Bleak horizon

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: Jul 20 2009, 02:32am hrs
If numbers tell a story, then this is a glaring one. Only 11 out of 100 students going to school in the country reach graduation levels. In concrete terms, there are 547 million people under 20 years of age in India and only 11% of them will become graduates. With over 400 universities and more than 20,000 colleges, with an enrolment of 14 million students, only the US and China have more vocational specific passouts annually.

Each year India adds 3,50,000 engineers, twice US number. Yet, when it comes to the presence of total employable population, there is an acute shortage, owing to lack

of apt skill-sets.

The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) survey conducted in 2007 on 123 universities and 2,956 colleges across the country also revealed the sad state of affairs of higher education in the country. About 60% of these were private and the rest government-run. It exposed that 90% of colleges and 68% of the universities across the country suffered due to lack of qualified faculty, student-teacher ratio and infrastructure such as libraries and computers. Additionally, almost 25% faculty positions in the universities remain vacant; with 57% lecturers in colleges not having either an M.Phil or Ph.D. and only one computer for 229 students in a college.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) reports that in spite of a burgeoning number of universities and graduates being churned out every year, India still faces lack of adequate infrastructure in higher education. This is in light of the fact that higher education institutions (HEIs) in India can accommodate only 7-8% of the countrys college age students. India, thus, has a gross enrolment ratio (GER) of only 11% in higher education as compared to about 60% in the US and Canada, and around 21% (average) in the BRIC countries. Given that the Eleventh Plan accords the highest priority to education as central to achieving rapid and inclusive growth experts question will it be enough to rid the sector of its plaguing issues.

A tall order

Given that the National Knowledge Commission recognises the need of expansion, equity and excellence, any plan to transform higher education must focus both on quantity and quality. CS Venkata Ratnam, Director, International Management Institute, feels that access to higher education is still a tall order for a large number of students in the country. Nine out of 10 students seeking admission to higher education institutes face disappointment, he adds.

Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal believes that one of the ways to tackle the issue of mad scrambling of seats during admissions is to enhance the quality of other institutions and establish new institutions of highest quality to address the problem of access. A number of high quality institutions, such as new IITs, new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, new schools of Planning and Architecture, a new IIM, new central universities, etc. have been established and some more such institutions of excellence are being established as a response to this situation. Financial assistance has been linked with academic reforms, which should bring good results, says Sibal.

However, Devi Singh, Director, IIM-Lucknow, feels that lack of accountability has been one of the major factors responsible for the present sorry state of Indian higher education. There is a huge disconnect between education that is imparted and the skill-sets that are the need of the hour. And no one is ready to take responsibility for that, says Singh.

Industry experts also point out that 75% of our graduates are unable to find employment owing to lack of skill-based education in the country. Singh further adds, Prominent education institutes have been very narrow-minded in their approach when it comes to imparting education. It is high time we included more subjects in our curriculum.

Experts opine that mushrooming of higher education institutes or the so called Deemed universities is a growing concern for higher education. Consider this: Between 2000 and 2005, 26 private-sponsored institutions got the deemed university status. Since 2005, the number of private deemed universities has increased to 108. In Tamil Nadu alone, the number of private deemed universities increased from 18 in 2007 to 35 in 2008 with many more in the pipeline. Singh feels that reckless expansion has been the order of the day for these institutes. Despite the growing need for an increase in the number of higher education institutes, it is the single-point profit making motive of these Deemed universities, which is creating a furore.

Lack of trained faculty is also a cardinal

issue that needs to be immediately addressed. Bharti Baveja, Dean and Head, Department of Education, Delhi University, believes that there is an urgent need to have a regulatory body

to ensure quality of teaching faculty. It is important to create quality manpower if we have

to improve the quality of education in the country and have a multi-pronged approach, says Baveja.

Winds of change

In a country where the average school dropoutrate is 39%, what can be done to make education an integral part of a students life Given that a umber of anomalies ail the primary and secondary education system, can such a shaky base, higher education be any different We are moving in the right direction with National Curriculum Framework in schooling, with its emphasis on inculcating power of analysis and synthesis and also experiential learning. This is bound to lead to a better school education which in turn will feed into the higher education system, says Sibal.

To help the higher education sector achieve its desired level, the Yash Pal Committee on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education, has recommended for a complete overhaul of higher education in the country.

The panel was set up in February 2008 with the mandate of studying the functioning of different agencies in higher education and suggest measures to restructure the system of

higher education.

But industry experts and educationists have expressed their concerns over its recommendations. Ratnam feels that Yash Pal committee and the Knowledge Commission recommendations have the same drawbacks. Suggestions by both turn superficial at some point. The committee hasn't discussed in detail about the implementation of the suggestions, he adds. Singh feels that there have been numerous committees and reports on the issue, and this particular report has just talked about an approach towards tackling this burgeoning issue.

Given the kind of reactions that the report has received, the question remains if the recommendations will suffice to usher in the much needed transformation in the higher education system of the country