Higher education rudderless

HRD’s Severe Crunch

By Shivaji Sarkar

“My dear, here we must run fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that”, Lewis Carol in Alice in Wonderland as quoted by Economic Survey 2017-18 in terms of Indian education and development.
It is now certain that despite the wish, we are unable to run that fast particularly in education or human resource development. The disparity in higher education between the public and private institutions is growing. The better ones are still in the public sector. Private education is not delivering if not failing. Somewhere the policy planners are in a state of confusion.
Growing population, increased demand and increasing learning poverty gap as evident from Annual Survey of Education Reports, the Economic Survey (ES 17-18) states the basic learning benchmark is missed by sizeable section of the children despite higher enrolment and pupil teacher ratio (PTR).
Another aspect that the ES 17-18 stresses is on basic and school education but not higher education. Despite opening of many IITs, IIMs and Central universities the allocation has remained low and general complaint of delivery has increased. It is well known that students have withdrawn from some of the newly set up IITs and many new central universities could not attract students as they lack in faculty, labs and other facilities.
So it means we are posing as if we are running but actually stuck. This is despite positive approach by the NDA government since 2014. India in 2018 has 799 universities up from 670 in 2014 with 2.8 crore students.
It looks good. But when it comes to allocation, the interim budget for 2019-20 earmarked Rs 93,847.64 crore for the education sector. The allocation this year has seen an increase of 10 per cent from last year. The Centre during the Budget 2018 presentation had allocated Rs 85,010 crore for the sector. Out of the total allocation for 2019-20, Rs 37,461.01 crore has been assigned for higher education, while the rest of the amount, Rs 56,386.63 crore has been allocated for school education.
The Centre has given a some boost to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and National Institutes of Technology (NITs) as two independent ‘Schools of Planning and Architecture’ (SPA) and 18 in the IITs and NITs as autonomous schools are proposed to be set up.
However, there has been a decline in the budget outlays for IITs, IIMs, IISER, UGC and AICTE. The IITs alone have suffered a cut from Rs 7703 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 6143 crore. In revised estimates these can be further reduced as it happened in 2018-19, when it was cut by Rs 457 crore.
The stress on higher education has reduced. During the last over two decades the governments have been stressing on school education enrolment and leaving the higher education to fend for itself. Even the ES 17-18 does not speak of higher education.
The Ministry of HRD has issued innumerable circulars to the higher government and autonomous institutions and universities, including the newly set up Central universities to raise 30 per cent of their budgetary needs on their own. In most cases it has not happened. It has affected the quality of education. They have only increased tuition and other fees. In short, India’s education has become expensive and large number students are under high debt.
Another problem most higher education institutions face is the crowding of classrooms with more and more reservations. The pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) that is around 30 to 40 according to ES 17-18 in schools is mostly not there in higher education. An average of 60 to 90 is the norm.
Neither classrooms have been added nor faculty. Rather in most public institutions and universities, there has not been replacement for retiring faculty. In some institutions of the ilk of Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) and Central universities poor selections of top persons have further aggravated the situation. Students are virtually not taught, left to fend for themselves. To buy their silence they are handed over the degrees or diplomas without testing their learning abilities.
While the process of liberalisation opened up doors for setting up private universities, it has further exacerbated the quality of education. While the government universities, IITs and other institutions suffer from faculty crunch, contract employment at about 20 per cent of the stipulated salaries, it is worse in private universities.
The private universities, colleges and institutions have a double whammy. Without any social funding they compromise on the quality of faculty, their wages – often as low around Rs 3,000 to 30,000 a month in the best of conditions. Most institutions employ young graduates with little understanding of education as cheap labour.
The premise that the institutions could raise high fees is limited to less than five per cent really excellent ones. The rest have to cut fees to maintain the minimum of number of students and it is not restricted the engineering streams. This has hit the quality of education not only in BIMARU States but all over the country. Ethics is a bygone word in the world of education.
The governments have forgotten that higher education has been the key to the development in 1960s to 1980s. The brain drain then has become brain gain. So today without social funding, education is gasping and institutions are at their wits end for raising funds to meet their basic expenses.
The norms are not followed either in the oldest Allahabad University or the newest RML Awadh University in Faizabad, in Uttar Pradesh. In Allahabad alone there are said to be over 300 vacant faculty positions and there are classes where over 100 students are crammed into one classroom. The situation is not different in Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh and most of the other States.
Amidst all of this, evaluation is the biggest casualty everywhere. If the industry is not getting quality graduates, the education system is responsible for it. Still how do some students excel is the wonder. Well most teachers aver that it is not because of them, but the individual students themselves.
India has to run faster. It has to rethink about education and its funding. Else, despite political drum beating, the nation would remain under-developed and learning poverty ought to increase.—INFA