What ails higher education?

There is an urgent need to form a movement that fights for reforms in education.

October 12, 2014 03:51 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:17 pm IST

In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2014-15, not a single university from India could make it to the list of top 275 universities in the world and no Indian institute for engineering and technology figures in the list of top 100 universities for that category. Isn’t it shocking for a country that boasts of having more number of engineering institutions and producing more number of engineers than any other country in the world does not have a single world-class university?

Scores of conferences and panel discussions on the theme have been conducted and our policymakers, politicians and experts have aired their views on the higher education scenario. But there is no sign of educational reforms taking place. Our higher education system continues to suffer from many maladies due to which the Indian universities are not in a position to compete with other top universities in the world.

Narrow view of education

Is education all about students attending classes regularly, memorising the content, reproducing it in tests and exams, scoring marks and finally getting degrees and good conduct certificates. This is the system followed in most colleges, including professional institutions, in India. As a result, the system continues to produce graduates who lack the skills employers look for. According to a survey by Wheebox Employability Skills Test (WEST) only 34 per cent of graduates have employability skills. Another survey states that only 19 per cent of engineering and 5 per cent of non-engineering graduates are employable.

Out-dated curricula

Our out-dated curricula glorify and promote exams-and-marks-oriented approach to teaching. Over emphasis on content has replaced teaching with coaching. Our curricula, with the emphasis on content and the neglect of higher-order thinking skills, do not help students become creative and critical thinkers. The fact that our education system has not produced many innovators indicates that most universities have this unwritten vision: Say no to thinking, creativity, research and innovation .


We have a successful mission of commercialising education. Many institutions of higher education are run by corrupt politicians, uneducated “educationists” and white-collar criminals. By paying a huge amount of money as capitation fee, admissions are secured and degrees are bought. The NIPFP study has identified private education as one of the sources of black money. Will the educational institutions that glorify mediocrity and mint money ever be interested in improving quality or aim to become a top-class institute of higher education?

No merit-based appointments

Appointments to key positions are not based on merit. It is a well-known secret that only politically influential and monetarily strong “academics” can become Vice-Chancellors in many state universities. “Vice-Chancellors’ are appointed at the instance of the political establishment. This must end. If we really want our system to thrive, then the academic world should be left free to its own devices in the hope that you create a future for the country,” Kapil Sibal, former union minister for HRD, said at the inauguration of the vice-chancellor’s conference in New Delhi a few years ago.

Obsession with IT industry

Our engineering colleges are obsessed with the IT industry. In India, it is not uncommon for students who have specialised in biotechnology, aeronautical engineering or mechanical engineering to be placed in IT companies. Even bright students who have excelled in non-IT fields join IT companies and bid goodbye to their areas of specialisations. Recent campus recruitments to IT companies prove this point. Is it not an unhealthy trend? Can the colleges which are obsessed with placing their students in IT companies excel in other fields?

Qualified but unproductive

Over emphasis on academic qualifications by the University Grants Commission (UGC) has resulted in a number of university teachers registering for Ph.D. programmes. It is not passion for research but passion for climbing up the career ladder in the form of promotion that motivates teachers to register for Ph.D. As a result, the quality of most PhD research is sub-standard and our Indian universities have highly qualified but highly unproductive academics.

No tie-ups

Effective university-industry collaboration paves the way for innovation. Ties with world-class universities can open the gates of opportunities for students, scholars and academics to collaborate with the scholars of the foreign universities in various research projects. Most of our universities are neither ready nor willing to have such collaborations as they are required to be transparent and committed to quality.

Lack of intellectual courage

A good educational institution is a body of progressive teachers and thinking students. One can become a progressive academic if she or he has intellectual courage. As the products of the system that encourage teachers to possess ‘intellectual cowardice’ in order to survive or to climb the ladder of success in their careers, many teachers do not even consider ‘intellectual courage’ their right; they don’t even want to think that it is their right to question the system.

The urgent need today is that we need reforms in education. We need to form a movement that fights for reforms in education. Who is going to start the movement? Who are going to be the active members and followers of the movement? Do our “educationists” have intellectual courage to challenge the system? Do they have intellectual courage to call a spade a spade?

Albert P’Rayan is an academic, columnist, and freelance writer. He can be contacted at rayanal@yahoo.co.uk

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