Education policy: The exit of affiliation

Education is positively correlated with various socio-economic indicators of development.  It leads to internalities and externalities and consequent gains.

Published: 09th August 2020 08:45 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th August 2020 08:51 AM   |  A+A-

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Education is positively correlated with various socio-economic indicators of development.  It leads to internalities and externalities and consequent gains.  Even without that, education is desirable. The present educational edifice has been built up over decades.  Deconstruction takes time.  In this column, I will focus only on one aspect of National Educational Policy (NEP), 2020, the affiliation system.

On this, NEP states, “The new regulatory system envisioned by this Policy will foster this overall culture of empowerment and autonomy to innovate, including by gradually phasing out the system of ‘affiliated colleges’ over a period of fifteen years through a system of graded autonomy, and to be carried out in a challenge mode.

Each existing affiliating university will be responsible for mentoring its affiliated colleges so that they can develop their capabilities and achieve minimum benchmarks in academic and curricular matters; teaching and assessment; governance reforms; financial robustness; and administrative efficiency.” In 15 years, these affiliated colleges are expected to become autonomous and degree-granting.  

NEP states it strongly — “Large affiliating universities resulting in low standards of undergraduate education”. In 1882, a Commission was appointed on the Indian education system, the Hunter Commission. This examined higher education too, but not universities.

"The Resolution appointing the Commission excludes the Universities from the scope of our enquiry….The Despatch of 1854 prescribed the establishment of Universities, and in 1857, the three Universities of Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay were incorporated by Acts of the Indian Legislature….The function of these Universities is that of examination, and not of instruction.  The latter is conducted by the affiliated colleges and other institutions authorized to send up candidates for the University examinations."

 This was modelled on the way University of London was established through charters in 1835 and 1836. University of London did award degrees, but it was only a board that conducted examinations.  Today, University of London has moved away from that old affiliating system, probably leaving a legacy only in the Indian subcontinent.

When we think of a university, we think it is meant to teach and undertake research. In an affiliating system, that’s not what a university was supposed to do. The etymology of the word “university” has nothing to do with teaching, not directly.  Even in the Latin (universitas magistrorum et scholarium), the expression means an aggregate community of teachers and scholars.

University of Calcutta was established in 1857 and we forget the geographical jurisdiction it possessed then. Until Indian Universities Commission (1902) and Indian Universities Act (1904), there was nothing to limit territorial jurisdiction of five universities that existed then (Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Panjab, Allahabad).  Panjab University was established in 1882.  

But Bishop Cotton School (Shimla) and Baring High School (Batala, Gurdaspur) were affiliated to University of Calcutta.  So were St. John’s College (Agra), Thomason Engineering College (Roorkee) and a host of others.

There are similar examples for University of Allahabad too (established in 1887).  The reason is that the university was only for examinations and a student had choice (at least till 1904) of deciding which university’s examination to take.

In 2018-19, there was an All-India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE).  This tells us that India has 993 Universities, 39,931 Colleges and 10,725 Stand Alone Institutions (awarding diplomas).

The 993 universities are of many different types, but 298 are affiliating universities, with those 39,931 colleges under them. Thirteen universities have more than 500 affiliated colleges. Chhatrapati Shahu Ji Maharaj University, Kanpur, affiliates 922 colleges.

Splice that with another nugget, also from AISHE.  This is all-India, not just for the university in Kanpur.  While 16.3 per cent of India’s colleges have student enrolment less than 100, 48.1 per cent have enrolment between 100 and 500. Only 4 per cent of colleges have student enrolment more than 3,000.  

For a college to be viable, both financially and from a quality perspective, I think we need 5,000 students.  Stated thus, 96 per cent of India’s colleges are unviable.  For Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), NEP has a lower threshold of 3,000.

Whatever be the threshold, some of these colleges shouldn’t exist.  NEP contemplates increase in GER (Gross Enrolment Ratio) in higher education to 50% by 2035 from the 26.3% in 2018.  (The figure includes vocational education.)

How is this possible if we cut down on the number of colleges?  At the time of leaving school and entering college, don’t we normally (Covid is a disruption) hear of a mad rush and suicides?  

There may be excess demand for 4 per cent of India’s colleges (the figure is probably lower), but overall, there is excess supply.  One should also remember, for the first time since Independence, the absolute number of young (0-15) in India declined.  

We need to plan for the declining number of young too.  Hunter Commission said, "At the same time, we are of the opinion that the principle should be kept in view, that a small number of colleges, thoroughly efficient and suitably situated, are likely to be of more permanent benefit to the interests of higher education than a larger number of colleges less efficient and less numerously attended."

 The 1902 Commission also frowned on affiliation.  We need to move away from the affiliating to the unitary university model, as London has also done.  

NEP has competition in mind.  Competition implies entry, as well as exit.  We will have exit of colleges (through mergers/consolidation) as has occurred in both London and the USA.  It will be impossible for most of those 39,931 colleges to adhere to that time-line of 15 years. 

(The writer is Chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the PM and can be contacted on Twitter @bibekdebroy)

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