Quality Education: A Precursor for Economic Turnaround

Taming the Dragon
April 21, 2018
A Unique Feat
July 7, 2018

India needs to take an urgent call from its declining standard of the higher and technical education, having wide ramifications over the economy, including the manufacturing and even the socio-cultural environment. Country’s share in the world manufacturing has plunged to mere 2.1% vis a vis 22% share of China, 17.6% of the US and 7% of the Japan. Japan has mere 1.6% of world population. In world ship-building India has less than 1.0% share, vis a vis 26% of share of South Korea, having 5% of India’s population as well as area. Inspite of India being 4th largest steel producer in the world lags in the ship-building due to poor maritime engineering. India stands 60th in the global innovations index (GII) and at 100th place in Global Hunger Index. To take a call from this poor state of manufacturing, state of education and research along with human development, India needs to be take care of its education urgently

Education is key to facilitate and enrich the socio-cultural, moral, scientific, technological, economic and overall development of any society or nation. It is a potent and purposive intervention to facilitate, object oriented learning, invoke utilitarian skills, consolidate moral values, bring advancement in scientific and technical know-how, enhance individual and social commitments, reinforce one’s faith in the self and shape the individual as well as societal behavior of generations to come. So, education acquires key significance in a country like India, home to one fifth of the global youth and endowed with, one of the world’s largest higher education system. But, owing to chronic quality deficit, India has no place even among the 30 top international destinations for higher education and has been lagging at 60th rank in the global innovations index (GII). Such a dismal performance is worrisome and quite strange, when the country is blessed with an ostentatiously vast and enviable number of elite institutes, comprising 100 plus institutes of national importance, so declared by the Parliament, including the IITs, NITs, AIIMS, IIITs, IIMs etc., along with 47 Central Universities. All of them are blessed with most liberal fiscal support and access to cream of the nation’s talent, through most fiercely contested entrance exams. In addition to this vast number of elite institutes, the country also has 665 plus state universities, including the Self-financed and deemed universities, along with 374 autonomous and 43,000 affiliated colleges. The combined enrolment of all these institutes is around 3.5 crore students, almost equal to the population of Canada. The 150 elite institutes of the country alone, outnumber the total number of universities in several countries like, the Canada, UK and several European, Asian and Latin American countries, whose universities make, almost a beeline among the top ranking global universities, where none of our institutes, including the elite institutes figure, viz among the top 250 universities in the Times Higher Education (THE) university rankings. The 150 elite institutes of the country, blessed with all the bounties from the exchequer and absolute autonomy, devoid of any political and bureaucratic interferences, could well usher India in the league of top innovating and manufacturing countries with even feeble attempt to embark on the goal of quality teaching and research. The state of non-elite, but public funded institutes and universities is also quite worrisome, which have also been attracting a fairly talented crosssection of the society by virtue of their lower and nominal fees vis a vis the self financed institutes and universities. The self financed institutes have been offering education at relatively higher and cost based fees, for want of any fiscal support.

The chronic quality deficit syndrome, across-the-board in teaching, research, publications, innovations and overall intellectual property creation in the country's higher education network, being sustained with an annual fiscal outgo of around 75,000 crores per annum1 is quite worrisome. In the seven decades of Independence, any formal system of academic performance audit is yet to be put in place to pinpoint the lacunae in the vision, mission, priorities, targets, pedagogy and attempt to draw a time bound roadmap, including the system for effective monitoring of performance and fixing of accountability, especially for the elite institutes. A clear perception of the emerging scenario or vision, along with a precisely defined mission for the higher and technical education, with time-bound, discrete and tangible targets and also with an explicit-hierarchy of priorities, inter se, teaching, pedagogy development, research, publications, innovations, value orientation and industry-academia cooperation, necessary for periodical evaluation and measuring the performance of the elite as well as the other public funded institutions is lacking. Lack of a competent agency and effective system to monitor, facilitate and counsel the education providers for requisite capacity building and enable them to fulfill our developmental needs, except an 'accept or reject' style of regulatory system, can be one of the major reason for the quality deficit syndrome in higher education. For want of a clear focus upon relative priorities and goals, and also lack of any agency, capable to help the education providers to embark upon the desired path of quality teaching, research, publications, pedagogical interventions and innovations, our education providers are finishing below the contemporary international benchmarks of performance.

Hardly 20 of the India’s public funded universities and institutions, including the elite institutes, find place in the top 1000 universities of the world, that too towards the tail end only, which all are being sustained at a staggering cost of Rs. 75,000 crores.

It is so, when they are catering higher education needs of less than 50% of the total number of students, enrolled in higher education today. More than 50% of the students, pursuing higher education in the country are studying in the self financed institutes or in the self-financed programmes of the public funded institutes, not getting any grant from the state. Rather, instead of getting any support from the state, they (such students) have to additionally bear several charges or levies, directly or indirectly being imposed by the regulatory authorities or the state-run universities. Such charges are either being directly imposed upon the students of affiliated institutions or from the self-financed institutes, for approval or affiliation, which also devolve upon the students. To the contrary, in several countries like Denmark etc, the governments, conscious of their responsibilities of a welfare state, reimburse either in full or a large part of the fees being paid by the students in the self-financing institutions. We have 1.7 million engineering seats, the highest in the world, but more than half are lying vacant solely for want of ability of the prospective students to pay the cost-based fees of self-financing institutes.

In India, on excluding such students, pursuing higher education in the self financed institutions or in self financed programs of the public funded institutes, the per-student expenditure, calculated on the purchasing power parity basis, is fairly comparable with the expenditures being incurred in several high performing countries. Yet, there are only 7 Indian universities in the world’s top 500 universities, as ranked by the Times Higher Education (THE). The universities of the US, Europe and even from our Asian as well as BRICS counterparts, like China, Japan, South Korea, other ASEAN nations and some of the BRICS nations make a beeline to the top, in the world university rankings. Even the tiny nations like Singapore, Hong Kong, Israel or Denmark with 5 to 8 million populations, have atleast 1-3 universities in the top 100, where we never figure. For want of quality in teaching and research, inspite of the education being most affordable in India, barring the countries offering free higher education, we do not even rank among the 50 top destinations, attracting international students. Hardly 36 of India’s universities and institutions have place, towards the tail end among top 1100 universities in the, THE world rankings. Out of these 36 institutes as well, 11 are self financed.

We also have a very dismal share in the international patent applications being made, or in creating other forms of intellectual properties. Our share in international research publications is also abysmally low. Besides, more than 35% of the research papers being published in pay and publish category of journals in the world are of the Indian scholars. Our share in international research citations is also quite dismal at 3.1 percent, inspite of a very vast higher educationnetwork. UK has only 133 universities, less than a sixth of the number in India and even less in number than the 150 elite institutes of India. Population-wise as well, the UK has just 1% of global population, but it has a 12% share in the international citation frequency in the research. While, we have 3.1% share in international research citations, notwithstanding being home to world's 20% youth and one of the world’s largest education network. We are also home to 17.8% of the world's Population. The top 50 universities of the world-constituting the alma mater of most of the Nobel Prize winners, have each produced between 12-151 Nobel laureates in the preceding years. The lowest score is of 12 Nobel Laureates for the Duke University and Kings College University of Washington, and the highest number of 151 is from Harvard University (a private university). There are universities with double digit Nobel winners from tiny countries like Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland, having a miniscule of populations of 50 to 90 lacs. As a nation, US has highest 353 Nobel laureates followed by the UK 125, Germany 105, France 61 and so on. Netherland, Norway and Israel, having a population of mere 1.7 cr, 52 lac and 85 lac have 19, 13 and 12 Nobel Prize winners. India has only one noble laureate till date, Bharat Ratna Dr. C.V Raman, who could alone bag a Noble prize for the research conducted in India, that too prior to Independence in 1930. Likewise, as per the data released by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and even after a 7% growth, the patent filings from India had been mere 1529 in 2016 vis a vis 56,595 of the US, 45,239 of Japan and 43,168 of China, under the WIPO’s patent cooperation Treaty (PCT). India has even seen a drop in international patent applications to 1,423 under the Patent Cooperation Treaty in 2015, while US had 57,385, Japan (44,235), China (29,846) and Korea (14,626), all figuring in the top-10 list, registering a rise 20%, 14% and 7%, respectively, from last year. India fared no better in terms of global trademark filings as well, under the Madrid System. It ranked 36th with only 150 trademarks field in 2015, down from 153 in 2014, when it had seen a more than 70% increase in trademark registrations. It shows a very miserable scene on the front of new product and brand launches. Against a paltry figure of 150 filings of India, the trademark filings of the US (7,340), Germany (6,831), France (4,021), China (2,401), Japan (2,205) are 14 to 48 times.

Data from the WIPO-Report on “the Breakthrough Innovations and Economic Growth”, highlight the vast gap with which the Indian elite institutes are lagging behind even China in research, when it (WIPO-Report) asserts that the IITs, though endeavoring to move ahead on research in nanotechnology with over 5,000 scientific papers and 14 patents since 1970, are yet miles behind even China, as the Chinese Academy of Sciences excels with 29,591 publications and 705 patent filings in nanotechnology. Therefore our education and research has a long distance to go, in promoting innovations and research at par with contemporary trends. The figure, on comparing with China, is embarrassingly low for the elite institutes of India, constituting an icon at home. The elite institutes as well as the public funded institutes and universities which alone receive all the grants from exchequer, need a close audit of their performance, to plough back the returns for the nation for the tax payers' money.

In case of institutes of national importance, there is no meaningful system of academic audit, regulation, and monitoring to require them to embark upon a path to redeem their explicit or implicit goals. So, such a system needs to be put in place. Inspections and censures, largely confined to self financed institutes, where governments spend nothing, need to be made uniformly-and-judiciously applicable over all the higher education providers, including the elite institutes, to invoke quality in education. Even, some of the regulatory authorities have completely exempted the government-run institutes and universities from seeking regular periodical approvals of extension. So, they find no need not to take caution of their being ill equipped, vis a vis the self financed counterparts. Therefore, several government-run universities even avail the liberty to run professional programs, without hiring a single teacher in the faculty or with mere 10- 15% faculty strength vis-a-vis the norms and also vis-a-vis private or self-financed institutes. Besides, the tradition of subjective inspections also need to be streamlined with objective and digitalized score based evaluations. The affiliating universities, while insisting maintaining a cadre ratio of Professor, Associate Professors and Assistant Professors as a pre condition to grant or renew affiliations, themselves, at times do not hire even a single regular teacher in the faculty to teach and run multiple batches and fully or largely depend upon visiting faculties. So, the regulatory norms need to be applied uniformly on the public funded institutes and universities as well, for touching the quality benchmarks. Rather, more stringent norms need to be invoked for the government funded institutes and universities to plough back better return over the tax payers' money. Occasionally and in some rare instances only couple of decades ago, there had been found a sound MBA and or MCA programs being run by clubbing 2-3 apartments. Today, most of the self financed universities and institutions (leaving few, may & around 10% or less proving to be black sheep), are having sprawling and very impressive infrastructures as well as faculty resources, often up to the mark and even better than what can be thought. Rather, hundreds of centers of public funded open universities are running in clumsy apartments with little teaching inputs. Otherwise, by and large, today more than 80% of private universities and colleges are having relatively better physical infrastructures, equipments and faculty strength, including cadre ratio than majority of the state funded universities and colleges. Yet, the Union and State governments are mostly confined in censuring self financed institutes where the government doesn't spend a single penny and letting loose the state funded ones. It is time to focus upon the State financed institutes and universities, including the elite institutes, besides the self financed ones for a more closer scrutiny, for the value for the money being spent out of the exchequer as well as for ensuring quality of teaching and research, where the state is spending more then Rs 75,000 crores out of State exchequer. Tax payers' money needs to be better accounted for. Today, the students are the best judge in evaluating and selecting institutions for pursuing studies. So, instead of physical inspections, subjective in nature, minimum benchmarks of infrastructure and faculty be laid down, and all institutes be asked to upload their facilities in digitalized formats. Inspections may then be conducted in random only to verify the digital data. The regulatory authorities should focus more to counsel for capacity building in both public and privately funded institutes on a case to case basis and offering remedial grants.

On top of all, a more closer scrutiny of the elite institutes is needed, which are getting more than a lion’s share of the resources and getting cream of the nation’s talent, through most fiercely contested entrance exams, but lagging far behind in most of the world rankings. Regular periodical performance audit of all the other public funded institutes and universities is also most imperative to assess their contribution in enhancing quality of education, research and publications. Besides, instead of the current ‘accept or reject’ style of regulation, largely targeting the self financed institutions alone, need to be replaced by a capacity building system of regulation. It is time to assign defined targets of performance in terms of quality of passing out youth, including quality of research, publications and innovations for at least the elite as well as the non-elite State funded institutes. It is high time for India to emulate the system of consultative regulation and negotiated rule making in the arena of higher education to enhance capabilities of all types of education providers. [To be continued for proposing a roadmap for the same]