Universities have increasingly exited from undergraduate
education, and are groaning under the weight of hundreds
of "affiliated colleges". Academic in-breeding
has killed innovation and excellence, creating a stultifying
atmosphere stifling freedom and preventing cross-fertilization
of ideas. Explosive growth in professional colleges led
to acute shortage of faculty, corruption in regulatory agencies,
shameful malpractices, and incompetent teaching.
funding combined with the iron hand of misguided government
regulation resulted in precipitous decline of quality. A
vicious cycle has set in, with sub-standard education in
both colleges and schools deepening the crisis in both.
The government's tokenism in granting special funds to IIS
or the oldest universities in erstwhile precidency towns
is laughable. Public expenditure on higher education in
India is of the order of 0.45% of GDP. Compare this OECD
mean expenditure of 1.3% of GDP, with countries like Canada,
Korea and the US recording 2.7% of GDP. The low share of
public expenditure on an already low percapita income despite
a high proportion of youth is converting our national asset
of large pool of working population into a huge liability.
failure has led to unbridled growth in private provision
of education, which in turn detached the vocal middle classes
from the public education system, further accelerating state's
abdication. This privatization is accompanied neither by
sensible, fair regulation, nor true competition and choice,
but remained hostage to the discretionary powers the state.
Patronage and rent-seeking behaviour have become the norms.
Higher education system is suspended between overregulation
and arbitrariness of the state on the one hand, and discriminatory
patronage-based privatization allowing entry of unscrupulous
profit seekers on the other hand. Predictably this led to
decline in quality of professional education; as well as
starvation of investment in liberal arts and basic sciences
which still account for 65% of enrollment in higher education.
interference and corruption of state agencies led to serious
discrimination against genuine private educational institutions,
and helped profiteers and racketeers. For instance, a genuine,
non-profit, high quality medical college is denied the realistic
fee structure to sustain quality education, making it unsustainable
because the institution refuses to collect illegal and extortionary
capitation fee. Yet, the sub-standard, unscrupulous private
colleges are quite content with an unsustainable fee structure,
since they habitually collect Rs 25 - 35 lakhs for admission
into MBBS course!
is enormous hunger for good quality higher education. Many
talented youngsters from middle and wealthy classes are
migrating abroad for good education. An estimated $2 billion
is spent by them abroad. The state cannot really redeploy
significant additional resources to improve the quality
of higher education, or create new institutions. Even by
a conservative estimate, public expenditure in school education,
healthcare, social security and infrastructure will have
to increase by 4% of GDP per annum over the next few years.
There simply is no realistic possibility of significant
additional allocations for higher education, and we need
to encourage private sector - non-profit and for-profit
- to invest.
we need to evolve sensible and viable financing mechanisms
to promote investment and guarantee high quality. Any sensible
financing and regulatory reform should be based on five
cardinal principles. First, all regulatory and bureaucratic
barriers in setting up a new educational institution must
be removed. Take for example, the greater Boston area, which
is home to about 100 colleges and universities. This intense
competition gave rise to the world's top institutions like
Harvard, MIT and Tufts. Entry barriers create monopolies
and give undue first-mover advantage, creating a safety
net for existing institutions, thus removing incentive to
excel. The only sensible entry barrier should be the background
of the promoters and the resources committed, so that the
farce of Chattisgarh universities is not repeated.
the students must have free choice to seek admission in
any institution. Apart from removing the legal barriers,
an independent accreditation and rating system and complete
transparency will help students make informed choices. A
nation-wide test can serve the purpose of measuring scholastic
ability to facilitate the admission process. Third, there
should be complete autonomy to institutions in all academic,
financial, and management matters. Fourth, no student should
be denied educational opportunity on account of financial
constraints. A system of government scholarships, endowments
and soft loans should be designed to ensure that every student
can pursue higher education irrespective of birth and family
income. Finally, regulation should be outcome-based, and
not at entry level. The graduate should face appropriate
tests conducted by the statutory agencies before admission
into regulated professions like medicine, law and accounting.
can dramatically transform our higher education and promote
more investment, new institutions, high quality, equity,
and professional standards. India has a priceless opportunity
in higher education, and we can ill afford to squander it.