Sunday, January 31, 2010

Are these "Doomed Universities"?

News that 44 deemed universities, mostly private, had everything except quality, has come as a rude shock to many. (They have 1,19,363 students at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. In addition, 2,124 are pursuing M.Phil. and Ph.D. programs). Though their fate is with the Supreme Court now, its clear that a tough summer awaits the students who got into these universities after paying astronomical entry fees. Various factors forced parents to put their children in private institutions failure to get admission in government-run institutions and their small presence in the higher education sector. It worked well for these institutions too as a deemed status ensured better exploitation of the demand market. So will the current controversy spell the end of private investment in higher education?

Though a huge setback will be experienced for some time, private investment will not wither away, thanks to the lopsided demand-supply chain and poor government investment here. But yes, the recent review of deemed universities will ensure that only serious players remain in the market. As for the future, corrective steps are being taken. HRD ministry officials say regulations are in the offing to comprehensively deal with all that went wrong. HRD minister Kapil Sibal is lucky that two things happened within weeks of his taking over the deemed university bubble burst and submission of the Yashpal committee report which indicted the running of these universities as a family enterprise.

Sibal zeroed in on four factors that made private deemed universities notorious. One was the lack of transparency in giving deemed university status to private institutions by the University Grants Commission (UGC). Two, there was no redressal mechanism to deal with malpractices indulged in by these institutions. Three, lack of transparency about funding, leading to fly-by-night operators. Four, no proper monitoring of the quality of these institutions. Tall claims and false promises made by them were largely unverifiable. More than seven months later, Sibal is nearly ready with, what many see, as the most comprehensive prescription in higher education. The HRD ministry is ready with four bills, the most important of which is the creation of National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) that will replace the nearly six-decade-old UGC.

Though this move is facing resistance from many quarters, if followed in letter and spirit, the new bill will make the opaqueness of the UGC a thing of the past. To ensure that the funding body does not also become the sole arbiter of quality, as is the case now, the ministry has moved a legislation that will create a SEBI-like body that will give licenses to private and government agencies through a rigorous monitoring mechanism. It will become mandatory for every institution to show its quality rating before a deemed university status is granted to it, quite like companies going for IPOs. Malpractises such as inflated fees will invite a stiff fine and even derecognition. Also, its often believed that the source of funding of these private institutions is dubious.

Unlike many countries abroad, there is no institutional financing for higher education in India. This has led to private education providers demanding arbitrary fees. The proposal to set up a National Higher Education Finance Corporation, on the lines of similar bodies in England and Australia, will tackle these anomalies. It will give long-term loans at cheap rates, but only after due diligence, making these institutions pay more attention to infrastructure, faculty and research. It will take at least another year before these legislations become law. But the bigger challenge for Sibal is to implement them in letter and spirit so that future generations do not wait for court verdicts to seal their future.

This article is written by Akshaya Mukul.
Source: The Times of India, January 31, 2010

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