States have little participation and decision-making powers in improving higher education and research in the country.
Every year, India dreams of its higher educational institutions rising up to world standards in terms of ranking, number of peer-reviewed publications, and awards for research. It dreams of this despite reports that almost three-fourths of the graduates emerging from these colleges and universities are adding little value to research and innovation as a result of the poor-quality education that they have received. The Central government’s solution to this problem is simple: increase the number of institutions under its control, whether it is the Indian Institutes of Technology or the medical institutes, and hope that the quality improves. By repeatedly doing this, the Centre is limiting its role in improving the quality of education and research given that it controls only some hundred institutions in the country, which produce less than 1 per cent of the total number of graduates in the country every year.
A widening gap
On the other hand, State universities produce over 95 per cent of the nation’s graduates, including from the private college system through the affiliation route. Yet they have little presence in bodies that frame policies and decisions regarding regulation or funding. All the major decisions and initiatives only deal with the Central institutions, with the Centre also seeing some hope from the emerging private universities which are driven purely by money power and political patronage. With the gap in quality of education and research widening between the Central and State institutions, the dream of India becoming the R&D hub of the world, of expanding the manufacturing sector, of creating over ten million jobs annually, or becoming the knowledge superpower is becoming harder to realise.
Ironically, the States do not seem to realise the depth of the problem either; the most they do is to ask the Centre to locate the next, say, IIT in their State. In this context, it is important for the States to redefine their role in higher education.
The Central government’s virtual abandoning of its responsibility to improve higher education and research in the country — and not just in institutions that are under its wing — is a trend that is unlikely to change. The only option for the States is to take greater charge to improve the quality of these institutions.
This would mean that States will have to tie up closely plans on improving higher education with economic planning and infrastructure. Engineering and managerial education, in particular, should have a direct connection and relevance to the State’s industrial, manufacturing and other productive activities.
There are many ways to do this. For instance, let’s imagine an engineering college with a museum or exhibition displaying the natural resources, energy and ecology, industrial and agricultural products and services, and human skills and technologies of the surrounding area within, say, a 25 km radius. A significant part of the education and research syllabus in this college could be built around this location, its industry and agriculture. The institution and its programme could likewise closely address the economic and industrial context and needs of that area. Of course, this does not mean that all concentration must be on the local; it is possible to do this without losing sight of the demands of the global market and the need to keep education broad-based and liberal.