Im­prov­ing the ed­u­ca­tion paradigm

In­dia’s higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem must be re­struc­tured, re­designed, and re­newed to com­pli­ment the stag­ger­ing growth wit­nessed in re­cent times

Millennium Post - - Mp In Focus - FRANK F. IS­LAM

In­dia has the third-largest higher ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem in the world. In 2016, there were 799 uni­ver­si­ties and 39,071 col­leges spread across the coun­try. These num­bers are stag­ger­ing. The growth of higher ed­u­ca­tion in In­dia over a lit­tle more than half a cen­tury has been even more stag­ger­ing. Be­tween 1950 and 2014, the num­ber of uni­ver­si­ties in In­dia in­creased by 34 times. And, be­tween 1950 and 2013, col­leges in­creased by 74 times.

This quan­ti­ta­tive ex­plo­sion in higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions has not been matched by the qual­ity of the ed­u­ca­tion they pro­vide. In fact, the gap be­tween quan­tity and qual­ity is so large that it stands as one of the ma­jor ob­sta­cles in the way of In­dia be­ing a world leader. To be­come such a leader, In­dia needs to de­velop a world-class higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

Two years ago, the Naren­dra Modi ad­min­is­tra­tion at­tempted to put some fo­cus on qual­ity in higher ed­u­ca­tion with its in­tro­duc­tion of draft reg­u­la­tions for a new ini­tia­tive called the “UGC (Dec­la­ra­tion of Gov­ern­ment Ed­u­ca­tional In­sti­tu­tions as World Class In­sti­tu­tions) Guide­lines, 2016.” By 2018, when the first six in­sti­tu­tions were named un­der this ini­tia­tive, they were des­ig­nated as “In­sti­tu­tions of Em­i­nence” as op­posed to “world class in­sti­tu­tions”.

Al­though the la­bel has been changed, the in­tent re­mains the same. That is to give con­sid­er­able dis­cre­tion to and el­e­vate the sta­tus of these in­sti­tu­tions. This is not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. But, it will do lit­tle to ad­dress the un­der­ly­ing prob­lems of higher ed­u­ca­tion in In­dia.

This is true be­cause the fo­cus is com­pletely wrong. These uni­ver­si­ties are the tip of the higher ed­u­ca­tional ice­berg. En­hanc­ing the ca­pac­ity of a few in­sti­tu­tions, thus pos­si­bly en­abling them to be rated a lit­tle higher in the world rank­ings of higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions, doesn’t help oth­ers.

That’s not to say that In­dia does not need world-class in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion. It is to say that In­dia, more im­por­tantly, needs a world-class higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

A world-class higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is one that is a stu­dent- or cus­tomer­centred rather than in­sti­tu­tion-cen­tred.

The gap be­tween quan­tity and qual­ity of higher ed­u­ca­tion is so large that it stands as a ma­jor ob­sta­cles in the way of In­dia be­ing a world leader. To be­come such a leader, In­dia needs to de­velop a world­class higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem

It com­prises cer­ti­fied and car­ing in­sti­tu­tions that have the re­sources re­quired and the core mis­sion of en­sur­ing that stu­dents/cus­tomers ac­quire the knowl­edge/skills/abil­i­ties and dis­po­si­tions that they need to achieve their in­di­vid­ual goals and to max­imise their con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety.

In­dia’s cur­rent sys­tem has been al­most ex­actly the op­po­site of that. The em­pha­sis has been pri­mar­ily on a select group of in­sti­tu­tions and in­di­vid­u­als rather than em­brac­ing and ad­dress­ing the needs of the whole.

There are many steps that must be taken to change this and to make the In­dian higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem world class. They in­clude:

▶In­crease pub­lic fi­nanc­ing. The Union and state gov­ern­ments cur­rently pro­vide lim­ited fund­ing for higher ed­u­ca­tion. As a re­sult, over 70 per cent of the higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions is op­er­ated by the pri­vate sec­tor. These in­sti­tu­tions are not well reg­u­lated and are of highly vari­able qual­ity. Pub­lic sec­tor fi­nanc­ing could be used to sup­port ex­ist­ing pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions and to es­tab­lish new ones in re­gions in which there are lim­ited higher ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties.

▶En­hance the in­fra­struc­ture. Col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties through­out In­dia have in­ad­e­quate phys­i­cal set­tings, lack equip­ment, and suf­fer from a short­age of com­pe­tent teach­ers. En­sur­ing that each higher ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion is in­fras­truc­turally sound, es­tab­lishes the proper en­vi­ron­ment for learn­ing and growth.

▶Ex­pand ac­cess to and par­tic­i­pa­tion in higher ed­u­ca­tion. The en­roll­ment in higher ed­u­ca­tion is ap­prox­i­mately 15 per cent of the el­i­gi­ble pop­u­la­tion. This per­cent­age needs to be much higher for In­dia to be con­sid­ered and to be­come a de­vel­oped or de­vel­op­ing coun­try. It also needs to be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the en­tire pop­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing fe­males, those from the weaker sec­tors, and ru­ral ar­eas.

▶En­force stan­dards and re­quire­ments ap­pro­pri­ately. The an­nounced re­place­ment of the Univer­sity Grants Com­mis­sion (UGC) with the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion of In­dia (HECI) cre­ated con­sid­er­able de­bate within and out­side of the ed­u­ca­tional com­mu­nity. The es­sen­tial ques­tion re­gard­less of whether there is a UGC, HECI, or some other agency with an acro­nym must be: Is the proper data col­lected and used to mon­i­tor per­for­mance and en­sure ac­count­abil­ity for each in­sti­tu­tion in the higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem?

▶Place an em­pha­sis on vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion. The higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem must meet the needs of po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers and prospec­tive em­ploy­ees. Cur­rently, there is a mis­match. The higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem must equip it­self to be the provider of the first re­sort and give the coun­try the skilled work­force it re­quires.

There are many other steps that must be taken, such as ad­dress­ing politi­cians con­trol­ling many ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, to make In­dia’s higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem world class. But there must be only one mind­set. That mind­set must be that the coun­try’s higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem must be re­struc­tured, re­designed, and re­newed in a way that ben­e­fits all of In­dia and all In­di­ans. IANS

(Frank F. Is­lam is an en­tre­pre­neur, civic and thought leader based in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. The views

ex­pressed are strictly per­sonal)

(Rep­re­sen­ta­tional Im­age)

A multi-pronged ap­proach should be ini­ti­ated to el­e­vate In­dia to world-class level of higher ed­u­ca­tion

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