According to the University Grants Commission report dated March 31, 2010, there are 493 universities (42 Central, 256 State, 60 State private, 130 deemed-to-be universities, five institutions established under State legislation) and more than 31,000 colleges in India. Still, there are gaps to be bridged, policy frameworks that need to be in place to ensure quality education in a globalised context. Xavier Alphonse, Director, Indian Centre for Research and Development of Community Education, and a member of the committee involved in drafting recommendations for the 12th Five Year Plan, talks to Education Plus on issues plaguing the system, providing a set of recommendations.

Access and equity

In spite of an increase in the number of higher education institutions by 25 times since Independence, access to higher education is still poor. The real challenge is to reconcile expansion of educational institutions with inclusive development. Improving the awareness about the availability of options in higher education for the rural poor, increasing the role of community colleges and curbing unchecked commercialisation are key to improving access to and quality of education.

Quality

Around 60 per cent of institutions in India have not come forward for accreditation by National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). The parameters for good quality depend on the infrastructure, curriculum, eligibility of teachers and students being trained for the industry and so on. But many of these factors are hindered by commercialisation and institutions set up with vested interest. There should be an organizational set-up to check and follow up on the commercialisation and academic corruption.

Foreign universities

It is important for universities to be able to produce students of global competence. But that needs to be achieved by improving the quality of the existing systems and not by welcoming foreign universities that are here purely for business.

Centralisation

The setting up of a National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) in place of bodies like the UGC, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and Medical Council of India (MCI) will not strengthen the system. If the 13 regulatory bodies cannot effectively monitor and control, how can one agency have absolute control? Monitoring and strengthening the existing system is important, instead of creating a new system.

More universities

Sam Pitroda, chairman, National Knowledge Commission, suggested setting up of 1,500 more universities at the meeting of the vice-chancellors. Institutions in India are sufficient but it is far more important to upgrade the existing colleges into universities. It is the colleges in the country that are more actively involved in promoting research work. Similarly very few countries in the world follow the system of affiliation. Therefore it is important to improve the quality and provide freedom and autonomy at the college-level. It is equally important to attract students from disadvantaged groups to study by offering concessions.

Community colleges

Community colleges play a significant role in encouraging and integrating the underprivileged sections into the education system. These colleges help in skill development of school dropouts and students who fail in the board examination. Students who get reasonable credits in their course have lateral entry to the second year of an engineering course. Enrolment of students can increase only through community colleges as they also help students get employed.

Funding

Though a large amount was allocated in the 11th Five Year Plan, it is important that the funding pattern should change. Sixty per cent of the amount is for Central universities whereas the State universities get 20 per cent. It is important that the allocation for colleges, which form the basic units, be increased.

Another aspect is that this funding is primarily for about 7,000 government and aided colleges, whereas 80 per cent of the colleges are self-financing colleges which are left out from government schemes and scholarships.

Focus

Greater focus should be on academic networking of colleges, education integrated with community development, and a unified vision for education that replaces fragmented system that exists today.