Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Higher Education in India - Reforms needed

At the start of the twenty-first century, India still has to meet the basic needs and aspirations of its one billion people. Despite being one of the largest economies of the world, over one third of its population is facing poverty. It has been recognized that only by competing successfully in the globally interdependent world economy can living standards be raised. For such competitiveness, every sector of economy in India requires major restructuring to enhance effectiveness and efficiency through intensive and judicious use of science and technology. This will trigger increased productivity, which should lead to expanded opportunities for employment, and thus a better quality of life.

While India has one the world's largest stock of scientists, engineers and technicians, it has not derived full economic benefit from this skill base because of the mismatch and inadequacy of education and training and the limited employment capacity of the labor market. The main problems facing the higher science & technology (S&T) education system today are quite well known – over-centralization and lack of autonomy and accountability (most institutions have little authority even in the area of faculty appointments, student admissions, structure of programs and financial management) resource constraints and wastage (heavy subsidies, lack of resource sharing among institutions, high drop out rates); poor quality and relevance (outdated programs leading to skill shortages in various industries); difficulties in attracting and retaining high quality teaching professional (industry salaries are higher so many students get a job or go abroad for higher studies than enter teaching); poor technology and infrastructure support (limited use of IT, poor quality of libraries, non-existent laboratory facilities); limited access and regional disparity (the four southern states alone account for over 70 per cent of engineering seats in the country).

Despite all our hype of a knowledge superpower, we lag behind all global majors in practically every key area of scientific and technical education. We rank 56th in the world in terms of patents granted per million capita, 91st in the world in terms of gross tertiary enrolment, 27th in the world in terms of research spending, 55th in the world in terms of quality of math and science education, there is no Indian university in the global top 25 (while Beijing University is 15th) and so on.

The above mentioned critical issues need to be addressed urgently if the Indian S&T education system is to meet the aspirations of millions of young Indians for a better quality of life, with greater economic opportunities.

Is this likely to happen soon enough? Most of our policy makers and elected representatives are more interested in the issue of quotas and reservations, and preserving one of the most elaborate, arcane and Byzantine regulatory quagmire that any sector in India faces.

As in the industrial sector, we need a similar liberalisation in education and the field of higher education should be thrown open to private participation and deregulated. The government can propose minimum investment commitments to ensure that only serious, long-term players enter the business. The university must be obligated to file with a regulatory body, or a credit rating company, all the information that students and parents need to make an informed decision about which university to study in (fees, finances, infrastructure, faculty, placement etc). The government must experiment with the notion of Special Education Zones mooted by experts. Corporate entities can function here, attracting faculty and students from around the world, with fees based on market forces but with scholarships and subsidized loans for needy students.

It is time to rethink innovatively about the future of higher education in India. As Professor James Tooley says “My prediction is that innovation in education, if freed from the restraints of the state, will mean challenging the grossly inefficient and wasteful systems that governments have set in stone. Once this happens, education can be reclaimed from the "two tyrannies", the state and schooling. Free of the state, the educational market will be free to challenge the shibboleth of schooling.”


Anonymous snigdha said...

strange country. public money funds expensive overseas education programmes for the offspring of bureaucrats with no visible advantage to the public itself. maybe at some level, the indian middle class itself is to blame for the state we are in because of our apathy to issues that affect us. its a vicious cycle isn't it?

2:46 AM  
Blogger Rashmi Bansal said...

So you started updating your blog again! And you read mine too... :) When are we meeting??

4:14 AM  
Blogger snigdha said...

hey lazy old man, start writing! february is over.

11:13 PM  
Blogger snigdha said...

it is now going to be two months since january 24th. i have a suggestion. lets meet once a week, i will record all you have to say about the world and then i will post it on your blog. you can pay be a monthly stipend. good revenue model, what say?

10:16 PM  

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