The political debate between right and left on the status and future of India's higher education, or for that matter the recent attempt to replace the UGC with another body called the Higher Education Commission of India, is unlikely to make a significant difference in higher education unless the fundamental fault lines are first identified and rectified. For this to happen political will-as opposed to political fixes-is required, at the level of both Centre and states.
For far too long education has been given short shrift to the great detriment of India's developmental goals. Putting out the slogan that by 2020 the Gross Enrolment Ratio is aimed at 30% from the current 20% is not necessarily going to give India's higher education a shot in the arm. Mere numbers without addressing concerns of quality is not going to work-it will only wreck the system more. If numbers alone were to matter, how can one explain the fact that India, with about 900 odd universities and thousands of colleges and institutes, cannot even put out one in the global top 100? China has managed to get into this chart and a tiny country like Singapore shares the honours.
The inadequacies of the higher education system of India has seen an annual exodus of over 100,000 young minds to institutions in North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific; and this trend will continue. A new trend in the last few years has been that Indian students are opting to go overseas for undergraduate studies as opposed to postgraduate studies.
The answer is simple yet proving extremely difficult: provide adequate resources at home. Is there a problem with infrastructure? Are we putting out graduates the market doesn't require? Is sufficient attention being paid to research and publications? In addition to academic fine tuning and relevance there is the obvious need to rope in corporate and business houses very early on by their involvement in curriculum and syllabus, both for design and delivery.
The bias of the Centre in allocation of resources to central and premier institutions is for all to see. Statistics speak of some 150 centrally funded institutions cornering more than 90% funding from the HRD ministry, but these institutions are said to account for around 6% of students in higher education. The notion that private institutions are awash with funds is as wrong as it is naive, for the simple reason that these institutions have to constantly pump money in for infrastructure and upgrading existing facilities in order to maintain their premier status among educational institutions and still compete for ranking status that would include government funded institutions.
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