Monday, April 09, 2012

India may ask universities to double intake

To produce larger numbers of qualified job-seekers to feed a growing economy, some Indian universities may have to double their student enrolment in the five years to March 2017, with students per acre of university campus being used as a measure of efficiency. The University Grants Commission (UGC), which regulates higher education in the country, has said in a report that a majority of 556 universities don’t enrol enough students in spite of their large campuses.

“The 43 central universities, except a few like Delhi University, are functioning with disproportionately low student enrolment compared to the campus area,” the report said. “A 100% increase in intake is feasible in 30 of these university campuses.” The regulator has suggested this in a document that seeks to chart the course of university education in India in the 12th Five-Year Plan period that started on 1 April. Mint has reviewed a copy of the report.

Any plan that looks at just increasing numbers is “ridiculous,” according to Deepak Pental, a former vice-chancellor of the University of Delhi. “Authorities should not equate number with quality, though we understand that a service economy needs to get enough human capital to sustain the growth rate,” said Pental, who was part of a state-formed committee of vice-chancellors — who are executive chiefs of India’s universities — on reforming higher education through increased transparency in their functioning.

Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi has a 1,000-acre campus, but only caters to less than 6,000 students, according to its website. The University of Hyderabad has nearly 5,000 students in its 2,000-acre campus, while the North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU) in Shillong, spread across 1,250 acres, has a student strength of around 18,000, according to data available on their websites.

The commission strongly advocates compact campuses. “The concept of large campuses for universities needs a relook to increase their enrolment at least by 100% of the existing number,” it said. “Scarcity of land has necessitated a vertical growth rather than horizontal spread.” The plan has a lot of merit and existing universities need to expand and become more comprehensive in their offering of courses, said an official at the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), who declined to be named. UGC is a part of the ministry.

However, increasing the number of students at JNU in a large proportion will “hamper the quality of the institution at a time when India lacks quality universities”, a professor at the premier institution said, requesting anonymity. “Any step to dilute brands like JNU could be counterproductive.” Pental, however, said he was in favour of compact universities. “There should be maximum utilization of resources,” he said. “Look at the universities in Singapore; they are compact and doing so well.”

The commission in its report said that even if 50% of the 317 publicly funded universities increase the total intake by an average 30%, there will be an increased enrolment of 200,000 students during the 12th Plan. Similarly, if 20,000 colleges of the total 31,324 are allowed to expand through special funding, it will also increase enrolment significantly.

“Assuming the average strength of a college in India to be 400 from the current data, a modest average increase of 200 students per college will result in an increase of about four million in the 20,000 colleges,” it said. However, a shortage of trained faculty could be a stumbling block for any such plan. Indian universities face a shortage of teachers in the rage of 25-33%, according to official data.

“We need a lot of teachers. Instead of creating capacity for plain BA or BSc, there should be focus on skill-based, industry-worthy courses,” said Pental. “Currently, students with 45% are doing BTech, what will happen to the quality if this continues?” The commission suggests increasing the number of teachers by appointing overseas faculty and industry experts, and has recommended that they be compensated adequately and not just paid meagre sums as honoraria, which is the current practice. It is also in favour of increasing faculty development centres from the present 66 to 100 during the Plan period to continuously engage teachers in updating their knowledge base.

Source: Mint, April 9, 2012

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