Reforming & Rejuvenating Indian Higher Education

Prof. (Dr.) Amit Kr. Jain speaks to BW Education regarding various crucial issues pertaining to academics

Prof Amit Jain

Q. These are the High Times for Reforms

Within this year a New Education Policy is to be announced which will replace the Education Policy framed in 1986 but modified in 1992. MHRD has made efforts to organize a nationwide debate on some of the key issues related to school education; higher education and their linkages with the society and the economy. The Union Government has also announced several new policies which have been perceived as a new perspective to deal with the current as well as future challenges in the Indian society and the economy. Announcement of Make-in India, Digital India, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, 100 Smart Cities, e-Governance, Start-up India and several other policies by the Union Government will definitely require a new look towards both school education and higher education.

Q. Tinkering and Cosmetic Changes in the Existing System will not work, India in 21st Century Needs a Rejuvenated Indian Higher Education!

The whole edifice of higher education in India was built in the 19th Century on the pattern of the British System. Currently a very big problem of public universities in India is the system of affiliated colleges. There are many public universities in India having affiliation with 700-800 colleges and enrolment of 7-8 lakh students.

Regulatory bodies in higher education like UGC, AICTE, MCI, DCI, PCI etc came into existence after India got independence in 1947. Even these bodies were mostly patterned on the regulatory models and practices in UK. These regulatory bodies have failed miserably to reinvent themselves according to the needs of Indian economy and society in the 21st Century. There are many examples where the Supreme Court and High Courts had to intervene in a crises situation which could not be handled by the regulatory bodies. Latest example is the decision of the Supreme Court on NEET which was pending for more than a decade and the MCI, regulatory body for medical education could not deal it effectively.

Problems with regard to higher education in India are serious and endemic which cannot be redressed by tinkering, piecemeal reforms or cosmetic changes. There is a clarion call from all stakeholders that Goddess Laxmi was liberated from prisons of License-Permit Raj in 1991, but Goddess Saraswati is still chained by old and archaic practices of regulatory bodies.

Q. Key Pillars of Reforms in the Indian Higher Education

Reforming and rejuvenating the Indian Higher Education has been a matter of intense debate and deliberations among all stakeholders viz. policy makers, recruiters, faculty, academic leaders and private sector educational services providers. Following Committees appointed by MHRD during the UPA (I & II) and current NDA Governments have given various recommendations on these important issues:-

National Knowledge Commission, 2006 (Headed by Mr Sam Pitroda)

Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education, 2009 (Headed by Prof Yashpal)

UGC Review Committee, 2015 (Headed by Dr Hari Gautam)

AICTE Review Committee, 2015 (Headed by Mr M K Kaw)

All these Committees have given their recommendations to the MHRD, Government of India. On the basis of the exhaustive recommendations of the Committee, some common key pillars of reforms in Indian Higher Education can be identified. These key pillars are depicted in the following diagram:-

Higher Education

Q. Quality Assurance, Accreditation & Ranking 

(Improving Quality of Indian Higher Education in Next 15 years)

Accreditation and ranking help in assuring quality of an education system and they serve two main purposes. In view of the fact that when students have to make informed choices about courses and institutions they suffer from the information asymmetry. The higher education being in the nature of an ‘experience good’, it is difficult for the students to assess quality fully before they take admission. Accreditation assures the clients that quality of education being imparted by a higher educational institution conforms to be well-defined standards set by the regulatory authority. Ranking also provides information about the performance of HEIs within a competitive set up. Further the quality assurance mechanism helps the students choose courses and institutions on the basis of grades or ranks they have obtained.
 From the perspective of the institutions, it is important that the higher education institutions are intimated through the accreditation process how they fare and help them in identifying gaps in their delivery mechanism. It encourages the HEIs to put in an extra effort and improve their ranking. On the down side, the output-centric quality assurance mechanism based on certain criteria may compromise a broader mission of the institution. It, therefore, has the potential to interfere with the specific objectives of the higher education institutions for which they were set up. The government has to reconcile its pursuit for enhancement of quality with ‘massification’ of the higher education system in India.

The internationally renowned Prof Philip G Altbach (2007) has stated: ‘India’s large and diverse education system is a paradox. On one hand, it produces a modest number of highly competent graduates who readily find employment in the nation’s burgeoning high-tech industry and are competent in the international market. On the other hand the large number of India’s colleges and universities are well below international standards (with) Indian employers complaining about the low quality of most university graduates, including those in engineering and management.

The responsibility for monitoring the quality of education is that of the UGC and different statutory councils who work either independently or through accreditation agencies. Two important agencies that monitor quality (both established in 1994) are the NAAC under the UGC and the National Board of Accreditation (NBA) under the AICTE. While NAAC does institutional assessment of mainly the conventional universities and colleges, NBA is involved in programme assessment in the professional institutions. Both these institutions were established in 1994 but their performance over two decades has been inadequate. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council has been able to accredit only 170 of the 700 universities (25.57 per cent) and 5156 of the over 37,000 colleges (14 per cent) (National Assessment and Accreditation Council, 2013). The performance of NBA has been no better. Anandakrishnan (2011) points out that in 2008 it had accredited only 36 per cent of the programmes in engineering, 10 per cent in management, 8 per cent in pharmacy, and 5 per cent in the computer applications. With the number of institutions in engineering and management doubling since, the situation is not likely to have improved because of the new institutions. Thus, the two agencies have been able to cover only a small minority of institutions in the vast Indian network of HEIs. There is the need to establish many more accreditation agencies in both the public and the private sectors.
There has always been a question mark about the quality of education provided by the average Indian higher education institution, though the country has some HEIs of world quality. The situation has been described as one of the ‘islands of excellence in a sea of mediocrity’. It is significant that the Indian institutions do not figure amongst the top 100 in any of the world rankings. The disparity in the standard of different institution is apparent from the fact that out of 159 universities accredited by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) till September 2010, 60 (37.7 per cent) were in A grade, 95 (59.7 per cent) in B grade and 4 (2.6 per cent) in C Grade. The percentage of colleges in A grade was much lower.

Having realized the slow progress of accreditation work done by the NAAC and the NBA during the last 20 years, the EPSI has been of the opinion that there should be multiple agencies for accreditation which should be independent and pragmatic in their approach.

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