Higher education in India needs reforms

Ques. “There is no greater challenge to the future of India than the urgent need to revamp our institutions of higher education” Comment.


At present, the higher education system in India suffers from many shortcomings. The reforms are needed to address the fundamental problem of institutionalised mediocrity, deeply embedded in these institutions. Adequate FUNDING of colleges and universities for enhancing their education system on three parameters — access, equity and quality- is required. Such planning would include creating new academic institutions, expanding and upgrading the existing ones, developing institutions that are self-reliant in terms of quality education, technology driven delivery system, professional management, and characterised by greater inclination towards research and provide education that is relevant to students and the nation as a whole.

Need of reforms in higher education:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Most Indian universities are not spaces that are inspiring enough for knowledge creation, nor have they been designed to ensure the pursuit of serious research and scholarship.
  • In central universities, 40 per cent of faculty positions remain vacant.
  • The state universities suffer from a lack of resources among other things.
  • Indian universities are generally timid in seeking collaborations which are necessary for the development of new ideas and perspectives. There are a significant number of biases and prejudices that have led to scepticism in promoting any form of collaboration, even among our own universities.
  • There is also lack of interdisciplinary teaching among different faculties and schools. The bureaucratic approach of university managements and regulators has led to the creation of too many hurdles in the pursuit of any meaningful collaboration.

Measures needed:

  • Effecting transformation involves five things: substantial resources, a progressive regulatory environment in which higher education regulators begin to trust universities, a new governance model for creating opportunities and space for research and scholarship, an enabling environment within universities that will significantly incentivise research and publications, and an attitudinal change among all stakeholders in the higher education sector.
  • The new government must ensure that all faculty appointments are filled up within a time-bound framework. This will involve tactful engagement with the institutions and a creative approach to faculty recruitment.
  • It is essential to identify a selected set of institutions to represent the best of public and private universities and significantly enhance their capacities with a view to advancing their research agendas. This will not only help in understanding the key challenges that universities face in relation to nurturing research, but will also help us learn from recurring mistakes. Institutional reform inevitably requires risk-taking and innovation.
  • Existing policies relating to research collaborations both within and outside India need to be re-examined and made more progressive and inclusive. They should be made progressive vis-à-vis ensuring greater autonomy and freedom to universities to determine who they want to collaborate with and what the terms of collaboration should be.
  • There is a need to remove the distinctions that exist in relation to public and private universities; instead, universities ought to be differentiated on the basis of their performance and contribution. There is also a need for an inclusive approach, which involves all aspects of the higher education sector in knowledge creation. This will help in developing a higher education system that will assess the quality of education through objective standards and international benchmarks rather than making private sector education subservient to public universities.

The biggest challenge is to create an enabling environment to promote innovation. Archaic rules and regulations that are constantly flouted have given rise to opportunities to dubious institutions to be engaged in corruption. There is a need to seek a change in the attitude of government departments that are involved in policymaking, and regulatory bodies that are monitoring and ensuring standards in higher education. The deep distrust that is prevalent among the institutions on the one hand and the government and regulatory bodies on the other has made the higher education sector static. There is little effort in seeking innovation. This has to change, and quickly. No reform of higher education institutions is possible without a careful and calibrated effort to examine the current framework of the powers of the government and of regulatory bodies.

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