With faculty crunch impacting the quality of higher education in the country, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday said the UGC and other stakeholders should “urgently consider” the issue and find innovative methods of resolving it.

The Prime Minister also noted that premier institutions of the country do not figure among the best in the world and that quality in general remains a “huge concern in the higher education sector”.

“I would urge UGC and other stakeholders in higher education sector to urgently consider the issue of quality and shortage of faculty and find innovative methods of resolving them,” he said at the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations of the University Grants Commission.

As per statistics, the IITs alone face a faculty shortage of close to 32 per cent and almost all the central universities in the country are confronted with shortage of teachers.

The Prime Minister said the university system also needs to put much more emphasis on research and more specifically on enhancing the number and quality of doctoral programmes.

“It is important to note that inter-disciplinary perspectives are the cornerstone of present day research. We must ensure that inter-disciplinary research takes firm roots in the culture of our universities. We must reverse to today’s situation where individual department largely operates as islands,” he said.

Dr. Singh also stressed on an environment of academic freedom in the university system, saying abilities to promote innovation and excellence in teaching and research require that institutes of higher learning have freedom to chalk their own course.

The Prime Minister, who himself headed the Commission as an academician in 1991, said though its contribution to higher education has been widely acknowledged over the last 60 years, "the best is yet to come".

In the coming years, he said, the country needs to increasingly focus on employability along with three other Es such as expansion, excellence and equity as the government was committed to carry forward the work of strengthening the higher education system with "even greater energy and sense of purposefulness in the future".

He said the recently launched Rashtriya Uchttar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) programme recognises the importance of state higher education institutes which cater to a majority of the students receiving higher education in our country.

The programme aims to create 278 new universities and 388 new colleges and convert 266 colleges to model degree colleges by the end of the 13th Plan Period.

Drawing attention towards financing higher education, Dr. Singh said new models of financing higher education based on well established norms and improvements in the existing system of funding by Centre and the states are of "critical concerns" as support has declined in real terms.

"State universities in particular require focused attention and support to improve their quality of teaching and research," he said.

He also stressed on an urgent need for strengthening the university-industry interface to give a boost to research and development as it would give immense benefit both to the university system and Indian Industry at large.

"It may be worthwhile on the part of our university academics to make a detailed study of how this interface works in other countries so that we can replicate the international best practices," he suggested.

Noting that in the last 10 years, the Government has put "unprecedented emphasis" on education in primary, secondary and higher fields, he said the enhanced focus has began to show results in various fields while the gross enrolment ratio has almost doubled to 19.4 per cent.

The GER for women in higher education, in particular, has increased from 9.4 to 17.9 per cent during the same period, he said.

Spelling out the initiatives taken in the last 10 years, Dr. Singh said several new institutes including 23 new central universities, seven IIMs, nine IITs, 10 NITs, five Indian Institutes of Science Education & Research, four Indian IIIT, and two Schools of Planning and Architecture were set up.

Making the higher education system more inclusive, he said OBC’s were provided reservations in central educational institutions while new degree colleges in educationally backward districts were established. Besides, polytechnics were set up in un-served and under-served areas.

Leveraging on the potential if ICT, he said 400 universities and 20,000 colleges have been provided high speed broadband connectivity while under the National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), web and video courses are being developed for engineering and humanities streams.

With the recent approval of the National Skill Qualifications Framework by the Union Cabinet to encourage skill development in a big way, he said the country now has an integrated and unified qualifications framework linking technical and vocational education on the one hand with general education on the other.

"It will now be possible for people who have acquired training through non-formal channels to get their skills certified and therefore get better opportunities in the formal job market."

While laying emphasis on inter-disciplinary research, he said a substantive research initiative should also be designed to specifically address issues of critical national importance like climate change and disaster management.

"Let me take this opportunity to reaffirm that our Government stands committed to putting in place appropriate policies and institutional structures for ensuring the academic autonomy of the institutes of Higher Education in our country," he said.