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Revamping Indian higher education for global environment

India, as per the international nomenclature, is a developing country. The article dwells on some of the important reforms needed to uplift the standards of education system in India.

By Prof. P.S. Bisen
March 01, 2010

Much has been said and written about education - an antonym for illiteracy; sadly a misnomer in a developing country like ours where it has failed to sprout the seeds of academic productivity. Productivity - that signifies a combination of efficiency and effectiveness of a system to efficiently and effectively utilize the natural resources - a commitment that has not been met more than six decades after we have sought our independence. Half of the illiterates of the world are present in India. The results are there for us to see.

India, as per the international nomenclature, is a developing country. This is only a polite way of saying that we have yet to develop. And harshly, it can also be said that we are under developed. Our richness lies in our manpower resources. But in terms of economic and demographic standards we are mediocre; in fact poor. 

Let me state that till now we have adopted a strategy of deve1opmemt which, more through an act of omission than of commission, gave a low priority to education. However, the new millennium needs a high degree of dexterity and sophistication, strict discipline, high level of commitment and an equally high level of motivation to achieve the desired objectives.

Apart from neglecting education, we have also neglected the menace of our booming population. This has led to an extraordinary growth of the middle class in India during the last four decades. There is a close linkage between higher education and the needs and aspirations of the middle class. For them, education is the most powerful tool of upward mobility.

The Indian Universities, from the point of view of infrastructure and management, are not in a position to cater to the huge student population (growing nearly at the rate of 15% per annum). As a result, foreign universities are trying to take advantage to fill up the vacuum by opening study centres/ joint ventures etc. in India.

The glamour of foreign Universities is luring students in our country as they visualise it as a passport to settle abroad. Though the status of these Universities is quite low in there own country but diversion of the gullible minds of Indian students towards the course offered by these universities will definitely lead to an outflow of India’s knowledge resources. The quantity is yet to be worked out.

A core group of experts has said that it would not be in the interest of the country to ban, restrict or impede the operations of foreign universities, but a system check and balances can no doubt be put in place to assess 

In the basic principles of expanding foreign education in India, specific guidelines have been laid down and among its features, the prominent ones include restriction on type of legal entity that can operate, limitation on remittances, compulsory investment on a portion of surplus on R&D, non discrimination in salary structure on ground of nationality, transparency in admission procedures, pre-appraisal of the foreign education service provider by a designated agency etc.

As India opens its gate to foreign education, a question automatically props up- Do we plan to open centers of our universities abroad? Though the general consensus is an emphatic "YES" but we must realise that such centers will be a success only if we can deliver quality education.

From the point of view of higher education in India, what needs to be underlined is the fact that today the concept of higher education is somewhat bloated because of the existence of a substantial number of students who do not know what else to do and therefore join a college. Employment is difficult as the job market is over-crowded. Moreover we have not made any efforts in developing and promoting entrepreneurship in our educational programmes in the universities. The linkage between expectations and fulfillment today is not as definite as it was a few decades ago.

To plan for quality education there is need for two pronged audit in higher education: academic audit and administrative audit. This will serve as a guide in the allocation of funding and for evaluation of higher education institutions at all levels. Only then will the customers of the university students, colleagues, funding agencies, employers, government and society as a whole be satisfied.

The administrative audit should identify the following characteristics for detecting the declining education standards in India. 

The academic audit should ensure that individuals seeking a higher education qualification are able to develop relevant competencies and aptitudes through comprehensive project works. This will serve as a mirror to discriminate the performers from the non-performers and would make the image of centers of higher learning in the society more meaningful.

At this juncture, the non performing departments can be closed down or merged with other related department. This would streamline the departments and prevent loss of public money. 

Another aspect that needs to be focused upon is the opening of avenues that would pave the way for the university system to be financially self-reliant. An outright easy way is to increase the fee structure but a strong bond with the industry in research and HRD is the practical solution. Else a University may be financially supported for opening an industry/production unit in the areas where qualified manpower is readily available within the campus.

Though many such policies have been proposed by eminent educationists and education ministers but I still feel that our education implementation programs are like still waters. It is only the flowing waters with momentum move turbines and generate electricity. Though I am not a pessimist but I really believe that the task to revamp the existing university structure is a monumental one. However, it is certainly not impossible. It is not a matter of choice but the need of the hour to save the education system. The still waters that our university system has become must be set running so that the light of education produced illuminates the lives of the people. Else the country will fall in the black hole of ignorance. 

The author is a former member of the University Grants Commission, New Delhi and former Vice-Chancellor of Jiwaji University, Gwalior. At present, he is Chairman of the Vikrant Group of Institutions.