks and very few project and lab sessions. For example, engineering students study 40 subjects, which amount to 6000 hours of learning in class and hardly 500 hours of lab experience in 4 years. As long as practical learning is not encouraged, our students will remain less competent and the unemployability will increase. A few more points of concern include:
- Lack of quality teaching staff who can be appropriate guides to students.
- The alarmingly large school and college fee forcing more students to drop-out.
- Attitudes of teachers and parents that force the students to merely score good marks and nothing more.
Ensure Synchronised Efforts
It is high time for India to overcome all the issues obstructing excellence in higher education sector and achieve excellence and recognition that are overly due. For it collective, concerted and synchronised efforts are required from all stakeholders.
Prof YV Satya Kumar
India is working hard to enter the premier league of the world based on its strong human resources from a large population and seven decades of sustained efforts to reestablish itself in various sectors of economic and intellectual activity. Indian universities are still finding it difficult to grab a position among top 100 or top 200 Universities of the World. Some of the generic challenges observed are at level of operation or control of these universities or institutions and may serve as an input in prioritising going ahead.
India’s Higher Education has its rich heritage starting millennia ago with many universities or centres of learning including:Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Nalanda in Bihar (in Northern India); Vikramshila in Bengal, Pushpagiri in Odisha (in Eastern India); Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh, Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu (in Southern India); Taxila or Takshasila in Gandhara, Valabhi in Gurata (in Western India). India had thus formal Centres of Learning with residential programmes much earlier than the opening of universities in the Western Hemisphere starting with Egypt, later in England and then the US. India’s past glorious learning hubs attracted International Scholars centuries ago.
As it is well known under the British rule, a very deliberate, sustained and successful attempt has been done to do away with this rich heritage of teaching-and-learning in India, so that the Western mode of learning could take root in India and consequent indoctrination and subdual of indigenous knowledge. Thus also the regard for and influence of a teacher, who held utmost importance along with priests and judges in keeping social order and societal value systems, and ethics slowly got withered in favour of the power of money and holders of physical resources.
This does not mean India did not have its own significant contribution to the World body of knowledge by the way of Philosophy, Law, Governance, Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Architecture, Materials and Metallurgy with stellar scientific brilliance by Aryabhatta, Ramanujam, Raman among other Indians over last two millennia. It is no secret that 20th Century’s most significant Scientists in areas of Quantum Mechanics, Atomic Energy and Astronomy like Einstein, Oppenheimer had gleaned insights from age-old Hindu Philosophies on Matter, Space and their Existence and Evolution.
Just as well it is known by now that India had preceded Europe and England with its own contribution in developing sub-fields of Trigonometry and Calculus in Mathematics.
Infrastructure after Independence
Now the overemphasis on modern instruments and experimental methodologies in scientific discovery meant it took time for India to reorient its resources after Independence for establishment of Modern Institutions of Learning, Inquiry and Discovery in the form of National Academic Institutions and National Research Labs (such as IISc, IITs, IISERs, IIMs, NITs, NIDs, NITTRS, AIIMS, NIPERs, NITIE, NIFTs, NIFFT, TIFR, TISS, BHU, AMU, BITS-P, ACSIR, IIST, HBNI, ICAR, CSIR Labs, DST Labs, DAE Labs, DoS Labs, DSIR Centres, DIPP Institutions, UGC-IUC). Dozens of Central Universities have also been set up along with similar numbers of new IITs, NITs, IIMS and AIIMS in different States in last decade.
After Economic liberalisation in 1991 under the stewardship of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and Finance Minister Dr Manmohan Singh occurred to overcome a crisis of impending default in balance of payments, India opened up various Strategic and Social Sectors to Private Enterprise in a big way. This allowed Private Universities (under State Legislature Acts), Private Deemed Universities (under Central recognition), Private Colleges (with affiliation State Govt Universities) and Private Autonomous Colleges to thrive in the last two and half decades in comparatively big numbers (hundreds of Pvt Universities and Thousands of Private Professional Colleges) across all geographies of India.
In part, this happened due to the assessment by the Central Government to steer private investments in higher education, technical education, medical education and management education so as to rapidly increase GER (Gross Enrollment Ratio) to a decent level as India is seen to be lagging its peer countries around the World, much less the Western World. However this rapid increase of Institutional growth also saw an unintended consequence in some-to-severe dilution of standards of preparation levels of entering Students, curricula, assessment and evaluation processes, Faculty quality and motivation levels, Administration and Governance rigor and much worse presented a set of continuing Challenges of a new kind to the Central Government.
Categories of Challenges
National Institutions: They are marquee Institutions with most severe competition for admission into them. They are very well provided for in terms of lab infrastructure, campus amenities, faculty quality, student competence, international reputation, good administrations, broad functional autonomy and requisite Government support. However, they continue to lag international peers in various ranking systems due to a lack of quantity in Quality Research output, overburdening of their teachers in class load due to severely increased student numbers arising out of regulatory prescriptions for social equity in access, inability to attract sufficient Indian faculty due to massive and continuing brain drain of the best UG, PG and PhD graduates abroad for better economic and professional opportunities and negligible international student enrolments or international faculty on their roles. They are also yet to go for significant linkages and collaborations with local industry and national research institutions in solving problems and issues affecting local and rural populations and innovations for their better future and currently providing a major component human resources for the best of the industry and academia in Western Nations.
State Government Universities: Generally speaking, universities operated by State Governments (i.e. Provincial Governments) corruption in terms of Faculty and Staff Appointments, laggardness on the part of Faculty (in permanent positions until retirement at around 60 years) in being even marginally active in research and displaying strong teaching motivation and caste-based alignments in appointments, affiliations and in governance seem to be important challenges. These challenges persist despite them providing state subsidized affordable education to meritorious students that clear various entrance exams or other assessment schemes. While Central Government is concerned about their operational efficiency, it is not too easy for them to intervene due to the federal structure of Indian Democracy, where Provincial Governments enjoy a certain degree of autonomy in all aspects. However below-par environments in some such universities along with structures, philosophies and practices have been undergoing serious reform last few years in States like Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh with the realization of importance of quality mind-sets and practices with integrity in all aspects of Governance and Administration.
State Private Universities: As already mentioned although they are established in hundreds in last two decades by different State Governments, they suffer from moderate to very serious credibility issues in terms of their operational modalities and implementation effectiveness of processes in meeting expected outcomes. The relative autonomy they enjoy compared to private colleges affiliated to state universities is yet to be fully realised for their long term growth and utilisation of their potential.
Recently, a few of them like Manipal, BITS-Pilani have been given even a much greater degree of autonomy by recognising them as Institutions of Eminence (along with the National Institutions or of National Importance IISc and IIT-Delhi and IIT-Bombay) based on their decades’ long history of standardized processes and yearning for greater outcomes. The worst of them are guided only by financial motives for the entrepreneurs that entered education enterprise without any long term outlook or awareness of its complexity and they are also the ones that find it difficult to sustain operations due to poor graduate output that generates a negative feedback for them.
Private Colleges affiliated to Universities/Autonomous Private Colleges: Generally speaking they are yoked to State Govt Universities in all aspects of Curriculum, Admission Criteria and Processes, Assessment and Evaluation Patterns, Exam Conduct and with some oversight in appointment of Faculty. Despite such stipulations some or many of these Colleges are underperforming and unable to attract sustainable enrolment and each year hundreds are being closed by Statutory Councils due to severe concerns of overall quality, staffing strength, graduate employability or knowledge levels. Autonomous Colleges enjoy a better autonomy than affiliated Colleges and the best of them are given Autonomous Status upon meeting certain criteria. The problem of corruption in State Universities naturally flows into the affiliated Private Colleges
All the pieces of the puzzle in terms of diversity of institutions, diversity of knowledge domains, aspirational population, motivated teachers, researchers and students, general regard across World for Indian Education and Innovation Systems and Government eagerness to launch India into full-fledged modernity are in place. Now it is high time for India to overcome all issues obstructing that destiny by way of avoidable compromises due to social, fiscal, operational, ethical and value-based considerations and achieve excellence and recognition that are overly due. For India to regain its Formal Glory, collective, concerted and synchronized efforts are required from all Stakeholders.
(The writer is former Dean-Academic Planning & Quality Assurance, Rayat-Bahra University)