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Higher Education - Quality over quantity


Closing down worthless colleges and encouraging better ones is the way forward for India
July 11, 2010 17:15
Tags : Higher Education |UGC | AICTE |NCHER |Indian university |

 Higher Education - Quality over quantityDr. PV Indiresan
Leading educationist & former Director, IIT Madras

Many people do know that India has over 20,000 colleges in arts and sciences but it also has over 16,000 dental colleges. A proposal from the Dental Council of India to halt further expansion of dental colleges was turned down by the government on the plea that all colleges are started according to norms and that there is need for more dentists. Unfortunately, there is no reliable study of how good these colleges are. 

According to Mr Narayana Murthy, mentor of Infosys, barely 20 per cent of engineering graduates are employable. There are others who have said that among arts graduates, the figure is barely 10 per cent. Whatever the correct figure may be, we have to admit that most colleges are substandard and that most of the money spent on higher education is a waste. This over-expansion is a consequence of comparing ourselves with countries like the US where enrolment ratios are far higher. After WW II, sociologists developed a theory that higher education is not a privilege but a right. As a result, admissions to universities became largely unrestricted. We have university graduates working as peons or bus conductors. Except for a few colleges of excellence, the quality of learning has deteriorated.

Higher education has expanded but India’s status in higher education quality is dismal. In the 2009 Times Higher Education-Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University rankings, no Indian university features among the first 100. But universities in East Asia have been included in the first hundred. Hong Kong has three, ranked at 24, 35 and 46; Singapore two at 30 and 73; South Korea one at 47 and China has two at 49 and 52. There is no Indian university in the rankings from 100 to 200 either. It is only when one moves on to the next 100 that we find the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur at 237; IIT Madras at 284 and the University of Delhi at 291.

For over 10 years now, the Department of Science and Technology has been promoting postgraduate courses in engineering by offering sums in excess of Rs 2 crore per course – on condition that industry too contributes an equal amount. Virtually all colleges that applied for assistance came from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. With great difficulty, the department has been able to persuade a few other states to join. Evidently, professional (and industrial) interest in higher education exists virtually only in the southern states. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council figures are not entirely reliable because institutions like the IITs and the AIIMS do not opt for accreditation. In fact, less than ten per cent of the colleges have come forward to be assessed. The accompanying table gives the list of states with A grades (3 points and above) and at least one A+ grades (3.45 and above) for the last three years. Earlier assessments under the old rules are not included. Five states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Punjab have done well. That indicates the best colleges are in the Deccan area.

India Today provides another list of top colleges in various disciplines. Its list is selective and not voluntary. Hence it includes reputed institutions like the IITs, AIIMS, Vellore Medical College and the like. However, it does not include all outstanding colleges. Hence, strictly speaking, we do not have a truly reliable list of quality institutions in the country. The government has been active in trying to improve college education. It has put forth four proposals. First, it has inducted a National Council of Higher Education and Research (NCHER) to replace the UGC, AICTE and the like. It is not clear how NCHER can function when the UGC and the AICTE did not. Second, the government wants compulsory accreditation. Frankly, the current accreditation systems do not enjoy a high reputation. 

Third, the government wants admission to all colleges (including arts) by a central admission test. The US does have in SAT a nationwide entrance test. However, the SAT scores are used for shortlisting only and not for deciding admissions the way the IITs do. Fourth, the government wants public-private Partnership but no capitation fees. 

Instead of these, I suggest that there could be admission tests but they should only be for shortlisting. Also, let colleges improve through competition and not by the dictat of an NCHER or a central accreditation agency. Then, let the number of students admitted be related to (not equal to) the number that gained acceptable employment or admission to advanced graduate courses. Then, many colleges in India will have to close down. Closing worthless colleges and not mindlessly expanding their number is the right solution for our country.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017