No Indian university has found a place in the top 300 in the latest Times Higher Education World University rankings. Even the highest ranked Indian university — Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru , has fallen from 251-300 bracket to 301-350. The number of Indian universities in the list of 1,300 drawn from 92 countries increased from 49 to 56, but only six in 300-500 bracket.
Rankings were done on 13 performances grouped in five areas — teaching (learning environment), research (volume, income, reputation), citations (research influence), international outlook (staff, students, and research), and industry outcome (knowledge transfer).
In the 5th Annual World Top 20 Project’s Global University Ranking to measure the quality of education and training for youth in the age group 18-25 and the university’s economic and social impact in promoting their country’s sustainable development, India has not found a place. The regional rankings of top five universities for Asia are monopolised by China and Japan for innovation, research, publications, facilities, teaching, employability, and social responsibility.
Best Indian institutions are generally characterised by relatively strong scores on teaching environment and industry income, but get poor scores on international outlook in regional and international comparisons.
Higher education is high in the agenda of international bodies and the major element in globalisation and internationalisation. Because of its role in promoting economic development and achieving the objectives of knowledge economy, its quality is a matter of extreme concern. It is time to find out the causes of our over-all bad performance. The deterioration pervades the entire educational world in India from elementary level to higher education.
The New Education Policy (NEP) envisages a gross enrolment ratio (GER) of 50 per cent in higher education by 2035 from the present 25.8 per cent. China’s GER stands at 39.4 per cent. We face a huge twin-problem not present in educationally advanced countries to increase enrolment and also to enhance and sustain standards. With the enormous increase in the number of first generation learners in colleges in many States, India’s performance is not that bad.
Proliferation of colleges is taking place, but not accompanied with expansion of appropriate faculty and facilities. When degrees are looked upon as mere passport to jobs, education gets a different goal. Unfortunately, the New Education Policy does not adequately address the problem of recruitment of good faculty in colleges. The modes of delivery have to change and keep evolving with every improvement in technology. More than that, inadequate communication skills bother even college faculty.
Private higher education institutions are today occupying a big place and are recognised as major players and also stakeholders. Governance of higher education has become complex, overlapping and heterogeneous across countries.
As in all federal governments, higher education has to respond to both Central and State governments. Many universities in India precede formation of the present federal structure and were enjoying considerable autonomy in their academic functioning. The educational system itself in India is a product of history both in contents and structure. It is also subject to major trends in federalism — State traditions, political culture, and federal issues.
Legal and constitutional responsibility rests with the Central government for higher education unlike USA, Canada, and Australia where it rests with States/provinces. Coordination and determination of standards in institutions of higher education or research and scientific and technical institutions are in the Union List in the distribution of powers under the Constitution. University autonomy and academic freedom are core concerns in higher education.
The objective of the NEP 2019 with regard to higher education is to revamp the system, and create world class multidisciplinary higher education institutions across the country. At the earliest, it must be readjusted, revamped and re-energised to fulfil the aspirations for higher enrolment and higher quality of education so as to provide for the needs of the age of technological and communication revolution.
The aim of quality education at college/university level is not merely to impart subject knowledge, but also to develop good, well-rounded and creative individuals. Besides learning one or more areas of knowledge, education has many other objectives — building character, constitutional values, intellectual curiosity, spirit of service, 21st century capacities across disciplines, constructive public engagement, and productive contribution to society. In short, academic and skill education should be based on sound values to shape good citizens.
Too much of specialisation starting at early stages will be reversed under the new policy. Rigid separation of arts and sciences, and academic and vocational streams will be replaced by integrated courses. So also, professional courses will become integral part of general education built on holistic approach to ensure broad-based competencies and skills along with understanding of social-human-ethical context.
The policy is to entrust governance of higher education institutions with independent boards with complete academic and administrative autonomy. Regulatory system will be transformed to have only one regulator for all higher education including professional. Accreditation of basic parameters will be basis for regulations. Distinct functions like standard setting, funding, etc., will be entrusted to separate bodies. All higher education institutions will either be universities or degree granting autonomous colleges. There will be no affiliating university or college.
How far the changes envisaged will be able to correct the inadequacies in the present higher education system is a moot question. The policy, set out in over 400 pages, is highly ambitious aiming at multiple reforms in a situation when institutions are facing basic problems like inadequate teaching staff.
Many federal countries have constitutionally established the relative powers of the centre and units with regard to higher education. The Central governments in federal systems may devolve functions, powers, and funds to States, but this has not happened in India. There is generally an idea that a national system is necessary for primary and secondary education, but opinions differ on its importance for higher education.
In Canada, the primary responsibility for higher education is assumed by the provincial and territorial governments and despite this, a common model of the university has emerged and hence, there is no large migration of students. In Brazil, federalism has aggravated differences in the quality of education — sub-national governments giving priority to local problems as in India. Brazil’s New Education Plan calls for the creation of a national system of education to coordinate the educational initiatives of different governments.
In Russia, establishing and closing universities, accreditation and control over them, basic financing and development of educational standards are with the federal government. The regions have the right to create and finance their own regional universities.
China has over 2,000 universities and colleges and is one of the major destinations for international students. Unlike in the West, private institutes are complements to State-owned public universities and are in need of better regulations. Poorer institutes are tied with model institutes to secure equipment, curricula and faculty development.
Whatever adaptations we choose, education must remain a fundamental pillar of human rights, democracy, sustainable development, and peace promoting national unity and integration. To implement the countless proposals of the NEP and avoid chaos in the field of education, the receivers must first be prepared.
The writer is Former Director, ICSSR New Delhi