Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ills of higher education need to be remedied

There is a significant outcry for and against the proposal to derecognise 44 deemed to be universities. The Supreme Court has done well to call for the earlier reports of approval. After all, there must have been some basis for approving these universities in the first place. If we assume the present committee is right, then the approvals by the previous committees are intriguing. Earlier, committees had qualified academicians and the huge disparity between the past and present is not understandable. While the terms of reference may be different in the two cases, we can appreciate the change of status in few cases but not for 44 universities! Something is obviously wrong.

The All-India Council of Technical Education was recently in the news for wrong reasons and is closely connected with accreditations. A thorough probe is hence necessary. These comments are about the specific issue currently being debated. There are other aspects of higher education in science and technology which are of long-term interest. First and foremost, undue differentiation between ‘private' and ‘public' in education is counter productive. What matters is good education and all of us have a stake in its growth. There are serious problems with innovative education and this should be our concern. The major problem in Indian higher education is quality. Consider first the premier institutes of India. While they are relatively superior to other institutes in the country, they have a long way to go in terms of innovation. For example, where does an Indian Institute of Technology stand in relation to Harvard or MIT? Also what is the quality and number of publications in science and technology?

Reports show we are definitely worse off in this area in comparison to China. The comparison with China is pertinent since both of us were more or less in the same boat two decades ago. What is ailing our system has to be rectified fast. For this purpose, senior level committees alone will not do. The change has to come at the grassroots level. This is possible only through a wider dialogue and involvement of the younger researchers and faculty. The debate should cut across the private and public divide. Large scale involvement is not an easy task. One practical way is the constitution of think tanks which are independently funded by non-government agencies. The ideas generated through such think tanks will be valuable in framing our policy, besides the reports of the committees formed by the government. Such policies will have a wider acceptance.

To begin with, increased research in management schools on education policy should be valuable. Policy on higher education is also linked to primary and secondary education which currently is not in a good state and is far from being universal. Its impact on higher education should also be taken into account. The other issue of importance is the role of the government. In my opinion, it should catalyse private initiatives. This cannot be achieved by doing flip-flops with regard to recognition. While initial permission to start a university should follow proper norms, its assessment by the government has to be thorough after a gestation period of, say, five years. The ratings should be publicised so that public at large is aware.

The government need not close poorly rated institutes. They will shrink and disappear due to lack of support. In exceptional cases, they may spring back and prove themselves which they are welcome to do. But even this judgment by government agencies is inadequate and whimsical causing serious lack of faith. This has to be immediately corrected.

(This article is written by Prof. S. Sethuramiah, a former professor of IIT, Delhi)
Source: The Hindu, February 21, 2010

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