Noting that rising cases of "brutal assault" of women and "child rape" has shaken the conscience of the nation, President Pranab Mukherjee today said society should introspect at its repeated failure to ensure safety and security of the fairer sex.
He said the country must identify the cause behind such criminal depravity, and exhorted educational institutions to take a lead in imparting moral education to meet the challenges of the present time.
"The recent increase in cases of brutal assault on women and child rape has shaken the collective conscience of the nation. These unfortunate incidents underscore the urgency for our society to pause and introspect at the erosion of values and our repeated failure to ensure safety and security of women and children," Mukherjee said addressing the 45th convocation of Utkal University here.
Observing that "such criminal depravity is a threat to civilised functioning of society", he emphasised the need to identify causes and solutions behind such acts.
"The society must ensure dignity and respect for women," he said.
The President, during his address to the nation on the eve of Republic Day, had also stated that it was time for the nation to "reset its moral compass".
He called upon the teachers responsible for educating youngsters and "who wield moral authority in the society" to set the process in the motion.
"Our universities and academic institutions must take a lead in imparting education which will help us meet the moral challenge of our time. It must help us build a modern democracy based on values of human dignity and equality," he said.
Emphasising that the base of society has to be built on freedom of human spirit, economic opportunities for all and social justice, the President said the process of growth must work for betterment of people; especially those at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid.
He expressed confidence that the country will be able to return to the growth figure of seven to eight per cent per annum.
"Our average annual economic growth during the last 10 years was 7.9 per cent though it has decelerated to 5 per cent in 2012-13. But I am confident that with the measures being taken, we would return to 7 to 8 per cent growth level in the next two to three years," Mukherjee said.
Voicing concern over the state of higher education in the country, the President said, "The increased number of academic institutions is not sufficient to keep pace with the growing demand."
Despite Indias higher education system being the second largest in the world, the enrolment rate for the 18-24 years age group in India is only 7 per cent, he said, adding that, the same stands at 21 per cent in Germany and 34 per cent in the US.
"This effectively denies many bright students the opportunity to acquire higher education," Mukherjee said. He also asked the universities to resort to innovative ways of teaching.
"Technology can be harnessed for collaborative information sharing. The infrastructure of the National Mission on Education through information and technology should be put to greater use," he said.
Mukherjee said it is a matter of "deep concern that no Indian university, according to an international survey of universities, is ranked within the top 200 universities in the world."
Mukherjee said the total enrolment of students in higher education, which was 2.6 crore at the end of the 11th Plan Period, is envisaged to increase to 3.6 crore at the end of 12th Plan.
Applauding the private sector which has "earned international reputation for quality and standard" in higher education, he said, "We should encourage participation of private sector without compromising on the social objectives and quality benchmark.
Stressing that filing up of vacancies must be given high priority, he said, "Shortage of faculty is a major hindrance for delivering quality education in our universities...
Outstanding teachers must be encouraged to guide new teachers and students."
He also exhorted the academia to increase the capability to innovate.
"Though India comprises one-sixth of the world population, only one in 50 patent applications in the world are filed in India. We do not lack the capability to innovate but we lack the system to encourage and generate innovation.
The President arrived here last night on a day-long visit to the state capital and Puri. He was received by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Governor S C Jamir.
Mukherjee will visit the Jagannnath Temple at Puri later in the day.