Importance of Education

  • Education is a critical tool for developing a modern economy, a just society and a vibrant polity. It provides skills and competencies for economic well-being and social mobility.
  • Education strengthens democracy by imparting to citizens the tools needed to fully participate in the governance process.
  • It also acts as an integrative force in society, imparting values that foster social cohesion and national identity.
  • A well-educated population, equipped with the relevant knowledge, attitudes and skills is essential for economic and social development in this century.

Higher education: Status

  • India has the third largest higher education system in the world with around 652 universities and university level institutes that impart higher and technical education. They also provide affiliation to more than 33,000 colleges and institutes.
  • Enrolment rates in our higher education institutions have gone up to around 17% but are still well below the world average of 26 per cent.

UGC has failed in many ways

  • Currently, UGC releases the names of bogus institutions on its website to inform the public but cannot take any action.
  • Since its inception, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has been witness to a spectacular growth in higher education.
  • The number of universities has multiplied 40 times over, and student enrolment has increased a hundred-fold.
  • However, the UGC has been a silent spectator to the languishing quality of education in many of these institutions.
  • Few recent policies including increase in teaching hours of the faculty and its subsequent cancellation, the implementation of the choice-based credit semester system in Delhi University, and the decision to discontinue UGC non-NET scholarship for MPhil and PhD students and its abandonment after protests, have been unpopular.
  • Also, this affects the commission while disbursing grants and fellowships thereby affecting quality standards.
  • Its policies also suffer from two diametrically opposite issues—under-regulation and over-regulation. While it lets smaller substandard institutions slip by as deemed universities, it also instigates witch-hunts against reputed deemed universities.
  • Hence, it is argued that UGC has not only failed to fulfil its mandate but also has not been able to deal with emerging diverse complexities.

Highlights of the Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Bill 2018

  • The focus of the Commission will be on improving academic standards and quality of higher education, specifying norms for learning outcomes, lay down standards of teaching/research etc.
  • It will provide a roadmap for mentoring of institutions found failing in maintaining the required academic standards.
  • The Commission shall have the power to grant authorization for starting of academic operations on the basis of their compliance with norms of academic quality.
  • It will also have the powers to revoke authorization granting to a higher education institution where there is a case of wilful or continuous default in compliance with the norms / regulations.
  • The Commission will encourage higher education institutions to formulate a Code of Good Practices covering promotion of research, teaching and learning.
  • The Commission will also specify norms and processes for fixing of fee chargeable by higher education institutions and advice the Central Government or the State Governments, as the case may be, regarding steps to be taken for making education affordable to all.
  • The Commission will monitor, through a national data base, all matters covering the development of emerging fields of knowledge and balanced growth of higher education institutions in all spheres and especially in promotion of academic quality in higher education.
  • The commission also have the power to order the closure of sub-standard and bogus institutions.

Loopholes in the present HECI act

  • The Act must also chart a path to integrate teaching and research.
  • The separation between teaching at universities and colleges and research at research councils has not served the cause of either higher education or research well.
  • Students must have access to state-of-the-art laboratories and opportunities to interact regularly with scholars actively engaged at the frontiers of research.
  • Conversely, scholars stand to benefit from interacting with young, inquisitive minds. It is critical for this interaction to be brought to the centre of university education.
  • The proposed act should provide more autonomy to higher education institutes to promote excellence and facilitate holistic growth of the education system.

Problems and challenges in higher education sector in India

  • Since independence, India as a developing nation is contentiously progressing in the education field, especially on quantity but not on quality.
  • It needs greater transparency and accountability, the role of colleges and universities in the new millennium, and emerging scientific research on how people learn is of utmost important.
  • India need well skilled and highly educated people who can drive our economy forward.
  • Knowledge is power. The more knowledge one has, the more empowered one is.
  • Despite growing investment in education, 25 per cent of its population is still illiterate; only 15 per cent of Indian students reach high school, and just 7 per cent graduate.
  • Enrolment: The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of India in higher education is only 15% which is quite low as compared to the developed as well as, other developing countries.
  • With the increase of enrolments at school level, the supply of higher education institutes is insufficient to meet the growing demand in the country.
  • Disadvantaged sections of society and women have significantly lower enrolments than the national average.
  • Wide disparities exist in enrolment percentages among the States and between urban and rural areas.
  • Equity: There is no equity in GER among different sects of the society. According to previous studies the GER in higher education in India among male and female varies to a greater extent.
  • There are regional variations too some states have high GER while as some is quite behind the national GER which reflect a significant imbalances within the higher education system.
  • Quality: Quality in higher education is a multi-dimensional, multilevel, and a dynamic concept.
  • Infrastructure: Poor infrastructure is another challenge to the higher education system of India particularly the institutes run by the public sector suffer from poor physical facilities and infrastructure.
  • Political interference: Most of the educational Institutions are owned by the political leaders, who are playing key role in governing bodies of the Universities.
  • Faculty: Faculty shortages and the inability of the state educational system to attract and retain well qualified teachers have been posing challenges to quality education for many years.
  • Research and Innovation: there are very nominal scholars in our country whose writing is cited by famous western authors. There is inadequate focus on research in higher education institutes.
  • There are insufficient resources and facilities, as well as, limited numbers of quality faculty to advice students. Most of the research scholars are without fellowships or not getting their fellowships on time which directly or indirectly affects their research.
  • The use of technology remains limited and standards of research and teaching at Indian universities are far below international standard.
  • Moreover, Indian Higher education institutions are poorly connected to research centres.
  • Exceptions apart, majority of our higher education institutions perform poorly in the area of quality on a relative global scale.
  • Structure of higher education: Management of the Indian education faces challenges of over centralisation, bureaucratic structures and lack of accountability, transparency, and professionalism.
  • In recent years, the massive expansion in enrolment in higher education in the country has resulted in unbearable burden being put on the physical and pedagogic infrastructure of colleges and universities.

Committees and Schemes to rejuvenate Higher Education

  1. N Gopalaswami committee was constituted to select 20 institutes of higher education in India that will be developed into “world-class” institutes.
  2. Institutions of Eminence scheme:
    • The institutes of eminence scheme under the Union human resource development (HRD) ministry aims to project Indian institutes to global recognition.
    • The 20 selected institutes will enjoy complete academic and administrative autonomy.
    • The government will run 10 of these and they will receive special funding.
    • The selection shall be made through challenge method mode by the Empowered Expert Committee constituted for the purpose.
    • Only higher education institutions currently placed in the top 500 of global rankings or top 50 of the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) are eligible to apply for the eminence tag.
    • The private Institutions of Eminence can also come up as Greenfield ventures provided the sponsoring organisation submits a convincing perspective plan for 15 years.

Suggestions Improving the System of Higher Education

  • There is a need to implement innovative and transformational approach form primary to higher education level to make Indian educational system globally more relevant and competitive.
  • Higher educational institutes need to improve quality and reputation.
  • There should be a good infrastructure of colleges and universities which may attract the students.
  • Government must promote collaboration between Indian higher education institutes and top International institutes and also generates linkage between national research laboratories and research centres of top institutions for better quality and collaborative research.
  • There is a need to focus on the graduate students by providing them such courses in which they can achieve excellence, gain deeper knowledge of subject so that they will get jobs after recruitment in the companies which would reduce unnecessary rush to the higher education.
  • Universities and colleges in both public private must be away from the political affiliations, Favouritism; money making process should be out of education system etc.
  • There should be a multidisciplinary approach in higher education so that student’s knowledge may not be restricted only up to his own subjects.

Higher Education Financing Agency

  • The Government has signed an agreement with Canara bank to set up non-banking financial company (NBFC) called the Higher Education Finance Agency (HEFA).
  • It will be a joint venture between the HRD ministry and the bank.
  • It is formed to give a major push for creation of high quality infrastructure in premier educational institutions.
  • NBFC will rise funds from the market and also mobilize CSR funds from PSUs/Corporates and lend to government-run higher educational institutions for promoting research and innovation.
  • The HEFA would finance the civil and lab infrastructure projects through a 10-year loan.
  • HEFA will leverage the equity to rise up to Rs. 20,000 crore for the funding of world-class infrastructure at the IITs, IIMs, the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and such other institutions.

Reforms needed in higher education sector

  • Curricular and academic reforms are required to improve student choices, with a fine balance between the market oriented professional and liberal higher education.
  • Higher education must be aligned to the country’s economy and also to the needs of the global market.
  • Innovative and relevant curricula should be designed to serve different segments of the job market or provide avenues for self-employment.
  • Emphasis must be given to the expansion of skill-based programmes in order to make our youth employable in the job market.
  • Fact remains that today, around 60% of total enrolments in higher education are in private institutions. Some of them excel in their chosen areas.
  • There also exist legitimate concerns about the substandard, exploitative nature and suffering to the students and staff.
  • Governance reforms are required to enable private institutions to have their autonomy to develop distinctive strengths, while being held accountable for ensuring quality and fulfilling their responsibility to society.

Demographic Dividend and education

  • India has a younger population not only in comparison to advanced economies but also in relation to the large developing countries.
  • In 2011, around 50% of our population was less than 24 years of age. By 2020, around two thirds of our population will be in the working age group (15-64 years).
  • Over the next 20 years, labour force in India is expected to increase, while it will decline in industrialized countries and in China.
  • This demographic structure presents us with an opportunity of a potential ‘demographic dividend’, which tapped, could add to our growth potential, provided two conditions are fulfilled.
    • First, higher levels of health, education and skill development are achieved.
    • Second, an environment is created in which the economy not only grows rapidly, but also enhances good quality employment/livelihood opportunities to meet the needs and aspirations of the youth.
  • It is thus evident that education is a vital ingredient for actualizing the ‘demographic dividend’ and for achieving higher, sustainable and more inclusive economic growth.
  • India has the potential to capture a higher share of global knowledge-based work, for example by increasing its exports of knowledge-intensive goods and services, if there is focus on higher education and its quality is globally benchmarked.

Conclusion

  • The transformation is based upon minimum government & maximum governance, separation of grant functions, end of inspection raj, focus on academic quality and powers to enforce.
  • Reform should, therefore, lead to the creation of an agency that has the intellectual corpus to help universities and colleges adapt, and the vision to plan for public funding in the emerging spheres of activity.
  • There is a positive attempt in the draft legislation to weed out degree mills and dubious training institutions, with a provision for prosecution and imprisonment of management officials who defy the HECI.
  • It is important to remember that students from socially and economically disadvantaged sections continue to face disadvantages in higher education.
  • The increase in suicides among students coming from these sections is alarming.
  • The educational spaces that remain equal and socially just should be kept away from the forces of evil market.
  • Yet, this will take political will, given that over the past three decades laissez faire expansion of higher education has been pursued purely for commercial motives.