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Higher Education: SHIFT FOCUS FROM IITs, IIMs, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 18 Feb, 2013 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 18 February 2013

Higher Education


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


The Planning Commission has rightly pushed for more reforms in higher education to tackle what it terms as “deteriorating quality” and “eroding public confidence” in the country’s education system. In a recent directive to the Human Resource Development Ministry, the Commission has specifically asked it to shift its focus from the country’s excellent institutions – the IITs, IIMs and the likes – and instead focus attention on revamping the State and private sector institutions, which enroll over 97 per cent of total students in higher education.


Given that the nation has its goal to double enrollment in higher education by 2020, the Commission means business. In a letter to the Ministry, the Planning body has aptly noted: “The strategy to improve quality has to be based on national initiatives that benefit a wider range of institutions by creating strong performance culture through effective use of grants, focus on evaluation and feedback of both teachings and research through information disclosure to enhance student’s choice and acceptability.”


This apart, it has identified 15 strategic issues which it feels should be on the Ministry’s radar for the next five years. These include, increasing the capacity of existing institutions to enroll more students rather than starting new ones, raising the budgetary support for equity related measures through targeted, integrated and effective equity related schemes to replace the existing maze of diffused schemes, more autonomy, better evaluation of performance and higher quality teaching standards with latest inputs and transparency in fee determination, placements and faculty appointments.


The Commission’s advice comes close on the heels of President Pranab Mukherjee’s emphasis on improving the nation’s higher education standards through various methods, including adopting flexible education models such as open and distance learning so as to increase the reach of education. He made a note of the fact that though enrolment in such programmes doubled from around 22 lakhs in 2006-07 to over 42 lakhs in 2011-12, a lot more needs to be accomplished.


“Use of information technology and innovative technology can usher in new vistas and provide increased coverage through opportunities and distance learning affords to those requiring flexible learning options”, Mukherjee has pointed out.


Another aspect which he rightly stressed at several conferences, including the Indian Science Congress, has been on research. According to him, research is a finer product of education leading to innovation, technological advancement and process perfection which are responsible for shifting the production frontiers and creating greater capability for future growth. The President thus wanted more stress to be given to science education and revitalizing the institutes all over the country for better teaching and research.


One cannot deny the fact that reforms are imperative in the higher education sector to meet the growing demands of the country. Though enrolment in higher educational institutions increased from 1.39 crores in 2006-07 to 2.18 crores in 2011-12, the demand is much more and increasing rapidly. This has, no doubt, contributed towards increasing productivity of our work force but a lot more needs to be done.


Though the HRD ministry allayed concerns of Members of Parliament over Indian institutions missing from the list of top institutions of the world stating that the parameters used in these international ratings did not necessarily apply to our bodies, there is need for serious introspection on the subject. Undeniably, the standard of numerous colleges and universities across the country need to be upgraded as also the quality of teaching.


The Central universities and the IITs and IIMs no doubt meet certain standards but the same cannot be said about most educational institutions of the country. The Centre needs to coordinate with the States, specially with regard to improving standards in colleges and universities located in various semi-urban areas and small towns and make necessary facilities available. Good teachers should also be deputed to such institutions for a particular period and orientation programmes of teaching faculty conducted to make them aware of new developments in their subject.


The university system that has evolved over the years has to develop further and adopt strategies to keep up its reputation and standards. While several commissions have since Independence been set up including the Radhakrishnan Commission, Kothari Commission, Rastogi Commission etc, most of their recommendations are yet to be fully implemented.


It may be pertinent to recall some of the more purposeful measures needed to cope up with the changing socio-economic order: inducing innovativeness in teaching-learning process; bringing professionalism and relevance to latest developments; designing courses/study material to practical experiences and social and economic requirements and needs; modernizing higher study through induction of international experiences and methodology; and freeing the system from parochial or dogmatic outlook so that organizational management of a high order is ensured.


An important aspect that is also critical is the need for transparency in selection of teachers and definitely not by political motivation or other bias. The curriculum also should be examined at periodic intervals to ensure that modern developments in each discipline are incorporated. Moreover, the curriculum should be so designed to relate to practical problems and developments as this would enable students to relate these in their later years. Also laboratory and other facilities, wherever necessary, in the institutions should be ensured so that students do not have to suffer due to their lack.


Apart from these, higher educational institutions in the private sector have been charging fees which are beyond the paying capacity of the lower income groups and even a major section of the middle class. Though teaching standards are quite all right compared with most of government institutions, there is need for the government to look into the fee structure and reserve some seats for the deserving coming from Lower Income Group and the poor sections.


The fast growth of population along with improvement in living standards would, in the coming years, need more and more students who would go in for higher education and specialized education such as engineering, medicine, dental medicine, nursing etc. Though many engineering colleges, mostly in the private sector have come up, more institutions in other fields would be required to cater to the increasing demands.  The government would need to pay special attention to setting up good colleges, where post graduate education can also be imparted, in the rural and semi urban areas.


However, at the end what matters is the final result. It’s all very well for the Planning Commission to push for reforms in the higher education system as also its decision to have at least one college in each and every district so that backward regions are not deprived of opportunities. The Ministry must deliver and there is no room for excuses. For, if there is a will there is a way. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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