Higher education: Shining or Messy

Many times I get greatly impressed while glancing through the newspapers and magazines. Many private educational institutes and universities for higher education are spending huge money on ads. Quite a few such as Amity go for full-page ads. News magazines have special inserts detailing various private institutes with impressive buildings, providing wise ranging courses. ‘India Today’ publishes ‘Aspire’ that accompanies the magazine. It is really informative for aspiring student community about the various courses and institutes. ‘Times of India’ publishes very useful ‘Education Times’ every Monday. It’s education everywhere. It is sweet music to know from the ads that many IITians are joining private universities such as KIIT and Lovely University and are also trying to mentor IIT aspirants. The news reports or articles on coming up of NIIT University, Premji Foundation setting up new university or Vedanta University shaping up in Orissa are just exciting. I was stunned when I heard while in Kolkata, that more than thirty colleges of hotel management are operating in Salt Lake.

Sibal has raised hope further with his reform agenda. If one believes his press statements, he is going to solve all the worries of education sector and whatever India has been asking for since many years. Sibal plans of doubling Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) from 12 per cent to 24 per cent by 2020. Pranab babu has earmarked Rs 15,429 crore, an increase of nearly Rs 5,000 crore for higher education and a further Rs 1,729 crore to be exclusively spent on new IITs and IIMs.

Perhaps the people don’t expect any more of promises. Even if all the already announced promises of NDA and UPA regarding starting new AIMS, IIIT, IIT, IIM, and establishing 16 Central Universities and Mission in Education to provide Internet connection to students and teachers right up to every village, get executed, India will be on the right path to realize the dream of knowledge society.

However, some messy points of higher education in India require attention and solution:

Behind in Numbers

1: India has one of the lowest higher education enrolment ratio of 11 per cent as against 83 per cent in US. Only one out of nine children finishing school joins a college. And 46% of the college goers are studying arts, with 20% do science, and only 7% go for engineering colleges. It is only 1% in education.

2: According to the Eleventh Plan estimates to reach the enrolment levels of 15% in 2012 India needs to invest Rs 2,26,410 crore. However, as reported, Indian government perhaps could allocate only Rs 77,933 crore-just a fourth of the total needed. The number of colleges is estimate to reach 28,000 by 2012 from 17,625 in 2005.

Behind in Quality Education Facilities and Providing Employability

3: The NASSCOM-McKinsey study, well-publicized by now, showed that only one out of 10 Indian students with degrees in humanities and one out of four engineering graduates are employable.

4: A study by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council showed that 90 per cent of the colleges and 70 per cent of the universities that the council graded were of middling or poor quality.

The reasons for the malaise may be many but pretty known to all who matters in improving them: Be it the over control and interferences by the government- political bosses, bureaucrats, multiple agencies and resulting institutionalized corruption; or shortage of teachers, the hardly-changed, so outdated curricula.

Sibal is smart and has solution for all the ills. He has many advisors too in Yaspal or Sam Pitroda. But will he be able to overcome the pressure from the vested interest? Mandatory accreditation for every institute by credible rating agencies on globally accepted norms, independent overarching regulatory authority, and transparency at all steps, permitting globally high ranked foreign universities to set up Indian extensions can push the fly by night institutes out.

Good institutions are just few as evident from the high cutoff marks for admission. Strangely, very few new good colleges in general streams got established in the country over the years. The admission for B.Com (Hons) course in Delhi’s SRCC required 98.75 per cent this year. So was the case all over the country.

As estimated, the Indian students spend $7 billion or more to go abroad and study in foreign universities. As some opines it is because the quality of education provided in average Indian university is poor. That has also become the argument for allowing entry of foreign universities to set up shop in India. However, I have different views. Many young men and women of India went out to have education abroad to get employed abroad and settle in foreign countries. The reason may be the perception of hassle-free and quality of living. Many do also leave to overcome the hurdles of increasing reservations of all kinds starting from admission to employment, and even in promotions.

Education is a big business. Will the big houses that historically established reputed educational institutes such as IISc (Bangalore), BITS (Pilani), BIT (Ranchi) started for philanthropy will come in big way in the business of education?

Will teaching and higher education get the right recognition and remuneration?

Will media help making the business of education and those involved in it, be it directors, teachers, researchers, or students with excellent records and achievements, a respected one? Can India build some institutes that become Nalanda and Vikramshila or Takshila of 22-23rd centuries?

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