An academic revolution has taken place in higher education particularly in the past half century marked by a paradigm shift in scope and opportunity. Over the years higher education system has become an enterprise having much of business orientation with all its exposure to fierce competition at different levels of stakeholders. Indian education system considered as one of the largest of its kind in the world also faces/encounters enormous challenges in the new millennium. These challenges are diversified and manifold stretching from contemporary curriculum development, quality assurance and accreditation and ethical value propositions to policy planning and governance. In a technology driven society knowledge rewrites the fate of a nation and so does higher education. One of the major reasons for India’s performance for being not that encouraging was due to suboptimal investment on higher education in the recent past. With unprecedented growth of knowledge typically in the area of information and communication followed by globalization shrinking the world into a global village, competitiveness has become a decisive force of growth. This necessitates massive investment on higher education so that availability of internationally acceptable highly skilled manpower can be ensured. But, this drive for internationalization of higher education is a highly ticklish
and delicate move and should not be accomplished at the cost of identity of the nation as rightly quoted “Internationalisation of higher education is one of the ways a country responds to the impact of globalization yet, at the same time respects the individuality of the nation (Knight and deWit, 1997)”. As a part of India’s integration into the world economy the role played by potential foreign participants need a special mention. The impact of potential entrants on Indian higher education system can be felt in most of the functional areas like access, equity and quality. Moreover, in view of the inherent lapses in the regulatory structure of the system, unregulated foreign participation may lead to unfair and exploitative practices; to mention a few high capitation fees, misrepresentation of courses and corruption in admission process which may further accentuate the functional and ideological differences. Thus, in order to ensure excellence and reasonable match between demand for and supply of globally acceptable labour, striking balance has to be restored between accessibility to world-class educational system and model exemplifying national values, ethics and standards.
Given this background, an attempt has been made in this paper to identify the recent status of higher education system of India and explore the possibilities of revamping and revitalizing the core functional areas so that growth in this crucial sector becomes qualitative and sustainable.
Access and Equity
Education is one of the most potential weapons to fight against socio-economic maladies like poverty and inequality. Education is equally key to enhance India’s competitiveness in the global economy especially in view of interdependence and integration of Indian economy with world economy posing many challenges like maintaining international quality in higher education and acceptability and sustainability of skilled manpower. This seems to be more important for a country like India which is the second largest system of higher education, next only to USA, Therefore, ensuring access to quality education for all, in particular for the poor and rural population, is key to the economic and social development of India. Looking at the ground reality, it gives a dismal picture of the state of higher education in India. The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in India is 12 percent while that of some developed countries is around 70 percent , Ballal (2009). One of the reasons of such a poor state of affairs may be attributed to concentration of educational institutes in the urban areas while majority of population live in rural areas. This is evident from the fact that in India only as negligible as 20 percent of Higher Education Institutes are located in the rural areas with more than 65 percent of its population while the remaining 80 percent of Institutions are located in urban or Semi-urban areas which constitute only 30 to 35 percent of population. This invariably reflects gross disparities in access to higher education in India. Moreover, over the years Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has been emerging as a potential alternative to ensure greater accessibility to higher education beyond geographical and political boundaries with all its advanced tools like teleconferencing, email, audio conferencing, television lessons, radio broadcasts, interactive radio counseling, interactive voice response system, and CD ROMs and it can also facilitate many such academic and administrative activities with e-orientation (Sharma, 2003; Sanyal, 2001; Bhattacharya and Sharma, 2007). Through broadening the international dimension of educational services to greater and expanding meaningful collaborations with internationally acclaimed global players in higher education, e-learning vis-à-vis ICT can really make higher education easily accessible, affordable and qualitative leading to the upliftment of the socio-economic status of the people. But in India ICT aided e-learning is in an embryonic state due to immature growth of ICT sector as evident from the Table 1.1. Although the growth of e-learning is gradually growing, much remains to do to ensure its visibility particularly in view of its projected global market size of exceeding $52.6 billion by 2010. Moreover, the apprehension of ineffectiveness and dilution in quality of education owing to a shift from conventional mode of imparting higher education to online modules seems to be a major obstacle on the way of accommodating required changes in the system.
In order that the trickle down effects of higher education benefit the economy at large it is essential that inequalities of access to higher education are reduced substantially. The inequalities are diverse and multidimensional. It may vary from quality to gender, from technology to region. Despite its large size, the higher education system in India is far away from the reach of the bulk of the socially economically and culturally underprivileged section of the population and cannot meet the growing demand for higher education, especially from weaker sections of the society including culturally, economically, and educationally backward people. It caters to the requirement of only about 10 percent of youth in the relevant age group (18–24 years), while corresponding figures are more than 50 percent for most developed countries and 20 to 30 percent for developing countries, Chauhan (2008). Further, the absence of equity and inclusiveness in the system is clearly discernible from the fact that the intensity of enrolment in rural areas is low compared to that of urban and too low especially among SC, ST and OBC. On gender front, the access to higher education is also low for female as compared with male, the GER being 15.25% for the former and 11% for the later, Thorat (2006). Many factors can be attributed towards such disparity like financial constraints and lower status of women, lack of proper implementation of ongoing programmes and absence of political will most importantly contribute to inequity and non-inclusiveness in the system. Looking at the ground reality financial provision has been made in the Budget of 2009-10 to improve the situation not only from the point of view of equity and access but also from almost all crucial broad sectors of higher education. The budgetary provision made by the University Grants Commission (UGC) as mentioned in Table 1.2 is intended to address the deficiencies in the higher education system to make it more qualitative, equitable and efficient.
Quality and Accreditation
The world economy is changing and so is the higher education. The availability of knowledge, ensuring quality, to the economy at large happens to be a strong determinant of national competitiveness and quality of human resources in a country. The economic progress cannot be sustainable in absence of a higher education system equipped with stringent quality assurance processes. Quality is a critical factor in influencing the educational outcome of the educational institute on one hand and employability of the graduates on the other. In today’s contemporary world the interests of many stakeholders like students, parents, future employers, the State and funding bodies need to be taken care of while developing a strategy leading to quality in higher education, (Barnett 1992, Staropoli, 1991). The academic freedom and flexibility granted to educational institutes like universities make the adoption of quality control exercise a complex and difficult one (Largosen, 2004, Colling and Harvey, 1995). This necessitates developing a stringent monitoring mechanism to maintain and improve the standards of education. In this regard, India has established National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), similar policies adopted by many developed nations like UK, Canada to promote quality in education. The overall quality assurance framework followed by NAAC has all the basic elements of quality assurance like accreditation, assessment and academic audit. Further, the methods adopted by NAAC like institutional self-study report, on-site visits, face-to-face interaction with faculty and students leave a fair degree of consequential impacts on the educational institutions to adhere to quality norms and standards. However, ensuring quality in a complex, diverse and one of the largest educational systems of the world requires a high degree of accountability both from the institutions and National agencies level. Truly, the complexity in the entire value chain of ensuring quality is more visible in the functional domain of the teacher and the student. Since the participatory role played by students in academic discourse gets seriously affected by not granting due freedom to them and the teachers on the other hand fail to bring the fruits of hard core applied research and consulting to the class room for effecting better and meaningful learning for want of right kind of academic environment coupled with assistance and incentives. Keeping in view of such complexities NAAC has taken initiatives to strengthen stakeholders’ involvement rather than only playing a role of regulatory and assessing body. Thus sustainability in upgrading quality depends much on the stakeholders’ commitment and continuous self appraisal supplemented by the unbiased qualitative review and intime dissemination of requisite information to the receiving end. Moreover, there is no denying the fact that there is also a need to review the ongoing policies and the lapses and shortcomings in meeting the objectives so that recommendations on the basis of national consensus can be worked out for implementation. This can invariably trigger a healthy and constructive competition in the higher education field to march towards excellence.
Public Private Partnerships
As India has entered an era of high economic growth with growth becoming multisectoral it faces manpower deficiencies. There is no denying the fact that high level of knowledge and manpower development can promote economic prosperity and international recognition vis-à-vis potential skilled labour force and other tangible socio-economic benefits. Therefore, financing higher education has come to the centre stage of debate and discussions among the policy makers across the globe. The origin of debate much relates to public and private funding of higher education. Even in most of the developing economies the shift from public funding to private funding is visible. Pressure of fierce intersectoral competition for public funds and also the requirement of massive funds for developmental projects aggravate financial stringencies. It is also not practically possible for Public higher education systems to meet growing demand for higher education, especially in view serious constraints. This has opened up new possibilities like the public private partnerships in higher education system. Total Financial Requirements based on a mark-up over existing recurring costs as presented in Table 1.3 show that the total additional outlay required for achieving the enrolment targets will increase from about Rs 4585 crores to Rs. 16,500 crores over the Plan period without private education. However, the financial requirements based on SES enrolment data with some share attributed to private education show the increase in outlay from Rs 4061 crores to Rs.15,265 crores, Table 1.4. This clearly suggests that efforts have to be geared up to increase the private spending to achieve the targeted enrolment rate rather than exclusively relying on public spending. And the objective of enhancing the accessibility of qualitative higher education with equity to a seemingly diversified population can be accomplished through effective and meaningful private participation rather than exclusive dependence on public funds. This public private partnership may take any form like public ownership with private participation, private ownership with public subsidy, etc. involving interplay between three stakeholders: the government, the individual learners and the private individuals or enterprises. Apart from many changes being witnessed in the traditional means of running higher education systems, the conventional approach of positive externalities of public expenditure on higher education is also slowly getting replaced by more productive and efficient private participation. The reasons for such a transitional change of treating education and technical education in particular not as a merit good but as a private good may be many, but factors like growing awareness of people to pay for qualitative education leading to better earning capacity in turn ensures a better tomorrow and the low price elasticity of enrolments which removes the fear factor of the private operators of loosing a sizeable market owing to relatively higher course fee are most important. But, private operators should not be given free hand to operate on the ground that private participation reduces the burden on government budgets, and helps ensure that the costs of higher education are borne by those to whom the benefits accrue. There are obvious concerns associated with the participation of private sector like motive of profiteering, degradation of quality, restriction on academic autonomy and the like.
The concerns are not absolutely/always ill founded since privatization and commercialization are synonymous. For instance, private sector being influenced by the axiom ‘value for money’ may impose unnecessary restrictions leading to loss of academic freedom affecting badly the scope of creativity and innovations. This makes the role of the Govt more pivotal so that privatization with the high order of commercialization does not dilute the basic objective and quality of higher education. As such private higher education systems must have to be subjected to strict administrative and financial regulations. However, by encouraging private participation accessibility of higher education to a diversified demography in a resource constrained economy can be expanded. The need of the hour is to develop a strong, viable regulatory mechanism to grant permission to private or cross-border institutions to operate for ensuring and expanding qualitative higher education. Therefore, public private partnerships built on the expertise of each other through appropriate allocation of resources, risks and rewards can really play crucial role in nation's strategic development of higher education.
Higher education systems especially in developing countries are undergoing radical changes in recent times both to ensure quality and social accountability. The challenges are manifold. With the haunt of globalization, achieving the goal of excellence at various spheres like student performance and competitiveness, faculty qualification and promotion of research seems to be the toughest challenge. What is key to achieve excellence in this context is ‘good governance’ which is instrumental in specifying the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders in such a manner that is consistent with achieving quality higher education. Good governance may not be the sufficient condition for achieving high quality but it is certainly a necessary condition to empower any higher education system to thrive towards excellence and deliver the best. Academic governance relies much on special attributes like initiative, innovation and creativity with substantial academic autonomy. Therefore, it is rightly said that “The governance of higher education needs to develop a fusion of academic mission and executive capacity, rather than substitute one for another” (OECD, 2003). Good governance with the development of appropriate instruments maneuvers the process of achieving the basic objectives of higher education, i.e. social and economic development. However, good governance in higher education depends on variety of factors like academic freedom, state control or supervision, financial stability, accountability and the like. Academic freedom is not absolute, rather it gives liberty to the academicians as well as institutions to put forward innovative ideas adding and replacing the established practice without any adverse impact on their personal careers or fate of the institutions respectively. The academic autonomy when referred to institutions represents freedom from active government control over spending, teaching, and curriculum decisions empowering institutions to take timely decisions for imparting skills and training compatible with ongoing market needs. However, academic autonomy should not imply free reign to cherish commercial interests only crippling the progress thereby. Therefore, academic freedom along with accountability for enhanced educational outcome is important. Institutions while granted recognition to run specialized courses or government funding for infrastructural development and promotion of research and development must be accountable for visible learning and research outcome. Government monitoring and appraisal of performance pertaining to government funding to the institutions in particular seem more pertinent in view of incidence of misuse of funds and low educational outcomes. Accountability is also required in internal administration of the institutes apart from the stipulation from external agencies. Effective governance to a great extent depends on cooperation and compatibility/coherence between various functional domains of administration on one hand and striking an appropriate balance between academic autonomy and government control on the other.
Apart from academic autonomy and accountability, prompt decision making impacts effective governance. In this regard, a technically sound upgraded information system can facilitate decision making in hard core academic and administrative areas like teaching and research, student welfare and finance and day-to-day administration respectively through its easily accessible database and well connected network. There can be still other important components influencing governance in higher education, like financial stability, fruitful training programmes for upgradation of skills, job security, compensation and reward system for faculty and administrative staff and the like which in turn promote quality and excellence. However, managing intellectuals in a knowledge driven society with all diversified strategies evolved to deliver optimal outcome is a highly complex exercise. Good governance in this regard may be a buzz word of progress but not necessarily a universal remedy for critical challenges being faced by institutions operating in diversified socioeconomic contexts. But, good governance can facilitate the process of meaningful interplay between different stakeholders safeguarding each other interest to foster quality and sustainability.
Suggestions and Recommendations
With the advent of globalization it has become imperative to reorient our education system to the global realities rather than continuing with the age old inward looking policies. Developed as well as developing countries like USA, UK and China are now reshaping their education policies with massive thrust on sustainable qualitative higher education along with spirit of dynamism and competitiveness. India in this context requires a comprehensive reforms package to harness optimum potential of its human resources crucial in achieving its socio-economic objectives. Below given some of the important suggestions recommendations to revitalize the education system.
a) While access to qualitative professional higher education needs to be further expanded at the same time equity must be ensured by extending financial and academic support to poor and marginalized sections of the society.
b) In order to increase access ICTs aided teaching and learning modules should be developed.
c) Sufficient training programmes for faculty members should be conducted to adopt new skills and expertise to develop learning systems relevant and contemporary to the requirements of the 21st century.
d) Quality assurance is key to sustainability of any system. As such, higher education system involving all its stakeholders with appropriate regulatory mechanism should create conditions congenial enough for promotion of research, innovative and creative thoughts aiming to ensure high quality.
e) International university networks and partnerships should be developed to promote high quality research and develop internationally competitive curricula and teaching practices and dissemination of innovative ideas.
f) In view of dearth of public funds in a rapidly growing economy, higher education must be based on public-private partnerships model.
g) Academic freedom both for teachers and students should be provided to realize academic excellence.
h) Concerted efforts both at govt. and private level must be made to attract the best of the talents with a sound compensation package along with perks and amenities.
Knowledge is power and therefore has remained one of the most important driving forces of sustaining human existence. For any economy to achieve exponential economic growth, it is essential to gear up skill based activities through a potential, vibrant and dynamic higher education system. Over the years, trade, investment, mobility of people and the economy have grown significantly and so the need of revamping the higher education system replacing the age old and non-relevant practices. Looking at the deficiencies in most of the key areas of higher education system of India like accessibility, quality, financing and governance, a strategic paradigm shift in the policy framework and overall functioning is needed to meet growing expectations and societal needs.
References and Additional Thinking
- Annual Report, 2009-10, Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development
- Ballal, H.S. (2009), FICCI-Higher Education Summit,Nov 6, 2009, New Delhi
- Barnett, R. (1992), Improving Higher Education. Total Quality Care. Buckingham. SRHE/Open University Press.
- Bhattacharya, I. & Sharma, K. (2007), 'India in the knowledge economy – an electronic paradigm', International Journal of Educational Management Vol. 21 No. 6, pp. 543-568.
- Chauhan, S. P. C. (2008), Higher Education: Current Status and Future Possibilities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka
- Colling, C. and Harvey, L. (1995), Quality control assurance and assessment in the link to continuous improvement, Quality Assurance in Education, 3(4), 30-34
- Draft Report of Working Group on Higher Education for the XI Plan, Planning Commission, Government of India (2007-12)
- Knight, J. and Dewit, H. (1997), Internationalisation of Higher Education in Asia Pacific Countries, European Association of International Education, Amsterdam, Natherlands.
- Sanyal, B. C. (2001), 'New functions of higher education and ICT to achieve education for all', Paper prepared for the Expert Roundtable on University and Technology-for- Literacy and Education Partnership in Developing Countries, International Institute for EducationalPlanning, UNESCO, September 10 to 12, Paris.
- Sharma, R. (2003), 'Barriers in Using Technology for Education in Developing Countries', IEEE0-7803-7724-9103.
- Staropoli A. (1991), Institutional Evaluation: The Role of the Main Actors in Higher Education. Dahllöf, U., Harris, J., Shattock, M., Staropoli, A. & in´t Veld, R. 1991:Dimensions of Evaluation in Higher Education. HEPS 13. London. Jessica Kingsley.
- Thorat, S. (2006), Higher Education in India: Emerging Issues Related to Access, Inclusiveness and Quality, Nehru Memorial Lecture,University of Mumbai
(Prof. Mrutyunjay Dash is an Assistant Professor in the area of Economics & International Business. He is an M.A. from Utka University having specialization in the field of Monetary Economics and International Monetary Management. He has also done his Ph.D. in the field of Agricultural Economics from Utkal University He has rich experience in teaching both at under-graduate and post-graduate level in Management Institutes of repute. Being a Doctorate in Economics, he is enriched with research experiences conducted in premier institutions like Nabakrushna Choudhury Centre for Development Studies (an ICSSR Research Institute), Ravenshaw University in major research projects sponsored by ICSSR and Ford Foundation, USA. For more than a decade he is actively involved in various activities like teaching, research and academic administration & curriculum development for Post Graduation Studies in Management. Besides being the acting Chairman of Post Graduate Council of ASBM he is also the Editor of ASBM Journal of Management.
The views expressed in the write-up are personal and do not re?ect the official policy or position of the organization.)