Promoting excellence in higher education is fraught with challenges
India’s higher education system is the world’s third largest in terms of students, next to China and the United States. According to a research conducted by a private university in Lucknow, in future, India will be one of the largest education hubs. India’s Higher Education sector has witnessed a tremendous increase in the number of Universities/University level Institutions & Colleges since independence.
The ‘Right to Education Act’ which stipulates compulsory and free education to all children within the age groups of 6-14 years, has brought about a revolution in the education system of the country with statistics revealing a staggering enrolment in schools over the last four years. The involvement of private sector in higher education has seen drastic changes in the field. Today, most of the higher education institutions in India are promoted by the private sector.
This made establishment of institutions quicker making India home to the largest number of Higher Education institutions in the world, with student enrolments at the second highest. However, despite these numbers, internationally many of these institutions are not being able to make up to the best of the world ranking.
Reason being firstly, the enrolment is quite low as compared to the developed as well as, other developing countries.
With the increase of enrolments at school level, the supply of higher education institutes is insufficient to meet the growing demand in the country. Secondly, quality is a multi-dimensional, multilevel, and a dynamic concept.
Ensuring quality in higher education is amongst the foremost challenges being faced in India today. Another challenge is poor infrastructure. Particularly the institutes run by the public sector suffer from poor physical facilities and infrastructure.
Further, most of the educational Institutions are owned by the political leaders, who are playing key role in governing bodies of the Universities. Further, faculty shortages and the inability of the state educational system to attract and retain well qualified teachers have been posing challenges to quality education for many years.
In addition, for most students, the idea of travelling to India would have been the simple idea of immersing oneself in a different culture—weather, food, sport, travel.
Such a cultural immersion is then given further strength by teaching courses, for example through the mode of open electives, on the distinct cultural richness of each country and state.
So there must be courses on history, or environmental policy, or religious philosophy. For a foreign student then, there is the double benefit of life experience and cultural exposure—this leads to an even higher academic performance, and often it is such an experience of education in India that has motivated them to sometimes even become scholars of India.
Such people are then motivated to both bring back many of their friends to India, as well as encourage their university to bring Indian students on exchange programs. If those who have had a welcoming and satisfying experience in India do become scholars or entrepreneurs, many of their research interests remain centred on India, and they may thus bring in much needed expertise and research funds to India--this would be invaluable.
For higher level research, one will have to do more than provide such hospitality.
Research is a large and expensive topic with many sides to it— but ultimately, the best international researchers will work with Indian universities only if the latter have excellent facilities—the latest journals, labs, international networks, a common code of publication and research ethics and so on. Many scientists are most interested in working with applications. Hence there needs to be a strong encouragement in India of incubation centres, where basic science can get translated into products and services that have strong and immediate value—either financial or societal. The prospect of working in intellectually strong, dynamic, diverse teams—full of motivated scientists, entrepreneurs, postdoctoral fellows etc.—is what may well bring talented scientists to India.
Moreover, universities in India go after degrees over excellence and the same is being upon the students as well. In contrast, the western universities focus upon one subject and work towards specialisation. Not only that, but they have easily accessible high quality information that is freely available and have trained, articulate higher education marketers. Which is why, many of the students are seen choosing western universities over Indian universities.
Despite these challenges, higher education system of India is growing very fast and have lot of opportunities to overcome these challenges and have the capability to make its identity at international level. With the help of new-age learning tools, it is easy for country like India to overcome these problems and bring a paradigm shift in the country’s higher education sector.
With such a vibrant country with huge population properly educated, the possibilities are endless. In fact, India possess rich knowledge on broad perspectives which is underutilised and rather provided to other countries in the form of highly skilled people who in fact are doing well.
Above all, it needs greater transparency and accountability. For the same, the role of universities and colleges in the new millennium, and emerging scientific research on how people learn is of utmost important. Student exchange programs which provide a platform to develop skills and understand world better are just beginning to trend in India. If knowledge is imparted using advanced digital teaching and learning tools, and society is made aware of where we are currently lagging behind, our country can easily emerge as one of the most developed nations in the world.
(Author Dr. Vinod Bhat is Vice Chancellor, Manipal Academy of Higher Education. Views expressed here are personal.)