The higher education sector in India has come a long way. Starting with around 20 universities and less than 500 colleges at the time of independence to the present number of universities and colleges 1082 and more than 40000 colleges respectively is undoubtedly a quantum leap in higher education institutions (HEIs).
Advancement in civilization has brought in a paradigm shift in the educational processes and outlook of society. Now there are new measures of institution’s performance in the form of institutional ranking and accreditations by independent bodies.
Through a multi-layered process standards of quality are measuredregarding curriculum, faculty, infrastructure, research, and other parameters.
The ratings of the institutions range from A++ to C. If an institution is graded D, it means it is not accredited. The process also includes peer team visits that further add credibility to the process.
The advent of ranking and accreditation is germinating a culture of institutions going crazy for scoring high in the selected attributes to yield the best rank and accreditation grades.
Since the current approach relies heavily on self-assessment reports, there is a shift in focus of HEIs to documentation and its careful consolidation for future usage.
Rather than striving to achieve excellence in quality education, there is an ongoing rat race for achieving better grades which might act as bait, serving the purpose of filling more seats during the admission process.
However, mere focus on admission and gaining a degree is not enough in the present scenario. Lack of quality education and development of skills as per the requirement of the market has led to a situation of high unemployment especially amongst the educated youth.
As per a survey, the country has reached a phase now wherein nearly 80 percent of engineering graduates are not employable. This situation forces them to take up jobs in the non-engineering field and hence they spend most of their 20s either preparing for competitive exams or end up getting a blue-collar job despite aspiring for a white-collar one.
The situation is worsened to the extent that even the Ph.D. students were among the applicants for the post of peon, gardener, and cook in government offices. This in turn has put a big question mark on the credibility of the higher education system of India.
The core purpose of HEIs is the dissemination of good quality education through competent faculty members in a well-equipped and congenial teaching-learning-evaluation environment which appears to be impacted adversely on account of various reasons.
Firstly, the insufficiency of teachers is one of the critical issues.
According to the data shared by the Ministry of Education the central universities have as many as 6549 vacant faculty positions (data pertains to 43 central universities). This has eventually led to the contractualization of teachers in these universities, that is the teaching activities are being carried out through guest teachers who are hired for a year or less.
The period-based engagement of teachers or on contract a temporary basis on whatever compensation seldom makes them deliver proficiently because they are constantly looking out for better / secured employment.
The uncertainty looming over temporary/ad hoc teaching human resources prohibits them from working wholeheartedly to make their career in teaching.
The need is to understand that regular appointment of teachers creates a sense of belongingness amongst them for the HEI they are serving.
It takes years to create impactful teachers and this process depends largely upon the individual’s consistent efforts and passion for teaching.
It is the foremost requirement of HEIs to offer an enabling ambiance to every person joining the teaching profession and contribute to his/her transformation as a good teacher.
Another significant issue in the accreditation process is the over-emphasis on quantification of publication, R&D output, IPRs, etc. which not only shifts the focus from quality research but also leads to institutions missing out on their real goals.
Engagement of teachers and support systems in HEIs to work merely for accomplishing good scores corresponding to the metrics of assessment exercise and facilitate them good scores leads to them being unable to give their ample inputs in teaching due to paucity of time.
As a result, the HEIs may achieve good accreditation grades and/or secure a good place in the ranking list, despite the student learning attainments not being upto the mark.
The compelling circumstances for getting accredited with good scores and securing good institutional ranking are resulting in the misplaced priorities of institutional governance.
The accreditation and ranking pushing the very purpose of education at the backseat necessitates introspection. This is also corroborated by a few instances of the assessment scores for certain metrics being incoherent with the publicperception of respective HEIs.
However, this does not mean that there should be no focus on the research and development, rather emphasis should be laid on good quality research. Though the impending thrust on research and development activities is certainly driving HEIs to engage its teachers and students in such activities, nevertheless its financing remains a challenge.
Research and Development (R & D) investments in India are quite low compared to other major economies. India spends merely about 0.7% of its GDP on R&D. This ratio is much higher for the USA (2.8%), Israel (4.3%) and Korea (4.2%).
Further majority of the investment comes from the government sector.
According to a report by UNESCO institution, in India, the share of the private sector in the total R&D investment is less than 40 per cent.
With the fast-growing number of HEIs, the R&D funding is becoming inadequate to support them in the majority of institutions. Also, the capabilities of teachers for carrying out R & D activities are getting severed on account of lesser focus on in-depth fundamental teaching.
Moreover, the ensuing trend of expecting HEIs to meet their liabilities from the revenue generated at their end is another big concern.
For any HEI, the major revenue generation happens to be from the fees collected from its enrolled students which are always ridden with a caveat of ensuring that the cost of education is not raised to such a limit that it is not in affordable range for many.
Also Read: Money Matters in Higher Education
The situation is quite precarious in public sector institutions that are perceived to have a bigger responsibility towards the masses as compared to private sector institutions.
Already there exists a huge gap in fees charged from the students in private sector HEIs vis-à-vis public sector HEIs and the former is out of reach for a sizeable population because of the prevailing socio-economic disparity.
Undoubtedly, the private sector HEIs are managed from the resources procured by them, which means that they are free to fix the fees accrued from students and not much can be done to regulate them.
However, the possibilities of ample funding of HEIs set up by the government must be explored to offer the best quality education at a notional price.
As we inch towards the targeted Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) of 50 by 2035, it's inevitable to introspect the challenges of good quality faculty availability, their wholehearted involvement for student-centric teaching, reasonable funding of public sector HEIs to ensure access to education to all, creating a sustainable research culture, and best quality teaching-learning-evaluation systems.
(The views expressed are personal)