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Higher Education: CUT TIME, SAVE TRILLIONS, by Shivaji Sarkar, 9 Jan, 2012 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 9 January 2012

Higher Education


By Shivaji Sarkar


Education is becoming expensive, time-consuming, cumbersome and perhaps a racket of unscrupulous activities. Schools, according to an Assocham survey, earn Rs 1200 crore through sales of forms in the country’s capital, Delhi alone. All over the nation it extorts a few trillion rupees from aspiring parents for a three-year unnecessary pre-schooling.

Systematically the nation which does not find enough funds to ensure primary schooling is trying to make education more cumbersome. The desire for good education has led to the introduction of pre-schooling for three years so that parents could prepare their children for a “good” school. The fee per child per month varies from Rs 1,000 to Rs 5,000 though in most cases teachers are paid a paltry sum of Rs 1500 to Rs 3000 per month. However, all this provides a great earning opportunity for those setting up such schools.

In the midst of this, the Planning Commission has now come out with an idea, vigorously being pursued by Delhi University, for increasing the duration of the bachelor’s degree to four years from three. The specious argument given is that it would increase employability. How would it do that no one has answered except saying that one extra year invested in the university – mostly internships, often unpaid – would help students specialise in some area.

The 1968 Education Policy, which recommended three-year degree course, had given similar arguments for scrapping the two-year bachelor courses. Universities in Delhi and Calcutta were the first to opt for it, but it didn’t help students. They found that the curriculum studied in two years had been stretched to three. Those who had obtained their degrees in two years were neither less smart nor those who got their degrees in three years extraordinary.

Generations of student population succumbed to a clever machination of our policy planners. They stretched the duration of obtaining degree by one year and successfully put off the number of job seekers that much longer. This apart, they quietly increased the cost of obtaining the degree by one third, with little faculty addition. All these past 40 years, the facilities remained abysmal and quality did not improve. This, many aver has led to lowering of teaching quality in many cases and an increased investment.

What it basically amounts to is that the two-year degree course is as good as three-year one. The big question is then why did the nation go for the latter? Apparently, both the US and Europe had given up the two-year degree under pressure from the education lobbies, which had got into private business hands. And, India wanted to “integrate” with the West.

Now again the private businesses and universities have started four-year bachelors’ courses to add to their coffers. Besides, India is opening up higher education to foreign businesses. And it will be found that longer the duration, more profitable it is for them.

In fact, the lobbying for a four-year course has come at a time when, some of the US Government universities such as Texas Tech Univeristy have introduced medical degrees that students will be able to complete in three years, instead of the usual four. Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad also plans to do the same in India for the rural health sector.

The arguments of the Texas University and Azad are same - the nation, faces a shortage of primary-care physicians, and medical educators. In the US, medical students graduate with debts averaging $156,000, whereas in India it varies from Rs 4 lakh to 7 lakh! And who is opposing it--the private doctors’ body, Indian Medical Association. Azad and Texas University understand that what can be imparted in the shortest possible time matters more rather than durations.

Thus, this is a case for considering how to reduce the duration of higher education, which is being stretched for no valid reasons except one that suits businesses and some faculty members, who get their terms extended. On the one hand, adding a year to one’s education is an expensive proposition for those aspiring to get a degree, while on the other it is a lucrative proposition for those running institutions as businesses.

Sadly, the nation is not calculating the money wasted in such thoughtless additions to the numbers of years spent at university or institutions of higher education. Clearly, India does not have enormous funds to invest in education and should look for opportunities to reduce the duration. Such cut in time-frame is possible as the syllabus in almost all subjects is loosely tailored.

In subjects such as Journalism, the UGC is insisting on a two-year post graduation, while at many universities it is rightly a one-year course. The country has to reduce the PG course as a practice to one year. Thus, with a two-year bachelors and a year of PG, higher education in 95 cent of subjects can be completed in three years.

Similarly, pre-schooling should mandatorily be fixed at one year. Children after three years learn the same when they reach grade one. It would save lakhs of crore of rupees of aspirants, save on national investment in education – rather the same amount could be used to impart quality education to many more. Indeed, India need not go by the practices in the West, as the latter is suffering today for such extravagance. The youth there is under heavy burden of debt.

India has got the opportunity to look at the issue afresh. It has to develop its own system, which must be cost-effective. The world is going through a severe monetary and financial crisis and India can perhaps take the lead to show that the best could be achieved in a shorter time-frame.

Importantly, schools and universities should be seen as sacred places. Whether it is Government or private, money has to be spent sparingly. These educational institutions should not be treated as shops for raking in quick and high profits. In fact, shorter duration of degrees would help poor students complete their education, who in many cases have to drop out. They seek education to join the work force as early as possible, but a longer duration prevents precisely that. 

Students should not be kept in the precincts of universities to hide unemployment statistics. Rather, there should be a prudent decision, wherein large number of poor students could complete their education early and investment in education from primary to PG could be reduced to an affordable level by the nation.—INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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