Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Joshi Column: Resolving the paradox of higher education in India

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Schooling is essential for the overall development of a child. Therefore, it has been covered under the Right to Education Act in India. Despite several measures, our entire school education system (both in private and public sectors) continues to provide non-standardized, uncertain outcome-based education to a majority of children.

The issues are more complex in the higher and technical education sector.Though optional, it is considered as the passport to a good career, better job opportunities, and an enabler in pursuit of intellectual growth. How many students benefit from it? Do the time and resources spent on higher education justify the above goals?

Some experts consider that most of the higher education, including largely substandard technical education, is a mechanism to delay the entry of youth in the job market.They also believe that most of our higher educational institutions neither provide the life nor livelihood skills. Securing a degree or diploma from such institutions is no guarantee of getting an employment, least to say about personality development and intellectual growth.

Let us see the other side of the coin. The United States imports oil from Saudi Arabia, cars from Japan, TVs from Korea, and whisky from Scotland.So, what does the most valuable thing US import from India? The US imports people – really smart people from India.

Every year around 1.75 to 2 lakh students go to the US for higher study from India.Most of them stay back there for seeking employment and more conducive work environment. As a case in point, the ecosystem of IITs alone has contributed to about 25 to 30 thousand experts living in the US since 1956. It is often said that IITs have given Harvard, MIT and Princeton put together run for their money. If we consider contribution of other premier institutions from India, this number will be quite high.

Despite producing such smart, intelligent and successful individuals, none of our universities and institutions of higher learning from India is ranked among the top hundred in any category in the world. If such talent could be retained in the country, and the craze to join foreign universities somewhat curtailed, it will change the landscape of growth and development in India.

The National Education Policy (NEP) of 2020 has thought about the quality of our higher education and had come out with several innovative reforms. Broad-basing definition of university, allowing a spectrum of institutions that range from research-intensive universities to teaching-intensive universities and autonomous degree-granting colleges is one such progressive step.

However, the NEP, with the correct diagnosis of what ails the system; fell short of providing the correct prescription.The NEP advocates setting up a multitude of academic and administrative structures that will not lead to excellence in education. At best, they could be considered as cosmetic reforms.

Similarly, our dream to convert India into a knowledge economy will be difficult to be realized if we continue to follow employment- less growth.

On the basis of issues discussed in the above paragraphs, and to achieve multiple objectives, the following suggestions need to be considered:

1. Still more public resources should be spent on improving the texture and quality of higher/technical education in the country. We need to provide functional autonomy to our institutions (both public and private) to collaborate with industries and academia national as well as foreign. This will produce industry-ready graduates, develop a global outlook, and check the exodus of our students.

2. There should not be any restriction on recruitment of faculty, fee structure, type of discipline/specialization, number of seats and to top it with a global selection process of students.

3. While allowing foreign universities to start their operations in India, only one condition to have an Indian partner with a minimum 21% and maximum 49% stake should be insisted.

4. In order to maintain gold standard for the technical/ higher education in India, an annual reporting system for all institutions with full disclosure should be made mandatory.

5. Let us unshackle the system to realize full potential of our youth.

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