It is not possible for the government to run close to 400 universities in India without going broke or the universities being fated"

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: Jul 20 2009, 02:57am hrs
Of the 24-member Yash Pal Committee on reforming higher education in India, Kaushik Basu, Professor of Economics at Cornell University, was the sole voice of dissent. In an e-mail interview with Garima Pant, Basu shares his apprehensions. Excerpts:

What are your objections on the recommendations

The recommendations are well-meaning but vacuous. They will result in some cosmetic changes but have very little actual impact on our higher education and research. The recommendations lack ambition and imagination; they are, in the final analysis, status quo-ist. It makes it very easy for the government to say that it has done what the recommendations ask without doing anything of substance. It is this what prompted me to write the Note of Dissent.

What reforms will help revamp the UGC

For me, reforming the UGC is more important than replacing it with another overarching body that does more or less the same work. The UGC should be much more open to letting new institutes and deemed universities to come up. It should do a very good rating and information providing job for all universities and institutes. This can be a very time-consuming job as corporate rating agencies will tell you. There should also be a system for punishing colleges that cheat and misinform potential students. There is no harm in a college charging high fees but we have colleges that trap students by slapping special charges, after admitting them. We must punish such behaviour quickly and severely.

What can change the licensing system in higher education

We need to give up the idea that quality can be controlled and improved by having a centralised bureaucracy, creating barriers for entry of new universities and colleges. Licensing was a disaster for India and the country finally abandoned it in 1991. Immediately after that India began to grow rapidly. If we free up the higher education sector by making it easier for new institutes and colleges and universities to come up, this will breathe new life into our higher education sector.

Do you think paying the faculty on the basis of ability and calibre will work in the favour of the higher education system Are their any such global

success stories

It was the United States which first used this system and gradually established itself as world leader in research and higher education. Recently, China has begun using the same system with gusto. I do not think we should blindly imitate any of them but to refuse to learn from others on the presumption that we know what

is best is a kind of insularity that is damaging.

In todays world there is no alternative but to differentiate in terms of quality. The corporate sector uses differential pay and so do several nations in their academic hiring. I am not sure I like this, but, given that this is a fact of life, to try to have a flat pay and research support scale in Indias academic sector is to doom ourselves to failure.

Socialism has some commendable qualities but socialism in one sector has none.

You have advocated the entry of private sector money into higher education, even through education companies listing on the stock exchanges. Do such global success stories exist

There are two separate proposals here. Bringing private money into higher education is a must. It is not possible for the government to run close to 400 universities as in India without the government going broke or the universities being fated to mediocrity.

The more controversial question is whether we should allow for-profit private universities and colleges. There are not too many such examples in the world and there is no absolute top-rated university that is a listed company. Hence I make this suggestion with some cautions. In the United States, University of Phoenix is an example of a for-profit university. My instinct is that we should allow for these to come up.

Even if they are not top-notch, so what This is exactly what I mean by giving up on the licensing mentality.

India needs many more universities. And if we have some for-profit ones that are not so good, that is fine.