Guest column | Does Punjab need more universities?
While colleges and universities have mushroomed, the quality of education has gone down. The opening of new institutions, with inadequate financial and human resources, has a clear negative impact on quality.punjab Updated: Jul 09, 2017 09:12 IST
Universities are seats of higher learning and are expected to provide students with sound theoretical knowledge and high quality of practical training in the cutting edge of research. The infrastructure of higher education institutions needs to grow with the population, for quality to be provided. If we go only by numbers, we have done wonders.
In 1951, India’s population was 37 crore. Now, it is about 134 crore, which means an increase of nearly 3.6 times. During this period, the number of colleges has increased 64 times from 500 to 32,000. The number of universities has increased 40 times from 20 to 800.
The situation is no different in Punjab. In 1966, its population was 1.2 crore with three universities. Now, the population is 3 crore and the state boasts of 11 government universities, 16 private universities and three deemed-to-be-Universities. So, for a 2.5-time increase in population, the number of universities has gone up 10 times.
High on numbers, low on quality
In 2007, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had commented that 66% of universities and 90% of colleges are below average in quality. In 2013, the president said the number of quality academic institutions in India is quite inadequate. The situation has worsened since then.
An Assocham survey of 5,500 B-Schools in 2016 showed that 93% of the MBAs are un-employable. Another survey, also in 2016, of 1.5 lakh engineering students showed that only 7% are employable. Something has drastically gone wrong with our education system.
While colleges and universities have mushroomed, the quality of education has gone down. The opening of new institutions, with inadequate financial and human resources, has a clear negative impact on quality.
No corrective steps are being taken to control this academic free-fall.
Horticultural varsity an unnerving step
The Punjab government’s decision to open a horticultural university is unnerving. The state is not in the pink of financial health and can ill-afford the luxury of another university, especially as existing state varsities are struggling for survival.
Even if the financial condition of the state had been robust, this surgical separation of an important limb from Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) would render a crippling blow to it. It is also questionable if the separated limb would survive.
Today, every discipline of science is interdisciplinary, requiring exposure and training not only in various basic and applied sciences, but also in varied allied areas. This is true to an even greater degree for agricultural sciences.
The mechanism and infrastructure at the PAU is well-balanced and well-tuned for the growth and development of all disciplines of agriculture.
Agriculture and horticulture are deeply interconnected and inter-dependent. How can education and training in horticulture be complete if the students are not exposed to the basics of agronomy, soil sciences, botany, plant pathology, physiology, entomology, genetics, plant breeding etc. There are other key subjects as well like molecular biology, economics, applied mathematics and statistics, farm machinery and agricultural engineering, computer sciences, environmental sciences, etc.? Similarly, a degree in agriculture cannot be complete without adequate exposure to horticulture, including floriculture (flowers), olericulture (vegetable growing), arboriculture (trees and shrubs), etc. Separating the two would mean duplication of numerous departments at both the places. It would create some jobs, but at what cost? Do we have such resources, including human resources? Or we are moving further towards dilution of quality.
Promote horticulture, but don’t undermine PAU
The PAU is among the most respected agricultural universities in India. It is known globally for its quality of teaching and research and for its valuable contributions towards making India self-sufficient in food.
Recently, the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) of the ministry of human resource development ranked PAU as the best university of Punjab in 2017. Its all-India rank is 24, higher than all other universities of the state. This report also ranks the varsity in the top 3rd of all agricultural universities and institutions in the country.
Efforts need to be made to support and strengthen the PAU, so that its ranking goes still higher, and not to cut its limbs to ensure its downgrading.
According to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), there are 63 agricultural universities in India.
Of these, just two (one each in Karnataka and Telangana) deal exclusively with horticulture and two (one each in Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand) are dedicated to horticulture and forestry. This indicates that the separation of horticulture from agriculture has not found to be either suitable or desirable.
Union agriculture ministry’s statistical data report of 2014-15 states that Karnataka has 407.3 thousand hectares under fruit production while Telangana has 385.4 thousand hectares.
Compared to this, the area under fruit in Punjab is only 78.7 thousand hectares. These figures are equally disproportionate when we compare the total area under all horticultural crops, including vegetables, etc., indicating that there is no justification for an exclusive university for horticulture in Punjab.
Dr RB Singh, former president of National Academy of Agricultural Sciences had this observation to make at the 11th Agricultural Science Congress.
He said thoughtless splitting of universities was the main reason for decline of state agricultural universities. Dr Gurdev Singh Khush, an internationally-renowned rice-breeder, has commented that, “New agricultural universities are being created due to political and other considerations with meagre resources”.
Fast-track the horticultural institute
The Union government has, through the ICAR established 10 central research institutes and 10 national research centres especially for horticulture.
Kerala and Maharashtra have three each; HP, Karnataka, Rajasthan and UP have two each; while Andaman & Nicobar, AP, Gujarat, J&K, Sikkim and TN have one each.
In 2015, the ICAR sanctioned a Postgraduate Institute of Horticultural Research and Education (PGIHRE) for Punjab, along with a fairly large number of scientists. The Centre was to fund it fully. Punjab has failed to provide appropriate land for this prestigious institute.
If the state government is keen to promote as well as strengthen teaching and research in horticultural sciences, then it should expedite the setting up of this institute.
A horticulture culture university is just burdening the state.
If still, Punjab wishes to go solo in promoting horticulture then it should allocate special grants to the PAU for the specific promotion of horticultural sciences, without de-stabilising the existing framework.
(The writer is founder vice-chancellor of Central University of Punjab and former V-C of Guru Nanak Dev University)