रविवार, 30 अगस्त 2009

State of Higher Education in India: Perils and Prospects

The Government of India is in action mode on educational front. This is the result of the critical realisation that India’s further growth is severely constrained by the short supply of quality human resources. The government of India has responded to the crisis in the field of education and to the need of upgrading and expanding the system of higher education by substantially enhanced allocation for education in the union budget of this fiscal year. The allocation of Rs 34,400 crore for education is 20% more than that of the last year and Rs 3,440 crore for higher education is 17% upside. Even previous budgets had seen steady increases in allocations for higher education – Rs 2.774 crore in 2006-07 and Rs 2,278 crore in 2005-06. This is the recognition of the contribution of education in ensuring higher growth rates in the era of liberalisation. India’s advance to 8 to 9% growth rate was greatly facilitated by the information technology (IT) and the innumerable workers of the IT industry had been prepared by private teaching shops at city markets and street corners. This made people aware of the great potential of education. The IT revolution in this age of liberalisation and globalisation has metamorphosed the global economy and society. It is said we are now ushered in a new age – the knowledge age. In this age, knowledge is not only a critical issue but is concrete capital. Realising the demands of the age, the Government of India constituted the Knowledge Commission headed by Sam Pitroda in 2005. With the same objective, education has been made the main thrust of the 11th Five Year Plan. In this Plan the Commission seeks to allocate Rs 26,000 crore for higher and technical education which is three times more than that provided for in the 10th Plan.

In order to ensure India’s legitimate position in the knowledge age, the Government has embarked on an ambitious plan for the expansion of higher and technical education. The decision to establish 8 new IITs, 7 new IIMs, 30 new Central universities including 14 world class universities, 10 NITs, 3 IISERs, 20 IIITs, 2 SPAs and 370 colleges in the backward districts of the country is in the implementation stage. The Planning Commission is also targeting a gross enrolment ratio of 15 per cent by 2015. In the 10th Five-Year Plan, the ratio was 10 per cent. This would imply the government is looking at enrolling an additional 8-9 million students in higher education by 2015. There are other encouraging developments in the field of higher education. In Orissa, Anil Agarwal Foundation is setting up Vedanta University with the help of the state government. It is going to be a world class university spread on about 10,000 acres of land. Bihar Government is also in the process of setting up an international university at Nalanda. Similarly Mayawati Government has founded Gautam Buddha University at NOIDA. Besides, in the non-governmental sector, the expansion of higher education is anything but phenomenal.

In India the need to expand and improve the quality of higher education is now well recognised and efforts are visible. But without taking stock of the present state of higher education, particularly the factors which ail the system, expansion and other plans are hardly going to deliver. Even now despite increased allocation for education, the total allocation is only around 4% of GDP while it is expected from a developing country to spend at least 6% of its GDP on education. The target to achieve 15% enrolment in higher education is also hardly adequate as for developed countries the ratio is 40 to 50 per cent. All efforts with regard to education are in fact too little and too late. Is this not a painful irony that despite six decades of independence, India’s one-third population is illiterate? And more shameful is the datum that of all the adult illeterates of the world, one-third resides in India. Moreover the effective literacy is far less than the statistical literacy. As far as higher education is concerned, in global rankings only a few institutions like IITs, IIMs, JNU and Delhi University have been started to be included and obviously their placement is near the lower end. In the context of India, the topic of universities producing Nobel laureates and Olympians is irrelevant as these laurels are only a few for all Indians of the present or the past. Many of American universities alone have greater numbers than the whole country, for instance, MIT, Chicago University and Harvard University are credited with 61, 41 and 35 Nobel laureates respectively. In India even a university purely meant for physical education can not boast of a single Olympic medal or even lesser sporting laurel.

After 1991 following economic reforms, growth rate has gone up and so the job opportunities. Presently 8 to 9 per cent growth rate for a number of years has created a peculiar situation. Though India has a large number of educated unemployed but there is a great dearth of employable educated persons. The large numbers of graduates are simply not worth employing. Many of the companies have even to depend on foreign recruits or have to spend a lot to retrain the new recruits. The lesser availability of skilled manpower has made skilled personnel very demanding and they hardly stay in any company for a good period. All these adversely affect the productivity and the cost of production of any industry. In fact the prevailing education system, a creation of colonial masters, is utterly outdated. Even earlier the system had hardly contributed as the development was negligible and now it is proving to be utterly incapable of meeting the demands of the development.

For such a dismal state of affairs in education, ideology was a major factor. The founding leadership of the country had a leftist bent. And logical to the ideology, their decisions and policies were political rather than rational. They hardly cared for cost and benefit dimension of any measure. Nonetheless they established a few exemplary institutions of higher education. The institutions were organised to attain excellence unlike the rest. In the massive desert of mediocrity these institutions were like tiny oases and became the refuge of the better talents of the country who constituted a minuscule minority of the large pool of potential talents; the rest were left to rot. The graduates of these institutions proved their mettle globally primarily because of their own merit and partly because of the education they received in these institutions. Again the tragedy was that the system was not capable of absorbing those graduates and there started a massive brain-drain. The scarce resources of a poor country thus were spent to nurture talents to being appropriated by the developed countries. Little care was shown for the quality of other institutions of learning as that hardly mattered. It was the government which imparted education and also provided most of the jobs. The private sector was controlled by the government and was protected from any competition. Quality in education was a non-issue in such a scenario. However expansion of education continued with growing population and with the advance of time. In the age of globalisation, the shortcomings of the system was bound to become severe handicaps as the quality is now not a matter of choice but an issue of existence. Now there is no place for the second rate or the substandard.

India’s participation in the globalization is not a matter of choice either. No country of the world can afford to be isolated nor is there any wisdom in this. The need of the hour is to ingrain new thinking and initiative in the field of higher education too and take lead and the point here is that establishing a few institutions of excellence is not the answer of the problem. A few more IITs, IIMs and Central universities only make mockery of the massive mediocrity which mark the general educational system. The question also arises, why efforts were not made to make all institutions equally good? Why was the same model not adopted for all like institutions? These questions expose the deception in the egalitarian claims of the ideology of the socialistic pattern of society. Under this scheme a few good things were showcased for display to generate faith in the utopia and divert the attention from the distortions of the dehumanized social realities.

Today the need before or at least along with further expansion is to make the existing educational system functional. Creating new world class institutions is imperative but leaving the existing to languish would be blunder. To let the world class to exist with the low class is hardly rational. A big army of unskilled or unemployable educated youths is a dangerous prospect for any society and to spend public money on a meaningless education system is nothing but a crime. It is true that the state may not have resources to raise all institutions of learning to world class in one go despite the fact that the attainment of excellence is mostly hampered by the lack of imagination and drive than by the lack of resources. However this handicap can easily be overcome by the private participation. The need is to leverage market for education. Education must factor in market in its operations. The so-called private institutions in fact work in the form of trusts or societies on the principle of no loss and no profit. But this is hardly the case; mostly profit alone is the motivation. The hypocrisy must be stopped. The field of education must be open to all. Charities or corporations, all have full opportunity to participate in providing education; the factor should be immaterial whether one treats education as service or business. This should not be forgotten that education is a huge global industry. According a report of the ASSOCHAM, students of India alone spend 13 billion dollars on education abroad. India can easily become a global player in this field provided it musters the will. India should not only allow the foreign universities to set up campuses in India but also should also facilitate Indian institutions to expand beyond national boundaries.

Developments in the field of education indicate that keeping the economic growth or market in focus, technical and management education are being prioritised. This thinking is erroneous. Growth rates to reflect India’s potential and keep material gains aligned with values can hardly be realised without nurturing culture. This cultural aspect is unattainable without massive investments in the fields of humanities and social sciences. Development and education are organically integrated. Without giving social sciences and humanities their due a country can never develop. And development without proper education only brings proportional moral decay and cultural chaos.

Secondly, education can not be improved without making teachers central to the process. Creation of a culture where teachers can fully devote to teaching and research is the first need. What is happening is that teachers of universities and colleges waste most of their energies fighting the scarcity of resources, obstructing rules and bureaucracy. Besides, the processes of recruiting, promoting and giving incentives to teachers are so discrepant that they hardly nurture talent and often demoralise the talented and committed.

The problem of higher education in India is that they have nothing to engage with except their own debilitating problems. And one of the problems is that teachers are paid insufficiently. If you pay peanuts you get monkeys to work, the saying is well-known. Remuneration is never a pull factor for seeking jobs in education, only commitment brings in some worthy souls in the profession. A junior-most executive of a reputed company is paid more than the senior-most in the field of academics. The teachers of universities, colleges and schools are though paid comparably to the class of employees in the government where they are placed in but only from the viewpoint of pay scales. Now the compensations of government employees are estimated on the pattern of cost to company in the case of private sector employees as the cost to government. But this is not a proper method. The government employees enjoy security of job and influence which cannot be accounted in the cost to government estimation. Apart from that, a government employee, even an honest one, extracts a lot of perks and privileges from society, which are not available to a private sector employee. As far as government employees in education are concerned, they are exceptions in this case. On the other hand, from universities to schools, teaching jobs are assigned on the basis of daily wages, part-time or contractual teaching. This worsens the precariousness.

In our country the problem is not only the low compensation for the educational professionals. It is only a smaller part of a big problem. There is a big confusion in the operative thinking of the establishment with regard to the means and the end. They seek an end in the means and often substitute means for the end. Pertinent here is the example that for seeking social justice and welfare they have targeted education including higher education. Here education is not treated as means of welfare or social justice but an end of these goals. Education is not seen as a means for generating skills, employable graduates, leaders of society and expanding the horizons of knowledge but as a sector for employment. Further educational institutions are being replaced from being places where social schisms reduce to irrelevance to places which reflect and sharpen social divisions. Moreover the powers that be treat educational institutions as resources for extending favours and patronage. They invent rules and regulations to interfere in their functioning and keep a tight leash on their operations. This fact is totally overlooked that education is the source of stability, efflorescence and excellence in the society.

The time has come that every Indian must think about the importance, the need for quality enhancement and expansion of standard higher education. The thinking must be free of prejudices and ideological inclinations. The representatives of people must feel that their constituents are really concerned about education and they take up the issue seriously. Ultimately they are the persons who are going to benefit most from India’s growth and prosperity. For India at this stage of development the issue of education has become anyhow critical. In ancient times, India’s attainments in the fields of knowledge and sciences were so glorious that many claim India to be vishvaguru even today. Again after millennia of stupor India is awake to redeem its place in the comity of nations and among civilizations. At this stage, India’s owes to the world to lead it out of its present predicament. India can not afford to escape this responsibility as there in no other civilisation is capable of meeting the crises of humanity. India must provide a moral leadership to the world and it can do this mainly through education. India has initiated to establish world-class educational institution but she needs institutions of their own class in order to lead humanity.

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