Myth and reality about India’s higher education by Dr Raj Singh
Goal setting, academic leadership, interdisciplinary study and responsible ‘education for profit’ mindset are the way forward for private higher education
igher education in India is an unfortunate juxtaposition of expansion and fall –a growth of numbers contrasted against nosediving standards. The role of higher education in national development is being understood better; traditional 18 to 22-year-old students are being joined by a rapidly swelling segment of demographically diverse adult learners; accessibility to higher education is increasing. According to UNESCO, in response to this growth, private higher education has become the fastest growing segment of higher education worldwide, with the greatest expansion in Latin America and Asia. However, as the contours of private non-profit and for-profit education providers become obscure, higher education in India has turned into a burgeoning, messy
marketplace, giving the students a daunting situation in choosing from a glut of competing institutes. In India, the private sector got into higher education around the mid-Nineties. Back then, at moderately higher fees than those of government establishments, these new institutes built better-skilled graduates. Students passing from private institutes were better oriented to industry requirements than their peers from
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government colleges. As a consequence, students from private institutes got an open-arm welcome by employers. Riding on this came the viral proliferation of that boisterous marketing slogan – ‘100% job guarantee.’ A case of misguided vision, it ended
In India, private sector got into higher education around the midNineties. Back then, at moderately higher fees than those of government establishments, these new institutes built betterskilled graduates
up in distorting the direction of private higher education in India as employability began to be overridden by managing an appointment letter for the student, often with a total neglect of whether that employment was commensurate or not. Unpleasant reality The worst stage has now befallen the industry offering lower-level jobs to students in the beginning of the final year, for example, not a job for an MBA but for a graduate, which they use only to meet their targets through cheap manpower. Colleges, on the contrary, are not focusing on the big question – what is the quality of globally demanded industry skills that they are imparting to their students? Placement coordinators become more important than the academic dean. A repulsive offshoot of this is the mushrooming of a breed of incompetent and avaricious ‘campus to corporate’ soft skills trainers striking crooked commission deals with companies. In India, regulatory bodies have become defunct in spirit, working as mere licence-giving bodies
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rather than showing the way to private higher education. Higher education in the country today has four serious deficiencies: lack of objective, absence of interdisciplinary study, acute famine of quality faculty, and laidback performance. Interdisciplinary study draws from multiple academic disciplines that work together to create a powerful experience of integrative learning, critical thinking and creative problem solving. Institutions must take up the responsibility of producing leaders in academics especially at a time when there is an absolute scarcity in academic leadership. Importantly, unless India implements responsible ‘education for profit’, academia will remain mediocre and will never be able to move towards excellence. Goals needed Then there is the issue of goals. A few years ago, I suggested to a director of my institute to develop curriculum with the objectives outlined for each subject. This senior educationist with high-level experience in AICTE, UGC and IIT, shot me a blank look and said: “How can we write objectives for each course? I have never seen this in 40 years of my career.” How can institutions attain excellence if they do not even know why they are teaching a particular course? No knowledge of objectives means no awareness of expected learning outcomes. Sans learning outcomes, how can a college design appropriate pedagogy and evaluation methods? As beautifully expressed by Mario Andretti, desire is the key to motivation, but it is determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek.
According to UNESCO, private higher education has become the fastest-growing segment of higher education worldwide, with the greatest expansion in Latin America and Asia
(Dr Raj Singh is Vice-Chancellor of G D Goenka University, and former Vice-Chancellor of Ansal University, Gurgaon. Prior to a distinguished career in education, Dr Singh served in the Indian Air Force. The article is based on his speech at the international conference ‘The Excellence Agenda– May 2013 organised by Institutional Excellence Forum in New Delhi. For more cutting- edge ideas of top leaders from across the world, visit www.iefglobal.org)
Published on Oct 15, 2013
An article in Education Insider is based on a talk at the international conference, ‘The Excellence Agenda–May 2013’ organised by Institutio...