Higher Education

June 30th, 2008

Round Table Discussion on ‘Higher Education – Policy Options’ by Mr. B.S. Baswan – Director General, Indian Institute of Public Administration; Prof Arun Nigavekar – Former Chairman UGC ; Mr. Vinay Rai – Chairman ASSOCHAM Education Committee; Dr. C.S. Venkat Ratnam – Director International Management Institute; Prof. Devi Singh – Director IIM Lucknow and Prof. Arun Kumar – Professor Social Sciences-Centre for Economic Studies & Planning, JNU; in Espire, A 41, MCIE, Mathura Road, New Delhi – 44.


Role of State
  • A public good is something in which the state has to invest while merit goods are those in which the private sector deems it worth its while to invest, and is ready, able and willing to do so. A lot has been said about education being a public good, but this is not the classical definition. Having said that in the hierarchy of merit goods that we have, higher education ranks lower than say, school education. Thus, the role of the State, is to meet to a very large extent, the cost of elementary education. Our Constitution provides for this. And as we go up the ladder, the role of the State would gradually diminish. Of course, this doesn’t mean that State should not invest in higher education; it obviously should. The question is, how far should it go?
  • We are investing in IITs and IIMs, in Schools of Planning and Architecture etc. The question is: how far should we go as a government? There are issues involved; One, of course, is the availability of resources with the government and the other is whether the private sector is ready, willing and able to invest. Are we restricting the private sector?
  • There is a broad consensus that the government needs to remove all the barriers to entry; market forces should be allowed to take their due course, because no way government can bridge the shortfall; there is no way that faculty can come unless you pay them a competitive wage.
  • The State has a role to play even in universities, especially for the liberal arts and humanities. There may be resources for this, but for the others where the market forces are there, let’s follow the American principle, lead, follow, or get out of the way. So let us get out of the way and let there be a regular independent National Knowledge commission.
  • Education in general and higher education in particular in a true sense is at cross roads in Twenty First century. The reason being the new relationship that has emerged between education and economy in recent times. Knowledge came at the centre stage of economy and World started realizing the importance of knowledge linked society and knowledge linked economy. Knowledge became the unit of currency.
  • What is the hallmark of educational system that makes nations to be in driver’s seat in new economy? Well if this is to happen, nation needs legal and operational frame work that cultivates and sustains open transparent competitions among institutions/universities and also balances the aspirations of people, and this is crucial for India, for access and equity. It should also have financial support structure that allows every talented and needy student to get educated in the filed of their choice. For last sixty years Indian higher education system has predominantly remained public system. The Government resources would never be adequate to fulfil ever increasing demand for education. The inadequate governmental resources, ever expanding demand for relevant and quality education by the society and unwillingness of the parents to accept the fact that quality does cost has created very complex and confusing environment in the world of education.
  • The Government must accept the fact that education is both merit as well as non-merit good. It can create a policy where in private participation in education- across the spectrum, right from Primary to Higher Education- is encouraged. This does not mean Government need to withdraw from the domain of education. It should continue to put in, and in fact more, money in education. It is also an uncalled for perception that private participation would bring cost escalation for society and the poor would suffer both in access and equity.
  • Government should create enabling policy structure that balances both access and equity and at the same time promises quality education to all.
Role of Market
  • State should withdraw all subsidies and finances from the educational sector and let educational institutions draw their own finances from fees and grants. State must put all its money into primary and secondary education, where there is a very huge shortfall. The private sector may not find this area easily accessible, or may not be interested in putting its money here.
  • Government control over, and interference in education is stamped with a UGC "certificate of quality." The establishment alleges that otherwise, the private sector would spread unsavoury ideas and material pornography, for instance if it were not for the UGCs and AICTEs of this world.
  • Why does the US have the best educational system in this world? Because it is free and independent. Yes, there are regulators within, but they are truly autonomous and not directed by the State. Even granting the assumption that India is still a developing country, the states’ role should be limited to quality assessment. We have this in the case of SEBI.
  • These should be an assessment that mandates that everyone must display it on the visiting cards, profiles or websites. This assessment would certify educational institutions as being either worthy or unfit for education, so that the public would know.
  • If your child is unable to get into Delhi University, even after scoring 90% marks, if it doesn’t guarantee you admission, what can be done? Do we dump these children into the well? It is no wonder that they turn to private institutions to acquire education. Good, bad or ugly, people are going to flock there because they can in no way leave their children to fend for themselves. We have to understand that a parallel education system exists, one that fulfils people’s needs in whatever manner. We have to meaningfully respond to it.
  • We also must focus our attention on capacity, especially with reservations for different communities. Keeping the reservation quota in place, for SCs, STs, or OBCs, we must also keep free seats, similar to the system followed in the hospitals. You don’t need state funding for that.
  • Global Dimensions We can be globally competitive and the Indian School of Business example proves that. In six years flat, the Indian Business School has proved that is possible despite the regulatory cholesterol from which it has suffered. For any institute, being recognised within six years as one of the top twenty business schools in the world is no mean achievement.
  • We should be open to recruit faculty internationally and welcome students from all parts of the world and make this as a kind of a global meeting point. I think there are some institutions, which are on the take off stage, particularly some of the IIMs only if you allow them the freedom to recruit both faculty and students internationally and also give them the resource base that is required on the lines of ISB, it is possible to achieve this benchmark in the next three to four years. It is mainly a problem with the mindset as such and the government restrictions in terms of whether you can actually recruit faculty.
  • Instead of competing with the Kelloggs and the Whartons, we should create niche areas, where we as Indians are known to be very strong. It would be worthwhile to examine whether we can actually get into those niche areas where we have certain plusses and the rest of the world recognises India’s strength.
Faculty Issues
  • There is no Ivy League business school in the world, which is not manned by Indians, if not led by Indians. We only have to use our network. Look at what China has done. China is inviting expatriates or people of the Chinese Diaspora working in North America to come back and work on American salaries, in China. Look at the progress that it has made in the last ten years. Unless we have that kind of strong determination and a concrete plan, we will remain where we were. We must clearly recognise this. In this country, in every other sector we have done well and our global competitive position has been going up. The same is true for education, but only in parts. There are islands of excellence but if you look at the overall university system, some of the best-known universities and the institutions have lost their sheen over the period. That is very unfortunate.
  • Look at the technical education today, the situation becomes even more critical and alarming because in technical education, there is a clinical as well as a technical side of this profession, providing greater market opportunities. Therefore, attracting faculty becomes even more difficult whether it is management, architecture or to some extent technical education.
  • Over the years, you have seen a huge expansion in capacity when it comes to starting new programmes and taking new students, but as far as the faculty availability and PhD programmes are concerned, the pipeline has virtually dried up. In fact, the IITs have some large PhD programmes but if you look at the distribution of students, that is, engineering versus the sciences, it is very lopsided. But we all know that globally, institutions are known by the quality of their faculty and its students. And in our kind of situations in management education for instance we are supposed to create and transfer knowledge and at the same time, also influence practice. Therefore, this involvement of the business and corporate world becomes very important.
  • Involvement of corporate world is only limited to coming and recruiting people, speaking at seminars, and little beyond that. What is the solution? How do we get more faculty, how do we motivate people to join academics? Of course, salaries are an issue if we look at international salaries, the average salary is about $120,000 for business school teachers. Not maybe the top league, but our top schools have to at least offer one third or half of this after adjusting for purchasing power. A good idea, as one of my colleagues here spoke about, would be to get some of our expats to come and join our schools.
  • The Harvards or the Stanfords of this world have become what they are today because of the tremendous support that they have received from the private sector, private trusts and the individuals. The major reason is that US law provides for huge tax breaks. Our tax laws do not encourage such philanthropy.
  • What is happening to the regular faculty in this country? Unfortunately, it is worrisome. The task is gigantic; regulation has a role to play, it has to be more developmental, there has to be a serious professional effort to raise the bar for the quality and the faculty has to be put at the centre of all the processes and delivery mechanisms of all these schools.
  • By rough estimate, the number of Diaspora academics would be around ten thousand. The approximate numbers of Indians teaching in American universities are six thousand. You can go to any institution of repute, you will find Indians no longer just faculty members, but as Deans of the institutions today.
  • A person of Indian origin, if he acquires a PIO card or an Overseas Citizen of India Card, does not need any visa or work permit to undertake any work in India, except the government employment and offices. So that is in fact, the biggest attraction that you can have these people without any work permit requirement.
  • Technology has made it easier. People do get sabbaticals and other forms of leave to go and teach. In fact, they are encouraged to go and teach in other universities. Particularly, since the largest numbers are in the US and India is the flavour at least at the moment, teaching in India or any collaborative research with India would be very much encouraged by the university at the other end. This offers phenomenal possibilities not for just the faculty shortage that we need to meet.
  • We complain that we can’t increase the salaries immediately, but we need to be sensible and practical. If one pays Rs5 lakh to IIM faculty and a fresh graduate gets Rs10 lakhs after completing IIM, it is difficult to retain people. Can we not allow sabbaticals to public sector directors to come and teach? Similarly, we can bring some IIM professors to the public sector, which is the domain of the State.
  • Our inputs are students; our entire process is carried by the educational institutions where teachers, management, government and everyone concerned is involved and our output is value-added students. So the difference between industry and the education sector is that all the three parameters in the education sector, input, the process where the humans are involved and the output are unpredictable. That is the biggest difference. No human element can be predicted.
  • Who are the beneficiaries of the educational system? There are seven beneficiaries; the first and foremost beneficiary is the student, because without students we cannot be here; second come academics that is the teachers, third are the supporting staff technical, administrative, they are also one of the beneficiaries, the fourth are the parents because their children are receiving education, the fifth are the funding agencies, government or private or philanthropic organisations, sixth are the future employers seventh and the most important beneficiary is society in general. Thus, there are seven beneficiaries who are looking at the same point but their aspirations, their demands and their expectations are different.
  • There have been debates about whether we should have an index like the CRISIL index and whether CII and other bodies should create that structure? There is a need to create bridges. We need to create a bridge where the industrial approach and the model, which we have developed, could be bridged.
  • Each institution should have its own built-in internal quality assurance mechanism where it could be a combination of internal self appraisal with unbiased informed transparent review from external peers. It can be standardised by an agency.
  • Access & Equity We need to clarify our vision of higher education; otherwise it is empty talk. The question of access and equity has to be situated within the issue of our vision, which itself is linked to our understanding of society. If we do not have a good understanding of our society, then we will not be able to create a vision for education.
  • Today, our vision is highly segmented and highly feudal in outlook. The feudal view then also reflects in the kind of education we impart. Our politicians, as has already been said by earlier speakers are highly feudal in their attitude and so are our bureaucrats, with exceptions. Our society is still very backward and lacks dynamism. In what sense are we backward? In terms of research and education. Why do we lack dynamism? Because we are not able to grapple and solve our own problems and look outwards for solutions to copy. Any society that is not able to solve its own problems maybe characterized as lacking in dynamism.
  • The number of people in higher education per thousand of population in India is one of the lowest in the world.. It is simply because of our very large population, that the absolute numbers are very large even though in percent terms we are one of the lowest. Further, we have very poor training in schools; so, quality mostly is very poor. School education is segmented and quality is very uneven. Government schools have rapidly declined. higher education was not segmented but is getting more so today. Its democratising influence is declining very rapidly. Why do I say that? Segmentation in the schools has meant, the children of the rich go to better off schools and the children of the poor to the government schools. But at the level of higher education, everybody went to the same kind of colleges, and universities, there was mixing together, learning about each other and a democratizing influence. That is now changing. This will have a damaging effect on our democracy.
  • We must define the role of higher education very carefully. It is to pass knowledge to the next generation to carry on the task of society.. This is critical but not enough. It also has to generate new knowledge so that society can advance. Both these roles have to be performed very carefully. Thus, higher education is about imparting dynamism to society. That higher education, which does not impart dynamism to society is itself lacking dynamism; it cannot pass on dynamism. So imparting dynamism to society is the key.
  • Autonomy and accountability are very critical. These are bandied about as empty boxes. Accountability has to be in the long-term sense of the society. It is not to the immediate context. Societies continue for ages, societies don’t disappear in 5 or 10 years, so accountability has to be based on the long-term interest. And only autonomous institutions and autonomous individuals can provide such accountability. Dissent is the essence of higher education. Without dissent, society would be lost, because after all, that is what promotes new knowledge. How do you build in dissent into institutions? It is only autonomous individuals, who will dissent. Today, compliance is very important in institutions, in higher education and that is why new knowledge is not being created at the rate at which it should be created.
  • Today, we treat individuals as cogs in a big machine or as a sophisticated machine and not as holistic beings. The task of higher education is to create a vision of a holistic society peopled by holistic beings. How to achieve it? That is where the question of access to all and equality of opportunity for all in the context of higher education is very important.
  • The specifics are that in changing the structure of the system it is recommended that we should take education away from charity except in cases of those who want to do charity. We cannot stop them from doing charity. Take education away from society and the trust regime and give it to the corporate sector.
Other Issues
  • We should not ignore vocational education in higher education because as I understood, vocational education is after class XII. We have somehow associated vocational education as meant for only dropouts of the society. We also forget about rural India.
  • Youth of this country has tremendous aspirations and we have to look at the entire educational scenario, not just higher education. Today, we are only discussing higher education, which cannot be talked of in isolation from the primary or a lower level education. It has a very close relationship with the quality of that education and the people who come to seek the higher education. The aspirations of the people of this country are indeed very high.
  • Whether it is education, health or housing, the lowest level of a person in this country, the poorest of the poor, must not be underestimated. He wants to educate his child in e best of the schools. Today we have students coming from a very modest background, but thanks to the government, they have loan schemes from the banks. Resources are not a major issue today. Systems can be put in place, there are good and bad institutions everywhere in the world. Can we improve upon what we have today, can we provide a better training to our people at all levels? How can improvements take place?
  • The best agents of this change do not remain in this education industry, because of reverse filtration of talents. The education sector loses out to the corporate world or lucrative overseas markets. If you see various industries around the world and in India, for instance, Mercedes, BMW or Rolls Royce, they charge the best prices for the simple reason that they deliver the best product. No one can question that. If the same pattern of education can be adopted, and a corporate kind of a structure can be followed in B schools and in other schools where similar benefits, perks, and salaries can be given to candidates by generating enough profits, things would change.


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