The faculty and administrative leadership of varsities should start working towards changes in attitudes and approaches
India has a diverse and disparate higher educational system in terms of size, content, quality and outreach, consisting of 634 degree awarding institutions (43 Central Universities, 237 State Universities, 129 Deemed Universities, 100 private Universities and 65 institutions of national importance including IITs, IIMs, IISERs, IIITs and NITs), about eight lakh teachers, 33,000 colleges and around 170 lakh students. The expenditure on higher education, as per cent of GDP, has increased from 0.89 in 2000 to 1.25 in 2011 (Higher Education at a Glance, UGC, February 2012). While this higher education system is among the largest in the world, it records a Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of about 11per cent of the youth (out of 700 million in the country) as compared to 92 per cent in the U.S., 52 in the U.K., 45 in Japan, 11.1 in all Asia, and 10.3 in all developing countries.
The Government plans to increase the GER to 30 per cent by 2020 and hence there is a massive expansion drive which is sought to be on the basis of access, equity and quality. This drive involves establishing new institutions along with an eclectic range of ideas and approaches from meta universities, innovation universities, and allowing entry of foreign universities to the establishment of an overreaching regulatory body for research and teaching coordination and funding, providing enabling provisions for seamless exchange of academic resources and ideas, choice-based credit systems and credit transfers for students.
However, the main challenge remains pairing these ideas to extant rules and generic institutional structures. Size, diversity and volume alone are not the problems for effective implementation; it is rather the structural discontents that are built within the system that cause problems. State universities are the largest in the number in the country and thus their importance cannot be ignored.
Administration of these universities is made nearly impossible as Vice-Chancellors are not free to assemble their own team due to the prevalent regulations of a separated and isolated mode of recruitment of other statutory bodies, making synergistic relationships very difficult and leading to frequent and avoidable conflicts. Added to this is the presence of such people in ex-officio capacities in governing councils who are seldom able to contribute to institutional strength and who involve in politics that is ruinous to institutional spirit and strength.
Further, many of the state universities lack focus in terms of institutional goals and are treated like broad spectrum antibiotics to deal with all sorts of social and economic problems in a general, dissipated and ineffective way that causes the institution to be involved in everything but mattering nowhere. Thus hostels are run as welfare gruel centres, classrooms become hubs of dissent and realpolitik, recruitment is a precursor for court battles and there is a built-up culture of a total disregard for rules.
A few hundred acres of quality government real estate is locked up for ever to constantly produce employees who are de-motivated, students who are disenchanted and the campus promotes mendacity and obfuscation as necessary and important parts of life. The constant and chronic lack of funds ensures that things deteriorate steadily.
This situation has led to an inability to identify institutional fulcrums around which a new world can be fashioned with progress and reform. Thus universities have become like ‘duckback’ institutions over which new ideas and reforms roll off. Departments have become discontent parts of the system with little or no teaching, research or industry linkages and exposure that will lead to competitive growth.
(The author is Dean, School of Earth Sciences, & Registrar, Central University of Karnataka, Gulbarga)