‘Improve service conditions of teachers to arrest the flight of intellectual capital’

President Pranab Mukherjee urged on Tuesday that private sector participation in higher education be encouraged through an appropriate policy that did not compromise on social objectives and quality.

Addressing a conference of Vice-Chancellors here, he wanted universities to spread not only knowledge and skills but also values of humanity and virtue. Besides spurring the nation’s technological and economic advancement, higher education had to fulfil the aspirations of the youth, who were restless and looking for directions.

The dearth of talent for important academic and research positions in institutions of higher education was a major challenge, he said. Another daunting task was the regulatory architecture and quality of governance. “Therefore, the focus now has to be on policy formulation that promotes autonomy and good governance. The flight of intellectual capital has to be discouraged by addressing the service conditions of faculty [members] and offering them incentives to serve the institutions within the country for longer periods.”

Expressing concern at the declining quality of higher education, Mr. Mukherjee called for steps to reverse this trend and improve the enrolment ratio, especially among the Scheduled Tribes, which was half the national average. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his address, regretted that no Indian university figured among the top 200 in the world. Henceforth, the focus should be on quality. “In recognition of the fact that expansion without quality improvement serves little purpose, we will now give over-riding emphasis on quality. We must recognise that too many of our higher educational institutions are simply not up to the mark.”

Noting that the higher education system was often criticised for being unnecessarily rigid, both for the faculty and students, Dr. Singh stressed the need for flexibility in universities to enable them to attract good faculty members, raise the teaching standards, encourage cutting-edge research and nurture talent. “Today, there are new challenges but also new opportunities. Our collective task ahead entails putting in place an educational system that would help build India into a modern, prosperous and progressive economy and society in the 21st century.”

The 12th Five Year Plan identified the task for the next five years, building on the momentum generated in the past 10 years and continuing the focus on expansion, equity and excellence, he said. Steps were needed to reform higher education so as to achieve quality. “We expect universities to become role models and contribute to strengthening other institutions of higher learning in their vicinity. Some central universities located in far-flung areas can also contribute to reducing the academic imbalances…,” he said. The conference, being attended by the Vice-Chancellors of 40 central universities, is being hosted by the President in his capacity as Chancellor of these institutions. The last such meeting was organised in 2003 by the President of the time, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.