Recently addressing students and faculty members of the country’s higher educational institutions through video conferencing from the Rashtrapati Bhavan, President Pranab Mukherjee has asked universities to take “concrete action” to present their credentials before international ranking agencies. To him, the ‘casual approach’ of higher educational institutions is primarily responsible for the poor rating of Indian universities in successive international rankings. It is time for all the stakeholders in the field of higher education to realise that a world-class university requires strong and visionary leadership. Mission-driven varsities continuously analyse their strengths and weaknesses and rigorously implement new strategies and plans. But in India, many are complacent and casual in their approach, lack committed leadership and ambitious vision for better performance. Improvement and reforms in our education system are caught up among several regulations and controls.
According to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry-Ernst & Young (FICCI-EY) report on higher education in India, the year 2030 marks 20 years of accelerated educational reforms in the country. Despite remarkable strides of progress, India’s higher education institutions are not yet the best in the world. Demographically, by 2030, India will be the youngest nation in the world and will be the largest contributor to the global workforce. To take advantage of the demographic dividend and to have effective investments in its human capital, India needs to have a futuristic and holistic approach in its educational planning.
As in every other sector, there have been a lot of controls in the education sector too. Progressive educational planners are now convinced that in the Indian context, what is required now is nurturing and not excessive controls and regulations. Overdoing regulation can kill initiatives. It was not so long ago that 44 deemed universities were recommended to be derecognised. The matter is now sub-judice pending final disposal.
The state is now reluctant to invest in new colleges and as much as possible, it wants to grant financial autonomy to existing colleges. In most states, no government colleges were established post-1990. The few colleges that were established are the self-financing ones under private sector managements. Even a state like Kerala, that witnessed heavy opposition to autonomy and privatisation, has now started rethinking on liberalisation in the education sector.
We are still experimenting with the 19th and 20th century models of higher education. Most of our universities are only teaching institutions. We lag behind in creating knowledge through ground-breaking research. In research outcomes, even smaller countries like Singapore, Finland and Belgium fare better than India. As the President rightly pointed out, “This general apathy is reflected in some indicators. India has 160 researchers in R&D (Research and Development) per one million people compared to 710 in Brazil and 1,020 in China. In high technology exports also, India does not fare well.” Much of the research has happened in a synchronised learning atmosphere. In India, research goes together with teaching and learning. Very little research is happening in an asynchronised situation. We need cutting-edge research that can heavily impact our life and the production world. The primary motive for research accomplishments should not be for adding to one’s curriculum vitae.
The FICCI vision 2030 envisages a three-tier system of higher education. In tier 1, there will be the top 100 universities in the country focusing only on research. Government should provide generous grants on a competitive basis to facilitate quality researches in these universities.
The next layer of universities would be teaching universities that facilitate latest models of teaching applying modern technology. The large number of the third layer universities include ordinary universities and colleges to make education more inclusive. These colleges must be capable of reducing inequality in the access to education. They must be instrumental in facilitating the upward mobility of weaker sections and the under-privileged. The great networking possibilities in these colleges can empower the lesser privileged. Through these third type of institutions, the state should guarantee college education to all those who need it.
India’s higher education sector is facing a real crisis of quality of teaching. It is time to enhance the value of teaching as a profession. It is desirable to have incubation centres for teachers. The state has to spend more for upgrading the quality of teaching. The calibre and strategies of university and college professors can greatly influence the capabilities and growth of the students at their disposal.
Higher education policy should focus on social change and social transformation. There are any number of examples in the history of the world to demonstrate that social philosophers amongst educationists initiated great movements that transformed the whole world. The new policy should look at the society in its totality ensuring the ethics of sustainability. Our colleges and universities should be capable of turning out globally competent graduates who can appreciate cultural differences. Education should provide them the capabilities for critical thinking and problem-solving in a globalised environment. In a recent book, No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends, the directors of McKinsey Global Institute explain the trends reshaping the world and why leaders must adjust to a new reality.
The four fundamental disruptions capable of rewriting the world economy’s operating system are the age of urbanisation, accelerating technological change, responding to the challenges of an ageing world, and greater global connections. These inevitable disruptions require executives and leaders at all levels to reset their operating assumptions and management intuition.
India with its 750 universities, 47,000 colleges and 40 million students must wake up to these realities when we design our new education policy. By 2030, the Gross Enrolment Ratio must increase to 50 per cent from the current 23. The possibilities of the private sector with its 62 per cent contribution in the education sector should be fully explored. Public-Private Partnership models also could be effectively applied wherever possible to harness the strengths of both public and private sectors.
By 2030, India will have the potential to be a leader in the global education scenario. It is expected that by 2030, one million foreign students will be studying in world-class universities in India and two million international students in Indian universities abroad.
The author is a Bengaluru-based professor of economics and consultant lawyer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org