Perceptions on the Quality of Higher Education in India

As I think higher education in India is undergoing some considerable changes over the years. As we know that India is the fastest growing youth countries and by 2020 India will have the largest tertiary age population in the world. We should see these changes as strengths for our country instead of looking at a liability. Governments have been also trying to transform the sector.

Every aspect of higher education is being reorganized and remodeled through funding, leadership and management, quality assurance, accountability, relationships with industry, international collaboration, and the way research and teaching are conducted. But some very basic challenges remain to tackle. Our Prime Minister has launched many programs like ‘Make in India’, in order to make our country a ‘manufacturing hub’. But as I think India can become an ‘Educational Hub’ very easily in the next 10-20 years if we are able to short out some basic challenges.

Since research is also one of the facets of the ‘Make in India’ program. I am putting an interesting fact related to research and one will be astonished to know that our country spent 0.85% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) on research, as 4.2% of GDP by Israel, which leads the world and 2.85% of the GDP by United State. It is not an ample fund for research which has been provided by our government. The government can reduce its import from the present by about 60% to about 10 to 20% through research and innovation.

I am saying so because I have seen that combination of solutions come to the fore from the students through technical events of any University, but what happens that most of the solutions get buried there only when their festival ends. There is no platform for those young minds to test their new innovative ideas. On the other hand unnecessarily students are marching for agitation named as ‘Occupied UGC’. They are not asking for platform to do research and innovation but doing politics which ruins them.

Drivers of the Quality of Education in India

One of the important drivers of the education in India is that many more are willing to pay for the further education but many left behind due to the economic conditions. I studied from the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya (JNVs), which is a good initiative by the Indian government for the better education in secondary classes as a pace setting schools. It has been provided by the government in each district of the states with free of cost. But what I saw that most of the students who belong from the lower middle and lower classes, left studies after that schooling due to bad economic condition. Girls get married just after class 12th due to the same reasons.

Now one question is arising in my mind that ‘Does our government able to achieve its goal through JNVs?’ Then why our policies keep quit itself just after secondary education. We worked very hard on primary and secondary education by providing lots of services but we are unsuccessful in giving proper directions just after secondary educations. India will be challenged here by a growing disparity between those who have access to better life chances and education for higher studies, and those who do not.

Another significant driver of the quality of education in India for educational change is population growth and the demographic profile. More than 50% of India’s population is under the age of 25. By 2020, India will have one of the youngest populations in the world, with an average age of 25 to 30 years. India will definitely outpace China in the next ten years as the country with the largest tertiary age population and its relative success in boosting primary enrolment, access to secondary education and improved retention rates should see it have the largest growth in tertiary enrolment in the world in 2020.

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For this kind of population growth and the demographic profile there are three interrelated key challenges for education in India, (1) expansion of the system, (2) equity of educational opportunities and enhancement of the quality of teaching and (3) research in Indian institutions. These issues are reflected in the three central pillars for the Government of India’s 12th Five Year Plan for education.

In spite of having equity of educational opportunities in the central pillars of five years plan many more Navodaya Vidyalaya’s students stopped their higher education. Where is the problem? I am asking so because if government is spending so many million rupees on students for the secondary education by providing foods, daily uses stuffs, clothes, hostels, books and education at free of cost then it will be very shocking to here that many of the students stopped their education after that.

The third factor which affects the quality of educational change is political changes of the education. Education in India is highly politicised and complex throughout the political system to the highest levels because reforms in education are controlled by political processes and interests at both central and state levels. One more thing is that plan which is made by the government for the better education in higher studies is centralized in the decision making process. Consequently what happens due to it that paper works which has been prepared in the four wall room would not become reality.

I am putting one case to understand this point better that how quality of our education is being effected. Let take one policy named as ‘Mid Day Meal Scheme’. Its principle would be straight forward of providing nutrition to the students, but our policy makers make it multi-dimensional by introducing target of Untouchability, Unemployment etc. They start introducing reservation system in that employment which is created through the Mid Day Meal Scheme. Consequently it becomes very lengthy and distract from its original principal for which it has been introduced. We should not concentrate on the extra output but we must stick to the original principal while structuring the policy.

Now I am taking one more case to understand this point better. Recently at the end of the year 2014, it has been heard that our government was going to introduce the CBCS(choice based credit system) in the universities which is equivalent to the FFCS (Fully Flexible Credit System) of the VIT (Vellore Institute of Technology). Couple of debates happened. I have heard many debates and what I analysed after all that there was one common thing in all debates that it started from Delhi Universities and ended with JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University). Many of the people thrown negative words regarding CBCS and very few words sound positive.

What could they do? They would have to interact with students and administrations that are dealing with that system. If they were tried to get its positive aspects and its challenges then technical solutions would be found by our technicians regarding CBCS. But they did not do that. Consequently that thing has been kept in cold bag. Otherwise CBSC would solve two challenges Faculty shortage and technical touch in the education system. Similarly, more than a dozen of education bills pending in parliament.

For example ‘The Universities for Research and Innovations Bill (2012)’ would allow universities to act as hubs for education, research and innovation which would be open to all, including foreign institutions, and would also permit the recruitment of foreign faculty. Various issues at both state and central levels, including concerns about exploitation and competition, are delaying the passing of several of these bills. We have to short out this kind of challenges actively.

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Introspection of the Public-Private Partnership

As I think government cannot do whole work alone. There is the need to share their work with some private firms so that they could do the rest of the work with greater efficiency. Indian higher education system has undergone massive expansion in post-independent India with a national resolve to establish several Universities, Technical Institutes, Research Institutions and Professional or Non-professional Colleges all over the country to generate and disseminate knowledge coupled with the noble intention of providing easy access to higher education to the common Indian. The Public initiatives played a dominant and controlling role in this phase.

Most of the Universities were Public institutions with powers to regulate academic activities on their campuses as well as in their areas of jurisdiction through the affiliating system. Even the private institutions enjoyed large-scale financial support in the form of grants from the public exchequer. Private funds, as well as individuals, played key roles in the cause of higher education. India needs to build quality education and skill development infrastructure and a policy, especially for higher education to meet the requirements of futuristic employment opportunities. This can be done through the PPP (Public-Private Partnership) model very easily.

Some years before private colleges have no good space in ranking because all the spaces are occupied by the public colleges and the government was helping them by providing a huge subsidy. Now day Private colleges are challenging and giving them a notification to work with competition by using their limited resources very carefully. For example, there was no engineering college in India’s Top 10 colleges a few years before, but according to the India Today group in 2015, there are three engineering colleges (Birla Institute of Technology Pilani at Rank 3, VIT University Vellore at Rank 6, and SRM University at Rank 8) got Rank in Top 10 engineering colleges in India.

These things are the indication of the broken monopoly of the public sector in the higher education of our country. I am studying at VIT Vellore and have seen it very closely. In India, private colleges are rising very rapidly because they are working very sincerely and actively. I have a kind experience of studying in both private as well as a well-reputed public institution. I am giving one reason which I felt during studying that why private institutions are growing rapidly in India.

Suppose if any kind of new innovative courses come to the fore through research and innovation it will be very easy to add in private colleges, since private colleges have prerogative to construct their own syllabus. But it will be very difficult to add immediately in public institutions. A long debate would be done and the interested person will have to struggle for it. I tell you that how private firms will manage the same problem.

Let’s one of new course ‘Automotive Electricals’ comes. They would neither abolish any old course nor increase the teaching timing. They would go for the assessment of the branch course that which course is less relevant to the branch. They would merge two less relevant courses to form a new course after covering important topics. For example, in VIT University two courses KOM (Kinematics of Machinery) and DOM (Dynamics of the machinery) have been merged and form a new course KDOM (Kinematics and Dynamics of Machinery) after covering important topics for automotive students.

Similarly APT (Advance Placement Training) has been introduced in the university to boost the skill of the students. Initially, they started on weekends but students were feeling uncomfortable with timing. University took feedback and made it comfortable by introducing those things in different slots. These things are very difficult task to handle in public institutions. I am sure that if it was in any public institution it would be stopped.

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The need for Quality Assurance in Higher Education

As a recommendation, there are the needs of quality assurance in higher education. In an environment of global competitiveness, it is important that Indian products of the higher education institutions are as competent as graduates of any other country, not only in their scholastic attainments but also in terms of the value system and richness of their personality.

Unless the quality and standard of Indian higher education institutions is enhanced zealously and sustained at a high level through innovation, creativity and regular monitoring, it seems to be difficult for the Indian academics to compete in the World scenario. Quality has both absolute and relative connotations. The concept of absoluteness in quality props up the morale of the higher education system at the delivery end (institutional) and at the receiving end (students). Quality dimensions seem to have two implications.

First, the functionality of the output, and Second, meeting the basic standards. There is a need to match the supply with demand and to dovetail education policy to employment opportunities. I think India needs to build quality education and skill development infrastructure and a policy especially for higher education to meet the requirements of futuristic employment opportunities. Most of the areas identified for the export of higher education are directly concerned with industries.

Therefore, Central and State Governments should introduce a range of programmers and incentives designed specially to improve the links between Universities and Industry. Industries may be encouraged to be partners with educational institutions directly for the development of human resources dedicated to their interests. This could happen in the areas of creating infrastructure, faculty sharing, and direct support with funds. The Governmental control in the Universities must be reduced so that the University’s autonomy and accountability are strengthened and academic decisions are taken on merit. One more important thing is that Laboratories should be updated and Lab equipment should be removed on a regular basis and teachers should be encouraged to attend various conventions, conferences, seminars, workshops in their disciplines to update their subject knowledge.

Now the question is rising how they should approach it. First thing I would like to add one more important recommendation that Universities should stay away from the political sphere. Student’s involvement in the area of University governance should be encouraged. Their curriculum Planning and Management should be studied in the perspective of knowledge management. Their power must be decentralized and it should not be flown through chain.

authorities should inspect the situations from the ground level and should regularly take feedback from each student about the faculty teaching, courses and other queries like Private colleges. They can also get some respective solutions to improve the challenges because new brains have many innovative ideas. The fests which have been organized by the Universities should be taken very seriously. Those students, who propose technical solutions of the given social problem, should get proper opportunity to test their new innovative ideas.

Since, as we know that there are so many issues in the society. Every issue has two solutions one of them is political which is vested in the hand of politicians and other is the technical which is the responsibility of the engineers or scientists to solve it. It is also not a healthy thought to accuse only government for the several issues, we engineers and technicians are equally responsible for it.

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