India achieved a Gross Enrolment Ratio of 18.8% in higher education by 2012 through expansion schemes under the XIth Five Year Plan (FYP). Recent higher education surveys have documented three aspects. One, quantitative expansion has not always led to quality enhancement. Two, employability of engineering graduates ranges between 20% and 40%, but that of arts and science graduates is only around 10%. Three, a survey revealed value degradation and decline in gratitude to teachers by 61%.
To address the mismatch between expansion vis-a-vis quality of employable, value-inculcated graduates and to bridge the quality gap, a multidimensional reforms package has been evolved by UGC in its XIIth FYP document.
As 94% of students’ pool is through 33,023 colleges affiliated to 316 universities, which are seats of expansion, innovative reforms in colleges and in the process of affiliation to universities have been formulated in XIIth FYP. These have been further necessitated by the compounded load of affiliated colleges. For instance, Osmania University has 901 affiliated colleges and Pune University 811. The system is, thus, stifling quality enhancement of state universities.
After assessment of the requirements for these reforms and the limitations of UGC, the government has evolved the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), a Centrally sponsored scheme for higher education, in a mission-mode to focus on state higher educational institutions.
Besides, certain other reforms have also been initiated. These include a proposal to limit the number of colleges to be affiliated to any university to 100; encourage large autonomous colleges to develop into universities; create college cluster universities by clustering a minimum of 50 colleges in a city or district; and allowing Central and state universities to have 5-10 constituents, autonomous colleges, to be mentored by the parent university as “model colleges”. These schemes are being funded with proportionate participations of state governments.
RUSA envisages elevating 45 out of the 441 autonomous colleges as unitary universities, establishing ‘model colleges’ in educationally backward districts and infrastructure strengthening of state colleges. A `25,000-crore package of quality rejuvenation schemes for state universities and colleges has been approved by which 316 universities and 13,024 government and aided colleges would receive performance-linked funding.
It is for the first time since Independence that state-level higher education institutions are being funded by the Centre with a budget of `1,28,000 crore. The skewed funding pattern as of the XIth FYP by UGC can be better understood by the fact that `5,606 crore of the `6,776 crore (82.7%) was provided to Central universities and their colleges which are producing only 6% of the total students, while state universities and colleges which contribute 94% of students’ pool are provided with only 17.3% of UGC funds.
Hence RUSA is an excellent opportunity to the state universities to upgrade educational and research ambience of infrastructure, knowledge resources and skill development expertise to produce international quality manpower. It should also be underscored that the upgraded colleges and universities would be mentored for high-quality research outputs with fund-associated expertise through RUSA.
Considering that teachers are the backbone of educational reforms, any genuine service-related/administrative concerns highlighted by teacher bodies have to be parallely remedied by governments. The bodies also have to pragmatically approach this reform scheme and provide collective wisdom for further quality refinement. Resistance to change is born out of inadequate understanding. The concern is whether we want higher education manpower to acquire international-level expertise with high employability or dwindle in mediocrity?
(The author is former V-C, University of Madras. He can be reached at email@example.com)