Reimagining our Higher Education Landscape

July 05, 2018
8 months

What is the issue?

  • Poor quality, increasing privatisation and politicisation have been chronic problems that our education system faces.
  • There currently seems to be some positive churn, but much remains to be done to usher in significant progress.

 What is the current state of affairs?

  • Since independence, it has been a challenge to build a quality higher education infrastructure with limited funds.
  • While excellence is possible, as the IITs and IIMs show, it is limited to a tiny segment of a system that enrols 35 million students.
  • Internationalisation is central to academic success in the 21st century — and India has been notably weak.
  • India has shown academic innovations over the years, but on a limited scale and never in the comprehensive universities.
  • In recent times, things seem to be changing, at least at the top levels of our higher education eco-system.

What are the new changes?

  • NIRF - “National Institutional Ranking Framework”, implemented in 2016, is India’s first government-supported ranking of colleges and universities.
  • It demands the participating institutions to submit data on critical areas and also makes a distinction between universities and colleges.
  • NIRF may in the future guide government financial support for higher education and also aid in education related policy making.
  • IoE project - Institutions of Eminence (IoE) project seeks to identify 10 public and 10 private institutions as IoE, to enable their further development.
  • It has been proposed that the identified IoE will be provided enhanced autonomy and financial support (funds only for public institutes).  
  • Graded Autonomy programme (GAP) - This is an initiative that plans to give participating institutions considerable freedom in certain domains.
  • The vision is to promote “Academic, financial and administrative innovations” in these institutions by liberalising them (if they fulfil certain conditions).
  • Given the often stifling bureaucracy of higher education, GAP will be a significant stimulus for innovation in both public and private institutions.

How is our system opening up to foreign collaborations?

  • Traditionally, colleges and universities have been restricted from international collaboration, which is proving to be an obstacle to excellence.
  • People - Emphasis on attracting international students has been poor and only 47,000 foreigners study in India, in comparison to China’s 4 lakhs.
  • The new “Study in India initiative” seeks to attract international students mainly from a group of African and Asian countries.
  • It seeks to improve India’s share of “global student mobility” from the current 1% to 2% in the near future. 
  • The Graded Autonomy programme makes it easier to hire international faculty, which was very difficult to do earlier.
  • Degree - India is moving towards signing a pact on mutual recognition of academic qualifications with 30 countries.
  • Recently, a government-to-government MoU was signed between India and France to mutually recognise academic qualifications.

What are the challenges?

  • Upgrading 20 or more Indian universities to world-class quality is big task and will take time and way more consistent funding than currently estimated.
  • Further, autonomy will need to be greatly increased, which might be difficult as freedom from bureaucratic shackles of the government is not easy to attain.
  • Innovative ideas from within top universities are another vital factor needed for ushering in progress, but there has been little evidence of this till now.
  • Ensuring that universities have imaginative leaders within their ranks and deriving ideas from foreign models are other aspects that need attention.

What is the way ahead?

  • The national ranking initiative needs to be extended throughout the higher education system and requires simplification for enhancing its ambit.
  • The “Study in India initiative” and proposals relating to relationships between Indian and foreign institutions are useful beginnings.
  • But more thinking must go into these ideas, and the focus on attracting students needs to be broadened beyond just Asia and Africa.  
  • Innovation in course design is vital to attract students as students and post-docs from western countries might prefer taking up shorter-duration course.
  • Significantly, unlike China, India has the advantage of using English as the main language of higher education, an advantage that needs to be capitalised.


Source: The Hindu



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