Plight of higher education in India

We were struck by the fact that over the years we have followed policies of fragmenting our educational enterprise into cubicles. We have overlooked that new knowledge and new insights have often originated at the boundaries of disciplines. We have tended to imprison disciplinary studies in opaque walls. This has restricted flights of imagination and limited our creativity. This character of our education has restrained and restricted our young right from the school age and continues that  way into college and university stages. Most instrumentalities of our education harm the potential of human mind for constructing and creating new knowledge. We have emphasized delivery of information and rewarded capability of storing information. This does not help in creating a knowledge society. This is particularly vile at the university level because one of the requirements of a good university should be to engage in knowledge creation – not just for the learner but also for society as a whole.   [Yashpal Committee Report]

Recently I had an opportunity to talk with some doctors from Tata Memorial Center-Mumbai. The doc complained that you technology experts have ignored health sector so badly. Then he went on elaborating how we can build a device to do blood test without taking out a single drop of blood from patients body, how we can build a cheap device that can help patients communicate immediately after say throat surgery and so on.

I could see that there are several real business opportunities hidden in his ideas. And most importantly those ideas were about real  world, it wasnt a research to be conducted in 4 closed walls about which no one will hear for next 10 or perhaps 100 years. Here were the ideas that would help millions of Indians if they were to be realized.

But then what is preventing us from doing this? The main reason I feel is that the institutions who should be doing research are very few. In fact the abysmal quality of faculty and infrastructure prevents most of the institutions from contributing anything to the field of science and technology. Due this, these institutions focus only on maintaining status quo. They focus more on a rigid syllabi and consequently a similarly rigid examination structure. With time these institutions become averse to any change.

What about our elite institutions like IITs and IIMs? Both IITs and IIMs are underutilizing their resources. For example, Sanjay Mishra writes in Economic and political weekly:

Harvard University and Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) have about 20,000 students each; in Asia the University of Tokyo and the National University of Singapore each have more than 30,000 students on their rolls. All these institutions have a much better academic ranking than the IITS and IIMs.

Interestingly, the top engineering institutions in the United States (US), for example, MIT and Georgia Tech have only 168 acres and 400 acres of campus respectively, which is less than the average campus size of an IIT/IIM.

What has happened to our examinations system? What it should be like in the first place? Isn’t examination a way to test that the student has acquired the required level of skills in the discipline he is studying and he has show both the urge and competence to learn more on his own? But our examination system is focusing more and more on swallowing information, memorizing it and then reproducing it on a piece of paper in the examination hall. Students tend to believe that whole purpose of studying is to reproduce this memorized content in the examination hall. Degree become the end of learning and not the starting point.

At present, the design of curriculum and syllabi is reflective of the entrenched examination system under which the student is asked to face a question paper at the end of the year, or in some
universities, at the end of the semester. This archaic examination system, ostensibly used as a means of certifying the ability of students, unfortunately does not really test the kind of skills they require to be successful in either the pursuit of pure theoretical knowledge or in practical real world situations. The examination system, even in the case of the relatively better equipped and less rigid institutions, has remained quite manifestly traditional and incapable of distinguishing between different talents of students in a reliable manner. Similar to what happens at the school level, university-level evaluation practices also simply broaden the scope of memory-based questioning, with the occasional rote-based ‘application’ question masquerading as real-world problem solving. In doing so, they entrench the student’s lack of ability to examine and understand the real world, as a result of which their engagement with people or issues remains scarce once they enter the world of work, with implications for their abilities as workers and citizens. [Yashpal Committee Report]

This observation by Dr. Yashpal is not exceptional but it is the trend. Most of the companies that hire freshers today need to train them extensively before putting them on work. I was listening to HR head of L&T Infotech who said for every 100 people his company scrutinizes for employment only 5 are qualified to be hired and put on job. next 15 require 1 year in the finishing school where they are taught basic skills and communication skills. Next 80 people arent employable at all he says.

Those 80 people form a market for fake institutions like IIPM. Just one look at the Mumbai city and it’s newspapers and you realize that educational institutions are probably the largest spenders on advertising. From 2 year coaching for IIT-JEE to English Speaking course a zillion institutes have sprung up like mushrooms. Poor quality education for an unaffordable price is what these institutions offer for the helpless future citizens of India.

While the situation at home is so depressing, we arent allowing foreign univerties here in India on pretext that they will be mediore instituions opening their shops here selling degrees. The proponents of such destructive mentality I suppose live in the Manoj Kumar era to think of India as a sone ki chidiya which the firangs want to steal from. [Phrase taken from Mr. Shourie’s speech at IIT Kanpur].

In education lies our future. In higher education lies the quality of that future. Higher education is essentially elitist. Meaning only few people will participate in it whil it will consumes maximum resources. But then we must udnerstand that its elites who lead the society. Its the elites who provide direction to growth. There is only one engine to the 40 wagons of the train, but we can not ridicule that engine for consuming maximum resources.

These are the testing times. With a minister like Kapil Sibbal in chair we can certain expect that the recomondations of the Yashpal committee will be taken with due care. Those recommendations may not be adequate to remove the rot in the system but hopeful it will make the situation better than what it is now.

Regulating Higher Education In Goa?

In today’s Navhind Times, Dr. Nandkumar Kamar, a noted and genuine scholar from Goa argues the “need” to “regulate” the higher education space. I think the whole argument of regulating education is completely misplaced.

A DOCTORATE in any subject for Rs 2 lakhs, an MPhil in languages, natural or social sciences for Rs 1 lakh, any post-graduate degree for little less than Rs 50,000

Why would someone buy a Doctorate for Rs. 2 lakh instead of spending 4 years? The incentives are simple, you get a degree in so little time. Certainly thats illegal but people buy it because it works. The reason such fake degree manufacturers exist and flourish has two very important factors behind it.

Firstly, the acute shortage of educational resource. Our universities are abysmally equiped to meet demands and aspiration of our students. 4 lakh students appear for IIT-JEE, 8000 get through. The remaining 392000 students are not suckers. Most of them do deserve something equivalent to IITs but they dont get into it. They then try to opt for other opportunities, including buying out a degree.

Secondly, it works! The people who pass out from an institutes like Goa Engineering college, are not really in practice smarter than someone who has done a good course from NIIT or SEED. Both of them are considered as equivalent in Industry. In fact I can show examples where people with absolutely not engineering background have fared far better in real world than those who have degrees. Clearly, the fake degree is useless and doest make any value addition to individual, but then neither does the real degree.

Before blaming the mushrooms of educational institution promising quick and sure degree, we must question if an institution like Goa University is any better. Instead, Goa University is run by public funds. It is a complete farce. It is just a government authorized degree sale center where degrees are cheap but one has to only spend time in there. That is why people prefer to buy degrees instead of earning them.

Though Dr. Kamat argues that Goa needs more laws and regulations in Education field in order to prevent these malpractices, the solution he suggest doesnt go well with me.

The trade of selling degrees is booming because the government has not shown any practical interest to amend and arm the Goa University Act, 1984 suitably to bar competing profit-making private interests in higher education.

What scares me is that several intellectuals seem to be opposed to the idea of institutes making profit by providing education as a service. The taboo word being “profit”. I believe that India’s education policy is not only harmful for growth of private educational institutes but the degree with which government has controlled and regulated education and higher education is just scandalous.

Government has failed completely in building system of education which will give wise man to society. While it is hiding its failure by painting glossy fake pictures of India, it has prevented other people in building any alternate system. They have restricted access to the most vital resource of the country as well as an individual. No wonder the individuals find work around to get it.

The sorry state of higher education in India can be understood from Atanu’s posts.

Of the ten percent who do get post-secondary education in India’s around 300 universities (comprising of 17,000 colleges), their results are disheartening. India produces around two and a half million college graduates, including 400 thousand engineers annually. But the quality is so poor that only a quarter of them are actually unemployable. Stark statistics reveal the oversupply of raw graduates and the under supply of unemployable graduates. Infosys, an IT giant, last year sorted through 1.3 million applicants only to find around two percent were qualified for jobs, according to a recent report in The New Yorker.

The remaining 98% one must remember are mostly passed out from reputed institutions across the country with good marks spending 3-4 years of graduation. But what they have learned in those 4 years is as equivalent to getting a fake degree by paying 2 lakhs.

If we take Goa’s case, where industrialization is not a common phenomenon, if you want a better future you need to get out of this place. If you need a government job one has to show proof that he has so and so degree and pay a bribe to minister. Minister takes care of everything else. What you have learned, your competence in the subject hardly matters. Obviously buying a degree is much easier and better than earning it.

I think Goa has good potential to become an education hub for the country. Certainly laws can be passed and committees can be set up. But it should be to free education from Government control and make it more open and accessible. Once you allow private colleges to compete freely with government one’s, the only differentiating aspect will be the usefulness of degree awarded. The attempts to improve this usefulness will lead to improved quality of education.

What applies to India generally applies to Goa, but I feel Goa can always take up pioneering work because it is a small state. Atanu Dey’s Policy brief on the topic is an eye opener and I wonder why our policy makers cant accept it.

Education forms a very important feature and pre-requisite for economic and social development. A more and better educated society is likely to prosper and be peaceful than others. For this excellence should be the goal of system. A governmental setup can not struggle for excellence, it needs to happen by letting the entrepreneurs of our country invest in education. Let the Tatas , Ambanis start universities, also let the educational start-ups come up with sufficient funds. Government should act only as a facilitator and not a controller.

Who can put this in better words if not Mr. Arun Shourie?

he first thing to do is to stop counter-positioning primary, universal education against higher education. We need both. We can afford both. Second, we must see both — the threat as well as the opportunity: the threat that we may lose our best minds at an even faster rate than the rate at which we have been losing them in the past decades; on the other side, the opportunity that we can be educators to the world.Third, to ward off the threat and to tap into the opportunity, we require the same sort of measures. To arrest and reverse the alarming deterioration of standards in most of our institutions of higher learning. To ensure that in regard to both – students as well as faculty – merit, performance here and now, alone counts. To ensure that rewards are strictly commensurate with performance.

And resources. A large proportion of these will have to come from the government – for instance, private entrepreneurs just do not have the long horizons that basic research requires. Equally, government alone will just not have enough resources for this sector. Thus, one service that finance ministers can do is to give the most generous incentives and tax-breaks for industry to invest in education and in R&D. For every trifling misuse, a Manipal will come up.
And the resources have to be defrayed not just on equipment – that is what is done ever so often: and by the time the underpaid, under-motivated faculty learn to exploit the equipment to its full potential, the equipment is obsolete. A good proportion of the resources have to be set apart for making salaries and allowances of faculty and researchers and their work-environment attractive enough for them to forgo careers in private industry and to choose instead to be in universities and research institutions. [Read Full at Atanu Dey’s Blog]