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The Future Of Higher Education In Hands Of States

Competitive federalism is the buzzword in India. As such, education in general, and higher education in particular, are also now catching up with this spirit of competitive federalism.

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Competitive federalism is the buzzword in India. As such, education in general, and higher education in particular, are also now catching up with this spirit of competitive federalism. The spirit echoed very loud and clear at FICCI’s recent Higher Education summit in New Delhi. Led by Mohandas Pai, chairman of FICCI’s Higher Education Committee, it is clear that future growth in higher education will be led by states.

Education was a state subject in the British Raj and when Indian constitution was adapted in 1950. However, it was subsequently made a subject on the concurrent list. Hence, both central as well as state governments give attention to this subject. One can recall that during the British Raj, different provinces had excellent higher educational institutions. Bombay Province had Institute of Science in Bombay (now Mumbai). United Province nurtured Thompson College in Roorkee.

In post-Independence era, states played a dominant role in higher education till 1980s, after which a sudden expansion of technical education in private sector changed the scenario considerably. This trend started in southern India and spread across the country in due course of time. Subsequently, the affiliated colleges not only in technical subjects but also in other areas of knowledge mushroomed all over the country. State universities are now saddled with hundreds of affiliated colleges. In fact, the tenure of a vice-chancellor of a state university is considered a success if the examinations of all subjects are held on time, the grading is done on time and the results are declared on time. There is nothing beyond this!

Since 2000, several states have approved proposals of private sector universities. These institutions are now competing with state universities. In some sense, the future growth of higher education at state level is likely to be in both public as well as private institutions. Several states have enacted private university Bills. Some states have created educational hubs where several educational institutions are located, while a few are now contemplating the concept of educational city. This is indeed a welcome initiative. An educational city will house not only educational institutions but also provide the supporting infrastructure of housing, transport and all other amenities. In fact, some states are contemplating even exclusive educational zones similar to software export or economic export zones. There is intent of inviting collaborations of foreign academic institutions so as to improve the quality of higher education locally and also provide international opportunities to students and faculty as well.

India is a large sub-continental country. Some states are as big as a country in Europe! So, an educational agenda at state level makes eminent sense. Gross enrolment ratio (GER) is a good measure of how access has been enlarged to cohorts coming out of schooling system. A state like Tamil Nadu has 42 per cent GER. All southern states have GER above 30 per cent. This is indeed very heartening to note since these states will reach a landmark 50 per cent by 2020. On the other hand, states from eastern region and north eastern region are significantly lower and will need to invest significantly to increase their GER.

Maharashtra has pockets of Pune and Mumbai regions where GER is high. However, that is not the case in the interiors. So, the balanced growth of higher education within a state is also a matter to be looked into by the planners of higher education in a state. Besides improving the access and ensuring a balanced growth of higher education, the states also have to ensure that sufficient financial support is available to the weaker sections of the society. The cost of education — quality education, in particular — is likely to be high in future. Hence, the state governments will have to embrace the direct benefit transfer approach. Instead of providing grants to colleges, it is strongly advisable for states to provide direct financial support to students who deserve it.

The role of regulator in higher education has been a major concern in India. At the state level higher education, it is advisable that the quality assurance mechanisms be evolved which can be managed by professional bodies and overseen by states. Errant managements have to be punished. However, that does not mean that rules be framed that will stifle all and discourage even well meaning institutions. If necessary, the higher education rules at the state levels will need to be reviewed and reframed. The outcome-based accountability with transparency will be a better approach.

Finally, it is hoped that the national education policy, which is on anvil at present, will take a serious note of the role of states in primary, secondary as well as tertiary education. In fact, the spirit of research, innovation and experimentation at state level should be strongly encouraged as a policy. This will require a strong support to states. The monetary allocation as well as central regulation should be supportive in terms of improving the quality of education at state level. Some states are doing well and they should be supported accordingly. Some states need boot strapping and they should be supported with a different strategy.

Education is creating migration of people from one state to another within India. It is also creating migration of people from rural to urban areas. These migrations may create a new set of problems. Hence, it is necessary to create opportunities of employment in states which are economically not so advanced. This will need setting up of industries, service organisations and connectivity in such areas. States are well advised to plan in tandem the growth of higher educational institutions and other organisations in a coordinated manner.

Human resource is the heart of any academic institution. Attracting faculty is a major challenge while setting up an academic institution. When an institution is not in an urban area, the faculty members are not attracted to work in such a place. So, it is necessary to provide ample connectivity and other incentives like housing, transport, etc., to those who wish to work in such institutions.

India has invested in higher education well so far. That is the reason, the explosive growth of service sector happened over the past twenty years. However, if this development has to be sustained, it is clear that quality higher education has to be promoted at state level now. The E&Y report unveiled at the FICCI event clearly brought out this agenda to the attention of all.

The author, Prof Sanjay G. Dhande, is former director of IIT Kanpur and a member of the University Grants Commission

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 14-12-2015)


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