When in doubt, set up a committee to prepare an action plan. This is the way our education establishment works and the University Grants Commission (UGC) is no exception. It has been directed by the HRD Ministry to work out, you guessed it, an action plan on the modalities of establishing 16 new varsities and 370 new colleges in backward blocks. The UGC, it would appear, has suddenly woken up to the fact that universities with 500-600 affiliated colleges are facing difficulties in monitoring quality. Like delimitation, the UGC also wants to carve out smaller universities from existing ones. Nothing wrong with all this; we do need more central universities and colleges. But will this really solve the problems in the higher education sector? Going by past experience, the answer would be no.
The 11th Five Year Plan is to increase outlay in higher and technical education ten times, an amount of Rs 84,743 crore. This is a positive step and could, if utilised effectively, increase enrolment in higher education. India suffers from a very poor 7 per cent enrolment rate in higher education as opposed to an average of 25 per cent in other developing countries. In the developed world, it ranges from 60 per cent to 100 per cent. We are looking, optimistically, at a rate of 15 per cent by 2012 that is bound to fall short going by our tardy record. The UGC’s proposal for 16 varsities is just over half of the 30 proposed in the new scheme of things. The bulk of the money allotted is to go into upgrading facilities in existing central universities. This raises doubts as to how much will actually go into the new ones proposed.
The UGC seems to be going down the ‘quantity over quality’ path. The lacunae are also seen in the step-motherly treatment meted out to graduate varsities. If these are neglected, this will reflect on the calibre of students who go into the post-graduate courses offered by central universities. Graduate-level colleges don’t have qualified teachers, are hampered by outdated or no infrastructure, and lack innovation vis-à-vis new disciplines. In other words, they churn out unemployable graduates. If the base of our higher education system is weak, the entire edifice will totter as it is doing now. We need more central universities, but not at the cost of beefing up existing faculties. A lesson the UGC does not seem too keen to learn.