India needs 1500 universities, Kapil Sibal, its Human Resources Minister, muses, and follows it up with some complicated statistical comparison with the United States. This is still a long way to go from its current 564 degree granting institutions. He is obviously making a subtle argument in favour of more private participation, even investments from foreign companies. However, his problem lies elsewhere: The challenge that lies ahead relates to quality, not quantity. None of the Indian universities feature in the global lists, whichever list one may refer to, including even the lists that get published for young universities. Private sector investment isn't going to solve that problem. Not even getting some of world's top universities into India will help: That, if it ever happens, will only create the additional problem that some of India's best institutions, chronically underfunded, will end up losing their star talents, making the problem of quality even worse.
As Mr Sibal would acknowledge, there is one thing worse than inadequate provision for higher education: It is bad higher education. India badly needs to expand its Higher Education capacity in order to absorb its growing young population into the productive workforce; however, getting them to schools that teach them nothing and creates misfits will mean creating a huge swathe of population who can't find appropriate work and meaningful life. This is a terrifying prospect, which should keep every Indian policy maker awake at night. There is evidence that India's Higher Education system is heading towards failure: Despite the great expansion of higher education institutions, 33,000 by the last available count, the Gross Enrolment Ratio refuses to budge, and remains far lower (less than 20%) than any major nation in the world. In fact, if anything, the government's attempts to solve the problem through encouraging private investment is failing spectacularly. Last year, more than 100 private institutions filed for de-recognition, and the first few failed colleges got snapped up by private equity and foreign funds. Judging by the emails floating around inviting buyers for Indian colleges, a second wave of failures seems to be around the corner, and this time, it may involve disenfranchised students and greater pain.
The higher education policy is failing to work primarily because of India's complicated politics and because of the vested interests that block all possibilities of innovation because higher education is a great money-making machine. The sector, though usually left alone by the media, is one of India's most corrupt, and going by the country's current reputation, that means something. However, it makes sense to recognise that corruption and meddling by politicians is not the only problem, and de-regulating the market and bringing in free enterprise will not be the panacea.
The starting point of arriving at a solution is to look beyond statistics and recognise the demographic challenges of Indian Higher Education. The oft-repeated observation - from outside, India looks a huge multiplier effect; from inside, it is a game of infinite divisions - remain true for education. Besides, India's education challenge lies at different levels: The current coinage of a two-tier system of vocational and higher education may not be sufficient, or even effective, to address the diverse requirements of its growing industry. If anything, such approaches are informed by India's past, its ingrained caste system, which treats the physical work (vocational) as inferior to work of the mind (higher ed). In fact, India needs to create a system based on inter-operablity of these two paradigms, and to create a Higher Education system which is vocationally relevant. It also needs to recognise its regional and economic diversity, the continuing need of affirmative action, its largely constrained female population (where the Higher Ed challenge is even greater and possibilities are world changing) and create an education sector which is diverse in its offering, structure and reach. Private sector alone can not solve the problem: It needs to be met with a coordinated policy to encourage public, private and third sector participation in creating the sector from scratch.
Let us think for a moment how this could be done. Government is investing in creating new universities and elite technology institutions, which should continue. It should also make an enhanced commitment to research funding, funding more research facilities and even supplementing private sector research with matching grants. The government should also actively invest in building the Higher Education infrastructure - Mr Sibal usually ducks the question how a sufficiently large pool of academics to be found if the country suddenly has three times as many universities - and particularly in training and setting standards for teaching.
At the same time, it should unshackle the private sector from its current regulatory burden, and allow them to tap capital markets or foreign funds more effectively. Private sector tends to remain in the realm of vocational and professional education, as the investment horizons of higher education is often unpalatable for their investors. Beyond this, the government should actively encourage not for profit educational institutions, which may be set up by religious or other special interest groups, as long as they conform to certain basic values of fairness, diversity and secularism. All the three sectors should be free, and even encouraged, to invest heavily in lifelong learning and distance learning programmes, as this is where the demands for the missed generations will need to be absorbed.
In conclusion, my view is that private sector education works, but only when a sufficiently diverse system has been devised around it. The profit-maximising motives of private investors usually makes it focus on narrow areas of professional and vocational education, which leaves out the task of creating education infrastructure, building research excellence and developing softer subjects to public or not for profit institutions. A policy that recognises this can create a Private Higher Ed sector that works for India. However, this needs boldness in thinking and imaginative problem solving, which Mr Sibal and his colleagues in government are failing to provide.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Reli
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
India's employment data is sobering ( see here ). The pandemic has wrecked havoc and the structural problems of the economy - service sector dependence, uneven regional development and health and education challenges - are more evident than ever. Something needs to happen, and fast. To its credit, the government acknowledges the education challenge. Belatedly - it took more than 30 years - India has come up with a new National Education Policy. It is a comprehensive policy, which covers the whole spectrum of education and perhaps overcompensates the previous neglect by advocating radical change. As I commented elsewhere on this blog, it shows a curious mixture of aspirations, cultural revival and global competitiveness put under the same hood. However, despite its radical aspirations, the policy document often betrays same-old thinking. One of these is India's approach to foreign universities. The NEP makes the case for allowing foreign universities to set up operations in Ind
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.