Urgent need to revitalise our examination system

Tags: Op-ed
Urgent need to revitalise our examination system
SAD STATE: Today, the quality of Indian graduates is questionable because universities have nurtured the compromised assessment process
Over the past few decades, the Indian higher education system has remained under stress. This is due to the increased number of students, the huge but ineffective administrative machinery, and a complex legal structure, which remained unchanged over time.

We have been following to the British system, therefore, today one finds that majority of public and private universities are locked into the ‘soci­ety/trust’ syndrome. We have not even created exclusive legal provisions for entities that focus on education. Every education institution is treated like any other ‘society’ that concentrates on social reform. In India, there are numerous institutes with various social interests, along with societies that set up educational institutions that fall into such a huge cluster of ‘societies’.

Education, as an entity, demands openness, flexibility and transparency. Educational institutions deliver knowledge and must have the ability to change with time. They deal with the fertile and exciting mind of youths. Hence, an educational institute needs to operate with demands that ch­ange with time and the present a legal structure. Today, there are 609 universities which have emerged through the state and central legal structure. Also, there are public universities — and in recent times, state private universities (a total of 145) — which have emerged as a big force in higher education.

In the 20th century, the central government enhanced deemed universities. Initially, the focus was on emerging technologies like information communication technologies (ICT), computer science and technology, and bio-sciences and technologies. But the industry demanded knowledge trained youths and Indian education system could never deal with these expectations mainly because the legal structure could not manage the changes expected at academic and operative level. Hence, the central government decided to use the deemed-to-be university’s legal structure for meeting these demands of industries. The beginner’s success was cleverly expanded by owners of institutions by including degrees in engineering, medical and management into this new, flexible model that gave freedom for financial fees so as to meet investments for expanding the academic infrastructure. It was expected that these deemed universities would bring in modern delivery methods to train the youths. However, there were enormous compromises in the admission process, (controlled by the owners) and the net result was admission of low quality students, along with compromises in academic delivery and examination process.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, fresh graduates were accepted by industries as trained human power was required. Both deemed universities and state private universities systematically compromised in delivery of knowledge and judging students on the basis of the knowledge earned by them.

The state and central government universities were also passing through a difficult phase. The number of students was rapidly growing mainly because poor families had no choice but to join governmental universities. The government’s funds were depleting mainly because new universities were being formed. Nevertheless, educational infrastructure was way behind what one would find abroad. Face-to-face (F2F) learning blended with new e-learning material was spoken about at seminars and conferences, but never became an integral part of F2F education. Public universities were struggling with semester and annual system and made weak attempts to bring in a credit-based modular structure. The final result was that public universities, just like deemed and state private universities, were heavily compromising the quality of education.

The public and private university system is handling a large number of students and their examination process is controlled by two interlinked, but independent sectors. One is the academic layer that touches the academic structure and the process of curriculum. It is here that the elected representatives in ‘boards of studies’ and ‘faculty and academic councils’ become critically important. The importance of such elected members has brought in an unhealthy approach in the examination process. The other sector is the one governed by university officers in examination division. There is a damaging link between various representatives of academic bodies and officers in the examination divisions. Today, the quality of Indian graduates is questionable in India and abroad mainly because universities have nurtured the compromised assessment process. The time has come to revitalise the examination system.

(The writer is former chairman of UGC, former vice-chancellor of University of Pune and founder director of NAAC)

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