Gaps in Our Ed­u­ca­tion

India Today - - GUEST COLUMN - T.S.R. SUBRA­MA­NIAN

THE PEW FOUN­DA­TION of New York/ Wash­ing­ton had re­cently, af­ter an in­ter-coun­try com­par­i­son of school ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards, con­cluded that In­dia is at the very bot­tom of the pile—dead last! While such com­par­isons for higher ed­u­ca­tion are not read­ily avail­able through cred­i­ble stud­ies, it can be sur­mised that our univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards are not likely to be in the top five—more among the last 10 of the world!

Af­ter the ma­jor thrust in the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor in na­tional pol­icy in the first two decades of In­de­pen­dence, sub­se­quent pol­i­cy­mak­ers have not con­sid­ered ed­u­ca­tion a key area of na­tional in­ter­est. The IITs and IIMs her­alded the fo­cus on higher ed­u­ca­tion; in the fol­low­ing decades, reg­u­la­tory in­sti­tu­tions to cater to emerg­ing re­quire­ments were es­tab­lished to ‘over­see’ the sec­tor. It is now clear that this crit­i­cal area has been to­tally ne­glected in na­tional pol­icy in the past five decades or so. While the IITs/ IIMs have lost their sheen, JNU and its ilk have be­come the launch­ing pads for politi­cians (as if this was the main pur­pose of its es­tab­lish­ment); and, sadly, in­sti­tu­tions like the Univer­sity Grants Com­mis­sion have moved away from men­tor­ship to of­fer­ing ‘ap­provals’ for pur­chase; NCERT, NUEPA et al have be­come either in­ept or ir­rel­e­vant.

In this dis­mal sce­nario, the main con­tri­bu­tion to the sec­tor’s growth has come from investments by the pri­vate sec­tor, which saw op­por­tu­nity in the grow­ing as­pi­ra­tional mid­dle class, thirst­ing for for­mal higher de­grees, even if more for per­sonal pres­tige than util­i­tar­ian ends. These ed­u­ca­tional en­trepreneurs, largely con­sist­ing of politi­cians or those con­nected to them, took full ad­van­tage of the lack of reg­u­la­tion and ef­fec­tive pol­icy frame­work to carve av­enues for lu­cra­tive in­vest­ment, reap­ing rich fi­nan­cial re­ward, largely un­ac­counted-for and un­taxed. In­deed, there is lais­sez faire in the higher ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy of the Cen­tre and of the states, where the col­leges are bound to re­serve a state quota for stu­dents (fre­quently about 50 per cent or there­abouts), ir­re­spec­tive of fa­cil­ity/ fac­ulty/ qual­ity of­fered, leav­ing the rest as ‘man­age­ment quota’ for the pri­vate spon­sor to play the mar­ket and col­lect un­ac­counted-for ‘cap­i­ta­tion fee’. As a re­sult, the higher ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor has been one of the prime con­trib­u­tors to the black econ­omy of the coun­try, prob­a­bly only sec­ond to po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion.

An ef­fec­tive sys­tem for up­grad­ing the qual­ity of higher ed­u­ca­tion and as­sess­ing in­sti­tu­tions needs to in­clude the phases of recog­ni­tion, ac­cred­i­ta­tion and eval­u­a­tion. Recog­ni­tion is a min­i­mal le­gal thresh­old to en­sure that cour­ses and de­grees be­ing of­fered fall within the purview of the sys­tem. The fact that a large num­ber of ‘de­gree shops’ and ‘fly-by-night op­er­a­tors’ are in ex­is­tence, well in the know of con­cerned au­thor­i­ties, is proof that ‘recog­ni­tion’ is a pur­chasable com­mod­ity. UGC per­haps is the only agency that does not know of the ex­is­tence of such in­sti­tu­tions.

‘Ac­cred­i­ta­tion’ is a key at­tribute of any in­sti­tu­tion, for stu­dents as well as prospec­tive em­ploy­ers. It is an as­sur­ance of qual­ity and ad­her­ence to aca­demic stan­dards. It re­flects the rep­u­ta­tion of an in­sti­tu­tion and the cred­i­bil­ity of its de­grees. As of now, ac­cred­i­ta­tion is not com­pul-

THE HIGHER ED­U­CA­TION SEC­TOR HAS BEEN THE MAIN CON­TRIB­U­TOR TO THE GROWTH OF IN­DIA’S BLACK ECON­OMY

sory and cov­ers only 10 per cent of our in­sti­tu­tions, of which only 9 per cent are at the ‘A’ level, a statis­tic that re­flects the abysmal state of our higher ed­u­ca­tion. The present ac­cred­i­ta­tion sys­tems are far from re­li­able, and need dras­tic re­vi­sion. The re­cent news that the NITI Aayog is se­ri­ously ex­am­in­ing the need to re­vamp the ac­cred­i­ta­tion sys­tem is wel­come. Hope­fully, the gov­ern­ment will not utilise the ser­vices of the IIT-IIM fac­ulty as it will be at the cost of aca­demics and re­search in their par­ent in­sti­tu­tions. It is im­por­tant to cre­ate a new class of ‘ed­u­ca­tional ap­prais­ers’, much like CAs in the au­dit field.

The present dis­pen­sa­tion does not dis­tin­guish be­tween race­horses and vil­lage ponies; the treat­ment is ‘demo­cratic’ and equal. Pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions that fall in the ‘A’ cat­e­gory need to be given to­tal free­dom to set their fee struc­ture, re­cruit fac­ulty and col­lab­o­rate with qual­ity in­sti­tu­tions abroad. Like­wise, units in the low­est qual­ity band should either im­prove or be dis­banded.

One must not for­get that higher ed­u­ca­tion is a con­tin­uum, an ex­ten­sion of school ed­u­ca­tion. With the ter­ri­ble state of our pri­mary and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, it is un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect the higher ed­u­ca­tion field to be pure, with high mean and low stan­dard­de­vi­a­tion. In In­dian con­di­tions, it is ab­surd to work for a high Gross En­rol­ment Ra­tio or GER (from the cur­rent 23 per cent to 30 per cent). The need is to sup­ple­ment post-school ed­u­ca­tion with strong vo­ca­tional streams, high qual­ity ‘skills’ train­ing, while up­grad­ing the qual­ity of univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion, and im­prov­ing re­search qual­ity in academia. In­clu­sion of so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally back­ward classes needs to be sharply im­proved. This should in­clude in­sti­tut­ing a mas­sive merit-based schol­ar­ship pro­gramme, in­ter alia in­clud­ing a liv­ing stipend.

Also needed is a new na­tional higher ed­u­ca­tion law for the sec­tor. The en­tire sta­tis­ti­cal base for the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor needs to be re­viewed, as also the role of af­fil­i­at­ing uni­ver­si­ties. The med­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor needs dra­matic and se­ri­ous re­form, for sharp ex­pan­sion and re­duc­tion in the mas­sive cor­rup­tion lev­els; the en­gi­neer­ing sec­tor too needs ma­jor upgra­da­tion in terms of the tech­ni­cal qual­ity of the teach­ers and the stu­dents who pass out. Agri­cul­tural uni­ver­si­ties are now an­te­dilu­vian—no won­der, agri­cul­ture is as ne­glected in na­tional pol­icy as ed­u­ca­tion. One would not want to com­ment on the qual­ity of law ed­u­ca­tion.

The coun­try looks to the new gov­ern­ment, in par­tic­u­lar its leader, to trans­form it. Af­ter five decades, there is now new hope in In­dia, es­pe­cially among the com­mon man, the poor, the farmer and the down­trod­den. While the gov­ern­ment is pay­ing strong at­ten­tion to eco­nomic is­sues, the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor has not re­ceived the crit­i­cal fo­cus it de­serves. It is pos­si­ble to trans­form the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor dra­mat­i­cally within 10 years, if only a start would be made.

THE PRESENT REGIME DOESN’T DIS­TIN­GUISH BE­TWEEN RACE­HORSES AND PONIES, TREAT­ING BOTH EQUALLY

SUBIR HALDER

A-CLASS Stu­dents at IIT, Kharag­pur

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