Higher education in India needs reforms
Jan 21 2014
The planning commission entered the higher education domain after the reasonable success of sarva shiksha abhiyan (SSA) and rashtriya madhyamik shiksha abhiyan (RMSA) in past decade or so, which have laid a strong foundation for primary and secondary education. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has predicted that by 2020, India will have 116 million workers in the age bracket of 20-24 years, as compared with China’s 94 million. It is estimated that the average age in India by the year 2020 will be 29 years as against 40 years in the US, 46 years in Japan and 47 years in Europe.
Today, the higher education system in India suffers from many shortcomings. India’s gross enrolment ratio (GER) is only 19.4 per cent, indicating that only a fraction of the population in the age group of 18-23 years is enrolled in higher education institutions. In addition, there are wide disparities between various social groups. The GERs for SCs, STs and OBCs are far below the average GER and those of other social groups. There is also a wide gender disparity; GER for males is 20.9 per cent while that for females is only 16.5 per cent. There are also variations in the quality of institutions and enrolments between rural and urban areas, and between developed and not so developed states. We have four broad categories of higher education: centrally funded, state funded, deemed and private institutions. Soon, foreign universities would also be added to these categories. While the centrally funded institutions (central universities, IITs, NITs, IISERs, and institutes of national importance among others) receive generous funding from the centre, they still have limited coverage in terms of enrolment. About 94 per cent of the students enrolled in government funded (48 per cent of total enrolments) or government controlled private institutions come under the state higher education system. Most private education institutions (52 per cent of total enrolments) are affiliated to state universities and come under their academic and administrative control.
An optimum solution would be to create an alternate way (a centrally sponsored scheme) of providing funds to a larger number of institutions and channel these funds through a body that ensures cohesive and integrated planning at the state level. Such a solution makes imminent management sense since it is almost impossible for any central agency to deal with 35,000 odd institutions on a one-on-one basis. Given the poor resource condition, the planning commission has come out with the scheme called rashtriya uchchatar shiksha abhiyan (RUSA). There are 306 state universities and about 8,500 colleges that can be covered under RUSA. The funding will be provided in the (centre: state) ratio of 90:10 for special category states, that is, north-eastern states, Sikkim, J&K, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and in the 65:35 ratio for other states and union territories. Funding will be available to private government-aided institutions also, subject to their meeting certain pre-conditions for permitted activities based on pre-determined norms and parameters. RUSA will have a completely new approach towards funding higher education in state universities, as it will be based on key principles of performance-based funding, incentivising well performing institutions and decision-making through clearly defined norms.
Management information system will be established to gather essential information from institutions. RUSA will aim to provide greater autonomy to universities as well as colleges and have a sharper focus on equity-based development, and improvement in teaching learning quality and research. It will be a new flagship scheme of the government that will pave the way for far reaching reforms at the state level.
It looks that the planning commission was daydreaming when they came out with RUSA. We must realise that today, out of 609 universities and about 30,000 colleges, majority are self-supporting private colleges and universities. These institutes are attracting more students by the day while we are thinking of touching only half the number, that too by concentrating on state universities and affiliated colleges that are exclusively funded by the state.
Today, there is not a single state in India which does not have a combination of state funded colleges (with self-financing teaching activities that are recognised by the university), and private affiliated colleges which raise their own resources. Moreover, routing of funds through state governments has its own never-ending hindrances. UGC could make changes in state colleges and universities, to some magnitude, because it was monitoring both the use of money for the purpose it was given and the standards of the outcome by involving best of researchers and teachers across the country. The RUSA scheme has enormous other deficiencies, but the largest is the highly state driven implementation strategy.
(The writer is former chairman of UGC, former vice-chancellor of University of Pune and founder director of NAAC)