By – Dilip Ghosh :The government has finally taken the first solid step towards reforming higher education. The Union cabinet decided to issue an ordinance to set up 12 central universities and upgrade 4 existing ones to that level on the 8th of January 2009. The issuing of the ordinance became necessary as the Parliament could not clear the Central Universities Bill,2008 in its last session due to lack of time and also because a lot of preparatory work needs to be done to operationalize the new universities.
The move is in fulfillment of the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s assurance to the nation on the Independence Day 2007 that 30 central universities would be set up during the ongoing 11th Five Year plan to ensure that each state has at least one central university. He also said that five new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research; eight new Indian Institutes of Technology; seven new Indian Institutes of Management, and twenty new Indian Institutes of Information Technology should be ready by the end of the plan period. The states where these institutes will be located have already been selected and the process of acquisition of land for the purpose has begun.
Developing Talent Pool
The Indian economy has been growing ever since the economic reforms process began in the 1990s. Even now when the economies of several developed countries are going through recession, it is growing at more than 7 per cent per annum. It is therefore, quite likely that India will need a huge talent pool to keep its growth engine running in future. The government will have to ensure that the infra- structure for higher education is expanded and the quality of education continuously upgraded to meet the future needs. Secondly, as an emerging economic power, India will have to play an increasingly important role in future. According to a study by the US based Boston Consulting Group, there will be a global workforce deficit of the order of 46 million by 2020. India would have an estimated 47 million strong surplus young work force by then. So, to use this huge human resource pool to the country’s economic advantage as well as to benefit the global economy a massive program of education cum skill development program is necessary.
There were 1617 engineering colleges in the country as on 31st July, 2007 but more than 60 per cent of these were located in just five states, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. Similarly, more than 60 per cent of the country’s 271 medical colleges are located in just six states. In case of dental colleges also the situation is no different. The government’s move to set up high class institutes in different parts of the country is aimed at removing this regional imbalance. Besides, with the establishment of such institutes, quality education would be available at affordable costs in all regions. As per the University Grants Commission, UGC’s records, there were 388 Degree granting institutions in the country as on 16th August, 2007. This includes 221 State Universities, 24 Central Universities, 114 Institutions Deemed to be Universities, 13 Institutions of National Importance, 5 Institutions established under State legislations and only 11 private universities. Obviously, providing higher education on large scale and that too at affordable costs cannot be done by the private educational institutions as they are too few in number and lack the necessary infra structure.
Prof. Yashpal committee which was set up in February last year is already on the job, reviewing the role of the UGC and All India Council for Technical Education, AICTE in enforcing standards in educational institutions. Its charter includes considering the possibility of introducing a system of incentives and disincentives so that national standards of higher education/technical education are not compromised or diluted. Besides, the committee is seriously considering upgrading the UGC to a full-fledged Higher Education commission, a body that can integrate the functions of as many as 17 agencies which regulate higher education in the country now. The moot point is that funding and overall policy making will be made more efficient under an apex body that will act as a catalyst for quality improvement in higher education.
Some novel ideas have come up for discussion in the committee’s sittings. One such proposal is re-clustering the existing nearly 400 universities into 1,000 universities so that each of these newly-formed cluster universities has about 20 colleges each. The newly formed universities will be made an universe of knowledge having, apart from arts and science colleges, their own medical and engineering, and as required, agricultural, pharmacy and management institutions. This will facilitate the growth of inter-disciplinary activities, which are now missing in the academic sector in the country. While some specialised universities such as technological, medical universities will continue to function as they do now, the cluster universities will have a more integrated outlook, combining general and specialised education within the same university.
Meanwhile, the three national science academies, Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi and National Academy of Sciences, Ahmedabad have submitted a proposal to the UGC for starting a four year B.Sc course. It has been proposed to introduce the course first in Delhi University and if successful in other universities at a later date. A student after completing this course would be eligible for enrolment in a dual M.Sc. cum PhD course. Both the UGC chairman Prof Sukhdeo Thorat and Delhi University Vice Chancellor Prof Deepak Pental have welcomed the idea. Prof Pental said, the introduction of four year B. Sc. Program would bring Indian science education at a par with the US system. He, however, said that first the infra-structure of the colleges needs to be improved. The development of infra-structure, particularly, filling the vacant faculty positions, no doubt, remains a big challenge. As of now, about 30 per cent of faulty positions in our universities are vacant. But, with the reverse brain drain process setting in, hopefully, many Indians teaching in foreign universities will return home to take up assignments in these institutions.