President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday said it would not be possible for India to occupy high tables in international society unless it improves the quality of higher education and stressed on the need to identify inspired teachers who could shape young minds.
“We have a solid higher education infrastructure with over 650 degree awarding institutions and over 33,000 colleges but the enrolment rate in higher education in the eligible age group is just 7 per cent (18.6 million). None of our universities are among the top 200 in the world,” the President regretted.
Addressing students and academicians after inaugurating the Loyola College School of Commerce and Economics in Chennai on Friday afternoon, he said, “I feel sad and have repeated it almost like a parrot in large number of the academic functions that how is it that out of 200 world-class top universities and institutions not a single Indian university finds its place.”
The President said this was however not the situation in the past.
Since the days of Takshila in the sixth century to that of Nalanda later, India was a magnet that drew students, scholars and brilliant personalities to study in its universities.
“While there is no lack of talented students and teachers now, how is it still any of our institutions are not rated,” he asked.
“I find, almost with a magnifying glass, our ranking is 439 or 500 or so. Not only Europe and North America (but) China, Israel, Saudi Arabia and many others are well ahead of us. We must change this scenario,” he said, adding the country cannot simply occupy the high place in international community if the educational standards are not improved.
Indian institutions faced shortage of good faculty, he said, while stressing the need to fill up vacancies, besides building skills of teachers.
Calling for identifying “inspired teachers” he said they would inspire and shape young minds who could lead the country towards the path of development in the future.
Recalling his own example, he said he had travelled long distances for school education and received his degree in a small town where his hostel did not have electricity.
But he was never undeterred in his pursuit of education since a village teacher “kindled” his interest in history.
Mukherjee said Indian universities have the capacity to shape minds of youth and these “temples of higher learning” must act as guides in meeting contemporary challenges and ensure that our core civilisational values like love to motherland, compassion for all, tolerance for pluralism, respect for women and self-restraint are “fully entrenched” in the young minds.
“There is urgent need to arrest the moral decline in our society and find answers for reversing the degradation of values. Institutions like yours can provide the leadership in this regard,” he said.
He also called for focus on innovation and said only 42,000 patents were applied for by India last year. Patents were symbol of innovative skills, he added.
The President recalled that he had proposed early this year that grassroots level innovators be linked with industries to work out “marketable, profitable” ventures.
He asked the universities to make increased use of technology solutions like e-education to address problems of accessibility, quality and shortage of faculty.
At the same time, he exhorted the private sector to contribute its best to the provision of higher education in the country but cautioned that it should not be for “private profit”.
“With unlimited demands and limited resources, it is important that private sector also contributes its best to the provision of higher education in India”.
“Universities like Yale, Harvard and Stanford are the result of the efforts of private sector. There is no reason why Indian private sector cannot play a key role and achieve similar results,” he remarked.