While there has been remarkable growth in the number of institutions providing higher education in last two decades, the fact remains that none of the Indian universities or colleges finds any place in the list of top universities in the world. And that speaks volume about the bad state of higher education. Studies, including those by FICCI, have shown that only 20 percent of our engineering graduates are employable. In this context the National Education Policy Draft Report by TSR Subramanian makes some very serious observations and recommendations.
According to the report, India has one of the largest systems of higher education in the country, with more than 700 universities, 37,000 colleges and an enrollment of more than three crore students. But at the same time it states that the "quality of many universities and colleges and the standard of education they provide are far from satisfactory”.
It adds, “While there are some institutions like the IITs, IIMs and a few others that have established a reputation as institutions of high quality, there are a large number of institutions which are mediocre, and some are no better than ‘teaching shops’. The majority of higher education institutions fall in between these two extremes.”
Talking about how a host of private universities are operating in an inappropriate manner, without much concern for students and quality education, the report states that, "Many private universities and colleges operate under political patronage and take advantage of the prevailing lax or corrupt regulatory environment.”
Political interference in university and college affairs is of common knowledge and in this regard the report states, “In some states, in government colleges, teachers are transferable like government staff. The process of transfer is opaque and often driven by political influence. Because of frequent transfers, teachers in government colleges rarely develop an institutional attachment, which is essential for improving the quality of education."
Talking about the road blocks in ensuring quality in higher education, the report highlights the fact that according to the latest information available, “140 universities got themselves accredited by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) but only 32 percent were rated as ‘A’ grade or above. Of the 2,780 colleges accredited by NAAC, only 9 percent were graded ‘A’ or above. Most universities have been rated average. Quality and excellence in colleges clearly leaves much to be desired.”
According to the report, currently, accreditation is not compulsory for all higher education institutions. It is required only for receiving grants from the UGC. And in this context the report states that, “a credible system of accreditation covering all institutions of higher education needs to be instituted.”
In a serious indictment of private universities, the report observes, “Many private universities and colleges, professional and otherwise, flourish under the patronage of influential people backed by money power with little interest in education, taking advantage of a lax or corrupt regulatory environment. The proliferation of privately-run ‘teaching shops’ and so-called non-profit institutions, ill-equipped and operating with unqualified staff, is a disturbing development and needs to be urgently addressed. It is necessary to weed them out through a process of accreditation for which transparent benchmarks have to be applied.”
The report also makes some observations about corruption: “In recent years, many states have allowed private universities to be established. These universities are non-affiliating and are largely free from state control in management. However, these universities continue to come under the purview of UGC and AICTE. Serious complaints of corruption have been voiced about the manner in which the approvals and recognitions are accorded to higher education institutions."
Talking about the problems common with host of private universities, the report states, “Complaints about lack of transparency in the management of private universities and colleges are continually voiced. High capitation fees are charged for admissions in engineering and medical courses where the demand has exceeded the supply of seats. In many states, fees in private colleges are determined by government and kept artificially low with a tacit understanding that the institutions can make up the deficit through donations and capitation fees”.
After the JNU fiasco, autonomy for the universities became a matter of huge debate. In this regard too the report makes some serious observations. “Most of the older universities were created by law, either by the Centre or the states. Though technically these universities are autonomous, in actual practice the intervention by governments is extensive. There is a need to remove such interventions and to give freedom to universities to focus on improving their academic performance through their own initiative”
It adds, “Most of the older universities are affiliating universities, some universities having hundreds of colleges affiliated to them. NEP 1986/92 had recommended greater autonomy to colleges as a result of which some colleges have been granted autonomous status, but by and large universities continue to be burdened with administrative and academic responsibilities of affiliated colleges, not allowing them to concentrate fully on teaching and research”.