President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday called for “drastic action” to reform the way education is being imparted in universities and institutes of higher learning in the country.

“Our institutes of higher education continue to be challenged by problems of quality. An international survey indicated that there is not a single Indian university amongst the top 200 universities in the world. This calls for drastic action to reform the way education is imparted in our universities and academic institutes,” Mr. Mukherjee said while addressing the 10th convocation of National Institute of Technology at Kurukshetra.

He said quality, affordability, and accessibility should become the mainstay of the country’s higher education system.

“We must take higher education, including technical education, to the doorstep of our people by innovations in the delivery system,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

Expressing concerns over the shortage of faculty across all types of institutes of higher education, the President said existing vacancies should be filled up “quickly”.

He also asked teachers to update themselves with the latest information in their respective academic fields.

“Our universities and institutes must encourage and facilitate their teachers participation in international seminars, refreshers courses and project work,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

Lamenting that the country was lagging far behind in the field of innovation, Mr. Mukherjee said, “India’s innovation balance sheet is not very encouraging. In 2011, 42,000 patents were filed in our country, compared to over five lakh applications filed each in China and the US in the same year.”

As per a recent Forbes survey, only three Indian companies have been listed amongst the world’s most innovative companies, he said, adding the number will increase if the process of innovation is made a permanent feature in our institutions of learning.

“Our universities, engineering colleges and research and development centres should be the hotbed of innovations,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

“Talent in academic and research positions in our institutions are difficult to retain due to lack of adequate flexibility in our system. Our system must be geared to discourage any loss of intellectual capital and at the same time welcome overseas scholars including NRIs and Persons of Indian origin to return to the country,” the President said.

Such an initiative will enable transmission of ideas and new methods of teaching and research from abroad to India.

“Academia-industry linkages must be strengthened to include industry’s perspective in research and to drive market benefits from innovations,” he added.

Mr. Mukherjee said that in engineering colleges and technical institutes, there is a need to pursue scaling up of research in cutting edge technologies such as nano-technology, biotechnology, embedded system design and technologies for sustainable development like renewable energy.

Commenting on the country’s evolving demographic profile, he said two-third of the population is expected to be in working age group by 2025.

“As is well known, India is poised to be an economic power. In terms of purchasing power parity today, the size of our economy is the third largest in the world“.

“A growth rate of 8-9 per cent per year has been envisaged during the 12th Five Year Plan period of 2012-17. Such scales of economic expansion need several enabling factors prominent among them being education,” he said.

Mr. Mukherjee said that over time, the country has, created an infrastructure of good educational institutions for imparting quality education at all levels.

He noted the number of NITs has increased from seven in 2006-07 to 15 in 2011-12.

“The enrolment to higher education institutions in the country has similarly increased from 1.39 crore in 2006-07 to 2.18 crore in 2011-12 in just five years... the growth rate of enrolment in engineering, which was close to 25 per cent of the total enrolment annually in the 11th Plan period, is the highest for any field of study,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

The President also touched upon series of initiatives by the Centre in the 12th Five Year Plan which includes establishment of more Central universities, greater emphasis on technical education and distance learning, academic reforms, interest subsidy on education loans, establishment of innovation universities among others.

He said the 12th Five Year Plan strategy of the Centre gives due emphasis to greater outreach and more opportunities for all sections of our society. “Governance reforms and restructuring is also a priority,” he added.

The President said that India is beginning to emerge as a knowledge economy, adding that “our pool of qualified manpower will be the backbone of this new age.”

Mr. Mukherjee told graduating students that since their institute was located in Kurukshetra, the land of Mahabharata, they should always carry the teachings of the Bhagvad Gita with them, which are perennial and relevant to the human civilisation for all time to come.

Speaking on the occasion, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda described human resource development as the most critical component in the task of nation building and said that improvement in quality of manpower is a major challenge.

“We in Haryana, are trying to meet this challenge by improving the physical infrastructure required for education,” he said.

Haryana Governor Jagannath Pahadia, Kurukshetra MP Navin Jindal, Chairman of Board of Governors of the NIT here, Dr A Sivathanu Pillai and NIT Director, Prof Anand Mohan, were also present on the occasion