1. These are the High Times for Reforms

Within this year a New Education Policy is to be announced which will replace the Education Policy framed in 1986 but modified in 1992. MHRD has made efforts to organize a nationwide debate on some of the key issues related to school education; higher education and their linkages with the society and the economy. The Union Government has also announced several new policies which have been perceived as a new perspective to deal with the current as well as future challenges in the Indian society and the economy. Announcement of Make-in India, Digital India, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, 100 Smart Cities, e-Governance, Start-up India and several other policies by the Union Government will definitely require a new look towards both school education and higher education.

2. Tinkering and Cosmetic Changes in the Existing System will not work, India in 21st Century Needs a Rejuvenated Indian Higher Education!

The whole edifice of higher education in India was built in the 19th Century on the pattern of the British System. Currently a very big problem of public universities in India is the system of affiliated colleges. There are many public universities in India having affiliation with 700-800 colleges and enrolment of 7-8 lakh students.

Regulatory bodies in higher education like UGC, AICTE, MCI, DCI, PCI etc came into existence after India got independence in 1947. Even these bodies were mostly patterned on the regulatory models and practices in UK. These regulatory bodies have failed miserably to reinvent themselves according to the needs of Indian economy and society in the 21st Century. There are many examples where the Supreme Court and High Courts had to intervene in a crises situation which could not be handled by the regulatory bodies. Latest example is the decision of the Supreme Court on NEET which was pending for more than a decade and the MCI, regulatory body for medical education could not deal it effectively.

Problems with regard to higher education in India are serious and endemic which cannot be redressed by tinkering, piecemeal reforms or cosmetic changes. There is a clarion call from all stakeholders that Goddess Laxmi was liberated from prisons of License-Permit Raj in 1991, but Goddess Saraswati is still chained by old and archaic practices of regulatory bodies.

3. To avoid ‘demographic disaster’, we have no option but to reform and rejuvenate Indian Higher Education

In the current economic and political discourse, jobless growth has become a major issue of concern. During the last two years or so there have been volatile youth agitations in Gujarat, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan etc. In these agitations major demands of youth from well-off castes and communities have been reservation in government jobs and admissions in educational institutions.

The phenomenon of jobless growth has created following dichotomies which are not good for social harmony and sustainable growth in our ceremony:-

  • In spite of good economic growth enough jobs are not being created.
  • Industries are facing severe shortage of skilled labour.
  • The unorganized sector is still a major source of employment
  • The unemployment rate for educated youth (15-29 years) is increasing every year.

Post 1991, liberalization has been credited for high economic growth and sustained wealth creation. But what happened to the capability of the economy to create job? According to a recent UNDP Report, during the 22 years of liberalization (1991-2013) out of 300 million Indian who were seeking jobs, only 140 million could be employed which is less than 50%. The UNDP Report says that India’s working age population (15 to 64 years) will touch the peak by 2050. Between 2016 and 2050, India will have to generate 280 million jobs. Failure to create 8-9 million jobs every year will definitely lead to a ‘demographic-disaster’.

By reforming and rejuvenating the Indian Higher Education, we will be able to align the courses and curricula of our universities and colleges with the manpower requirements of the Indian industries as well as of global job markets. We are reaching near to a tipping point where probability of a Demographic Dividend turning into a Demographic Disaster could be avoided by timely reforms and rejuvenation of the Indian Higher Education.

4. Key Pillars of Reforms in the Indian Higher Education

Reforming and rejuvenating the Indian Higher Education has been a matter of intense debate and deliberations among all stakeholders viz. policy makers, recruiters, faculty, academic leaders and private sector educational services providers. Following Committees appointed by MHRD during the UPA (I & II) and current NDA Governments have given various recommendations on these important issues:-

  • National Knowledge Commission, 2006 (Headed by Mr Sam Pitroda)
  • Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education, 2009 (Headed by Prof Yashpal)
  • UGC Review Committee, 2015 (Headed by Dr Hari Gautam)
  • AICTE Review Committee, 2015 (Headed by Mr M K Kaw)

All these Committees have given their recommendations to the MHRD, Government of India. On the basis of the exhaustive recommendations of the Committee, some common key pillars of reforms in Indian Higher Education can be identified. These key pillars are depicted in the following diagram:-

Higher Education

5. What can be achieved within next 15 years?

In Indian context, a very good intellectual attempt has been made by Prof C K Prahlad on September 23, 2007 when he was invited by the Indian diaspora to address at Time Square, New York on the occasion of the 60th anniversary celebrations of India’s Independence Day.

While delivering his famous speech, Dr Prahlad said ‘As we celebrate India @ 60, let us remember that all our accomplishments are in the past. Leadership however, is about the future and it is about change. Leadership is about hope. I will focus on India @ 75, not India @ 60. My focus will be on what we can accomplish in the next 15 year, building on our success during the first 60’.

Taking inspiration from the ideas of Late Prof Prahlad, the Vision 2031 for Indian Higher Education can be described as below:-

“Indian Higher Education has to achieve its prominent place at the global level by creating an eco system for innovation, research and entrepreneurship so as to make the country a preferred sourcing hub for talented manpower.”

For moving forwards the Vision -2031 for Indian Higher Education as Outlined above, there will be a dire need to fix some inspirational targets and critical imperatives for Indian Higher Education System. These targets will have to be achieved by 2031 through coordinated and sustained efforts of all stakeholders viz. Union and State Governments, regulatory bodies, recruiters from public and private sector, faculty and students. Following can be proposed targets and critical implications to achieve the Vision -2030 for Indian Higher Education:-

  1. India’s Prominence in the Global Higher Education: For achieving this aspect of the vision 2030, we can set out following inspirational targets to be achieved by the year 2030:-
    1. In the top 200 global ranking of universities, 25 institutions/universities are from India.
    2. Indian institutions/ universities would have 500000 International Students.
    3. There would be 2% international faculty in Indian Universities and Higher Education Institutions.
    4. Indian universities would enroll 1 million + students in their campuses outside India.
    5. Out of top 200 global universities, at least 25 would have their campuses in India or their significant presence in India.
  2. India as a Hub for Manpower
    1. 80% of graduates from Indian universities would be readily employable by the industry, government or foreign employers by 2031.
    2. Around 80 million manpower from India would be employed at foreign countries by 2031
  3. Eco-System of Innovation, Research and Entrepreneurship
    1. India should be one of the top 10 countries in terms of patent fillings
    2. All universities and higher education institutions should have an entrepreneurship cell, incubation centre and innovation labs.
    3. India should be one of the top 10 countries in terms of research papers, publication as well as citations.
    4. India should be among the top 10 countries in terms of number of Ph.D. produced per annum.

6. Who will provide funding for Reforming, Rejuvenating & Reinventing of Higher Education ?

Higher education in India faces triple challenges of expansion, inclusion, and excellence. There will soon be a huge demand on the system with the universalization of elementary and senior secondary education and the growing numbers of youth. Clearly, the government cannot meet all the needs and there is role for non-state providers to play. The 12th Plan did emphasize Public Private Partnership (PPP) in higher education. This needs to be actualized.

The higher education system needs a major overhaul to provide greater autonomy with transparency and accountability and the strengthening of governance, as well as enforcement of regulation. The need is for more flexibility, diversity, and different approaches and models.

For the healthy growth of Indian higher education, it will be necessary that multiple models should co-exist with a level-playing field and strict checks and balances. In this context, profit making institutions should also be allowed to attract serious education entrepreneurs to invest in the sector. This should be accompanied by strict public disclosure of information. Just as all companies are required by the Companies Act to publish annual reports providing their financial details, every educational institution (whether public or private) should publish reports at regular intervals with details of infrastructure and facilities available, trustees and administrators, qualifications and experience of staff, courses offered, number of students, result of the examinations, amount of funds available to the university and sources of funding. Besides, almost all professional institutions claim 100 per cent placement. However, the institutions refuse to supply these data even for research.

Funding is crucial if our institutions of higher learning are to be of high quality for the long haul. For private universities, it is essential to build large endowments. Some of the effective measures proposed are:-

  1. Removal of disincentives in tax laws and trust laws by:-

    1. allowing universities to invest in financial instruments of their choice;
    2. removing the restriction on trusts to spend 85 per cent of their income in the same year so that they can building up a corpus; and
    3. make exceptions in income tax laws to encourage the creation of large endowment.
  2. Diversification of source of finance and exploration of innovative financial mechanisms.
  3. Contribution from every company towards an education fund as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative.
  4. Development of a comprehensive PPTP Policy with control over governance left to a private board.

In addition, every institution must get itself accredited by an independent and specialized accreditation agency and publicly announce its rating to prospective students and public. This will bring in transparency and accountability and generate healthy competition between various institutions. Given the importance of accreditation for quality assurance and the vast number of institutions that need to be evaluated, it would help if the private sector could be engaged with sufficient checks and balances to operate as accreditation agencies. Considering the importance of accreditation and ranking in quality assurance and the increasing global connection of Indian educational institutions, it is important to align the Indian quality assurance mechanism with the recognized global mechanisms.

The focus of regulation should shift towards quality of outcomes. The most important reform is arguably to institute performance-based regulation. There should be greater discussion and debate in arriving at ways to judge an institution. Lessons can be drawn from several countries, for example, Malaysia, which uses Programme Outcomes, that is, statements that describe what students are expected to know and be able to perform or attain by the time of graduation. There are non-traditional regulatory approaches through peer-driven process and disclosure systems, which at the same time encourage academic innovation and diversity.

7. Quality Assurance, Accreditation & Ranking

(Improving Quality of Indian Higher Education in Next 15 years)

Accreditation and ranking help in assuring quality of an education system and they serve two main purposes. In view of the fact that when students have to make informed choices about courses and institutions they suffer from the information asymmetry. The higher education being in the nature of an ‘experience good’, it is difficult for the students to assess quality fully before they take admission. Accreditation assures the clients that quality of education being imparted by a higher educational institution conforms to be well-defined standards set by the regulatory authority. Ranking also provides information about the performance of HEIs within a competitive set up. Further the quality assurance mechanism helps the students choose courses and institutions on the basis of grades or ranks they have obtained.
From the perspective of the institutions, it is important that the higher education institutions are intimated through the accreditation process how they fare and help them in identifying gaps in their delivery mechanism. It encourages the HEIs to put in an extra effort and improve their ranking. On the down side, the output-centric quality assurance mechanism based on certain criteria may compromise a broader mission of the institution. It, therefore, has the potential to interfere with the specific objectives of the higher education institutions for which they were set up. The government has to reconcile its pursuit for enhancement of quality with ‘massification’ of the higher education system in India.

The internationally renowned Prof Philip G Altbach (2007) has stated: ‘India’s large and diverse education system is a paradox. On one hand, it produces a modest number of highly competent graduates who readily find employment in the nation’s burgeoning high-tech industry and are competent in the international market. On the other hand the large number of India’s colleges and universities are well below international standards (with) Indian employers complaining about the low quality of most university graduates, including those in engineering and management.

The responsibility for monitoring the quality of education is that of the UGC and different statutory councils who work either independently or through accreditation agencies. Two important agencies that monitor quality (both established in 1994) are the NAAC under the UGC and the National Board of Accreditation (NBA) under the AICTE. While NAAC does institutional assessment of mainly the conventional universities and colleges, NBA is involved in programme assessment in the professional institutions. Both these institutions were established in 1994 but their performance over two decades has been inadequate. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council has been able to accredit only 170 of the 700 universities (25.57 per cent) and 5156 of the over 37,000 colleges (14 per cent) (National Assessment and Accreditation Council, 2013). The performance of NBA has been no better. Anandakrishnan (2011) points out that in 2008 it had accredited only 36 per cent of the programmes in engineering, 10 per cent in management, 8 per cent in pharmacy, and 5 per cent in the computer applications. With the number of institutions in engineering and management doubling since, the situation is not likely to have improved because of the new institutions. Thus, the two agencies have been able to cover only a small minority of institutions in the vast Indian network of HEIs. There is the need to establish many more accreditation agencies in both the public and the private sectors.
There has always been a question mark about the quality of education provided by the average Indian higher education institution, though the country has some HEIs of world quality. The situation has been described as one of the ‘islands of excellence in a sea of mediocrity’. It is significant that the Indian institutions do not figure amongst the top 100 in any of the world rankings. The disparity in the standard of different institution is apparent from the fact that out of 159 universities accredited by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) till September 2010, 60 (37.7 per cent) were in A grade, 95 (59.7 per cent) in B grade and 4 (2.6 per cent) in C Grade. The percentage of colleges in A grade was much lower.

Having realized the slow progress of accreditation work done by the NAAC and the NBA during the last 20 years, the EPSI has been of the opinion that there should be multiple agencies for accreditation which should be independent and pragmatic in their approach.

8. Ensuring Access For Quality Higher Education to Every Meritorious Indian Youth (18-23 years)

Currently our Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) is 24% which means that out of 14 crore Indian youth in the age group of 18 to 23 years, only 3.5 crore are enrolled in regular or distance learning programmes of our universities. GER of China and USA is 30% and 89% respectively. If we have to catch up with the 30% GER of China, it will require providing access to higher education for another 8-9 million youth in colleges and universities. It means, we will have to set up 14,000 or so colleges which is almost 30% of current number of colleges. We will have a requirement of 5 lakh or so teachers to teach a variety of subjects. Assuming setting up or capital cost of a college around Rs.100 crore, total capital outlay for achieving 30% GER will be Rs.14 lakh crores.

The difficult question is how are we going to mobilize such a huge capital outlay required for further expansion of higher education? Running of these 14,000 colleges will also require recurring expenses. Keeping in mind the current fiscal situation prevailing at Centre and state levels, it will not be possible for the state to undertake this task. We have no option but to allow private sector’s active participation in expansion of higher education for the next 10-15 years.

Allowing the private sector in future expansion of higher education does not mean that the Union and state governments will withdraw from their responsibility to provide quality education to youth from under privileged sections of the society. It is the prime responsibility of the state in every society. Private sector can compliment and supplement the efforts of the state.

Recently the AICTE has forwarded the Report of Justice B N Srikrishna to state governments for its implementation in AICTE approved technical institutions viz. engineering colleges and management institutions. The EPSI has submitted to the AICTE and the MHRD that self-financed private institutions should be allowed to fix their fee according to their respective capital and operational costs. The EPSI will never support Capitation Fee or the profiteering in fee fixation by private sector institutions.

Mixing ‘half-baked socialism with ‘half-baked market-led thinking’ will not lead to a good recipe for technical education. There is too much corruption in education department of state governments and its regulatory agencies dealing with educational institutions. Empowering state fee committees to fix the fee of 10,000 technical institutions will create a cesspool of corruption.

An alternative model can be found to increase access for poor and down-trodden students by massive expansion in scholarship and free ships. It can be funded by Union and state governments by larger spending on higher education. So far our higher education outlay is hardly 1.22 per cent of GNP which needs to be increased to 2 per cent of GNP at least. State government should also increase their outlay on higher education rather than distributing free-bees for cheap popularity.

Without putting a cap on the tuition fee of technical institutions as proposed by the Justice Srikrishna Committee, there are many innovative and noble ideas to provide easy access to technical education to millions of needy students. We need ‘out-of-the-box thinking’ rather than obsolete ideas such as controlling fees. Following are some key suggestions in this regard:-

  1. Keeping in mind the inability of commercial banks, both in public and private sector to provide easy educational loans, there is a dire need for setting up an Education Development Bank of India (EDBI) with a paid-up capital of Rs.10,000 crore. In early 90’s, the Ponnappa Committee appointed by MHRD has recommended establishment of such a bank. UPA-II has also made a public pronouncement about it, but could not create it. Now the time has come that the EDBI should be entrusted to provide educational loans to needy students as well as private sector educational institutions.
  2. The Scheme of Educational Loan should be streamlined so as to fulfill financial needs of students and parents from under-privilege section as well as from middle classes. Rate of interest on the education loan for further expansion at 5% p.a. interest rate. The repayment period of educational loan should be extended from the current 6-7 years to 15-20 years so that the repayment installment becomes convenient for the loanees.
  3. To deal with the growing default in the payment of educational loan, a Scheme of Pan Card for students can be started. Each student should be given a Pan Card with details of his/her marks, degree and loan record. Later when these students join industry/government, their employer should realize the loan installment from their salary and should deposit to the respective banks from where the loan has been taken.
  4. For providing scholarships and free ships to students, a CSR Scheme similar to currently existing for companies Under Section 135 of the Companies Act, can be devised for higher educational institutions. Every institution having any financial surplus can be asked to spend at least 5% of their average surplus for last three years on granting scholarships and free ships.
  5. In the year 2004, a Secondary and Higher Education Cess (SHEC was introduced by the Union Government. It is levied on all tax payers @1%. According to a recent CAG report tabled in the Parliament on December 22, 2015, a whopping Rs.64,288 crore, which was collected during 2006-15 under SHEC is lying unutilized. It will be a great idea if this unutilized among is invested in long term government securities and its interest is used for launching a massive Scholarship & Free ship Scheme. Around 5 lakh scholarship of Rs.1 lakh p.a. can be funded by using annual interest on the SHEC funds of Rs.64,28 crore.