In Learned Company
Private universities have given a fillip to higher education. The focus now is on quality, says INDIA TODAY’s survey
THE INDIA TODAY GROUP’S annual Best Universities survey has emerged as the most authoritative commentary on higher education in the country. The exercise, conducted by the Nielsen Company, mirrors the emerging trends in university education. As innovation has been the norm, the survey for 2017 ranks the universities across four streams— general (arts, science and commerce), technical, medical and legal. With each passing year, private universities have been challenging the traditional centres of learning. While such competition is welcome, what’s of concern is the performance of Indian universities on the global platform.
On June 9, when President Pranab Mukherjee received the 2018 edition of the QS World University Rankings compiled by the Education Promotion Society of India, he had reason to be pleased. Three institutions—Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay—had found place in the list. The president, however, sounded a word of caution that while there has been considerable infrastructure expansion in higher education, the quality of education remains worrying, and many Indians are pursuing their higher education abroad. Numbers justify his concern: as per official US data, some 166,000 Indians study in that country.
The Union government is taking steps to stop this brain drain. The HRD ministry has proposed to create 20 educational institutions, to be christened Institutions of Eminence. Ten government and 10 private institutions will be conferred the status, with a Rs 10,000 crore funding for the former. The government institutions will apply to the ministry. A private university will need a sponsoring organisation with a net worth of Rs 5,000 crore, a detailed 15-year vision plan and a five-year rolling implementation plan.
The Institutions of Eminence will be selected by an empowered expert committee of three to five eminent persons appointed for three years, with the final approval of the appointments committee of the Cabinet headed by the prime minister. The institutions will have complete academic, administrative and financial autonomy and will be free from the restrictive inspection regime of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the regulatory control over fee and curriculum. They will have to achieve a place in the top 500 of any of the global
rankings within 10 years and eventually climb to the top 100.
The idea appears to have originated from a report by the T.S.R. Subramanian-headed Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy. It was set up by former HRD minister Smrit Irani. One of the report’s recommendations reads: “Over the next decade, at least 100 new centres for excellence in the field of higher education need to be established. If this is successfully accomplished, it will pave the way for India to host major research and innovation initiatives.” Though the ministry has junked the report and Irani’s successor, Prakash Javadekar, has announced he will set up a new committee to formulate the education policy, it’s heartening to see the government take measures to improve higher education.
More changes are afoot. Higher education watchdogs such as the UGC and the All India Council for Technical Education will be replaced by the Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency. A single regulator is being put in place to eliminate overlaps in jurisdiction and do away with regulatory provisions that may now be irrelevant. Several panels, such as the Yashpal committee, National Knowledge Commission, Hari Gautam committee and Subramanian committee, had suggested replacing the multiple regulatory authorities with a single entity. While the idea will take a while to fructify, it could well be the beginning of reforms the country’s higher education sector is awaiting.