India offers the largest talent pool of researchers in science, technology, medicine and in other disciplines to the migrated to other countries since 1970s. UK has almost 32,000 Indian doctors (HT, June 2015). 30 percent engineers in Silicon Valley, 12% scientists and 38% doctors in the US are Indians, and NASA has almost 40% scientists of Indian origin. Indian intellects have occupied top and influential positions due to their competence through education and holistic approach through culture. At home, Indian higher education is already educating 28 million students in 726 universities and nearing 38,000 colleges. The gross enrolment ratio is 20 percent as estimated in 2012 (MHRD, July 2014). The journey started from 20 universities and 500 colleges in 1956 with 0.21 million gross enrolment ratio. Given the time series, growth is impressive. Why should we worry on the higher education of the country?
The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) at the primary level (grades I-V) was 100.1%; it was 91.2% at the upper primary level (grades VI-VIII) in 2014-15, administrative system enrolling more than the population, is some foul game. Still, we have a large population which leaves the school before completing elementary education. In 2014-15, the retention rate at primary level was 83.7% and it was as low as 67.4% at the elementary level. Roughly, four in every 10 children enrolled in grade I were leaving the school before completing grade VIII.
Annual Status of Education Report (ASER – Rural, 2014) finds that 96.7% of children in the age group 6- 14 years were enrolled in schools in rural India. Quality compromise at this level would mean a functional damage to the social and economic development. Strong foundations of literacy and skills development in this system would ensure a good society. But it turns to be otherwise; ASER 2014 study finds that over 75% of all children in Class 3, over 50% in Class 5 and over 25% in Class 8 could not read texts meant for the Class 2 level. There is hardly any connection of literacy, education and vocational sill in our generation. This is a shame to the national education system for any government. The damages of the policy and administrative systems of last 10 years of governance in name of Right to Education cannot be more insensitive and ruthless for any country. Such numbers, if true, ensure the destruction of any society.
Let’s talk about higher education which is the backbone of progress of any developed society and its economy. UGC annual report 2014-15 shows that there are 711 universities, 40,760 colleges and 11,922 stand alone institutions in higher education sector in India. The enrollment ratio is at 24% which is progressing north but issue of quality is a serious threat to higher education too. About 64% of colleges and institutes were in the private sector and 60% of the total number of students is enrolled in private institutes.
Quality has plagued both the public and private institution primarily due to pressure of meeting social equality on behalf of government in public institutions greed of money in and private institutions. State managed institutes accounted for 35% and central machinery managed institutes account for 0.5% of the total number institutions in India. Indian universities do not find a place in the top 200 positions in the global ranking of universities by Times, QS. At national level, among the 4,870 colleges, 2,780 are accredited by the NAAC, with barely 9% making the A or above grade. Among the accredited institutions, 68% of universities and 91% of the colleges are rated average or below average in terms of the quality parameters specified by the NAAC.
Even recently established TSR Subramanian committee (2016) reports that A cross-section of stakeholders gave examples of widespread corruption which prevails in the functioning of regulators like AICTE, UGC, MCI and NCTE. The committee, when asked national accrediting agencies to explain why undeserving educational institutions often received rapid accreditation, while ‘more qualified’ institutions were left out of the process for long periods, the answer almost invariably would relate to political interference.
No country can create strong knowledge ecosystem without developing public school and university infrastructure. USA, following free market approach, data shows that the private school education enrollment in USA has come down below 10 percent from a peak of 50 percent in last 2 decades. Number of private higher education institutions (HEIs) (almost 65 percent) in USA are more than public institutions, but the enrollment in public institutions is distinctively high (approximately 68 percent) compared to private institutions. Nonetheless, competitive private HEIs get similar treatment in funding and governance as public universities due to their research and innovation capability and contribution.
We have developed our institutions to such failures at a time when other nations are working hard to build their education systems and institutions, innovation and research systems and institutions and preparing for next 30 to 50 years understanding the importance of knowledge in the social and economic development. India, with its ancient tradition, giving highest importance to the education and research has ignored or manipulated its education and research for a long time. A careful review and policy input in the New Education Policy is must to ensure that India is back on track in education, research and innovation.
While making a comparative of the Education Commission report 1948 by S Radhakrishnan and Education Committee report 2016 by TSR Subramanian 2016, both reports have given great importance to research, quality and equal opportunity to all sections of the society. Terms like ‘Research’ appear more than 150 times in the 2016 committee report which is almost the same as in the 1948 report, which clearly indicates it was a high priority in early years of our independence. The term ‘Quality’ appears more than 250 times in 2016 report indicating absolute worry on the policy, systems and institutions. With passage of time we introduce new terms such as ‘Innovation’ which appears 20 times in 2016 report than only 2 times in 1948 report, signifying the need to address it in most urgent manner in our education ecosystem. ‘Equality/Inequality’ has more than 40 times mentioning in 1948 report; whereas it is little more than 15 times in 2016 report, however the more term like ‘Inclusive’ appear more than 10 times.
Language policy is being addressed from 1948 commission to latest 2016 commission, and both recommend for giving more value and importance to the national languages than foreign languages. The school education is best in native language and not foreign language, which is scientific also. Almost all the developed nations like US, UK, France, Germany, South Korea, Japan, and Austria etc give highest value to their native language for school education with an option to few foreign languages for learning.
Nations like Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, HongKong, South Korea have developed a great higher education system with a long term approach and principles of academic freedom. As a result, South Korea, which started its transformation of higher education only 50 years back, is topping the world in its academic excellence as per the Pearson assessment as done by The Economist team. Singapore, Malaysia, China have plans for 2030 or 2050 for higher education excellence. USA developed its system from similar chaos in 1915 through ‘Principles of Academic Freedom and Scholarship’. India is losing out on higher education systems in regulations and funding. It is losing in the list of nations on ‘cognitive skills and educational attainment’ of the Pearson Index, which includes countries like Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, Turkey and Romania. This is a time when global competitors are investing more, creating new institutions of excellence for research and giving more respect to scholars and scholarship to ensure their place in knowledge economy.
India is losing on almost all the fronts of social and economic development of Education, Research and Innovation courtesy Expertise Myopia and Policy Blindness in most important recent 10-15 years. China spends almost same amount on ONE university as India spends total for 18 IITs. While we have given a high pedestal to Laksmi (economy), we are still waiting for Saraswati (education) to be free. According to World Bank’s data report on ‘World Research Development Indicators 2013: Science and Technology’, India is in the lowest bracket in research and development expenditure (at 0.89 as % of GDP) and files 1.5 percent (10,669) of patents filed by China (704,936), its nearest global competitor.
Indian education is not best but Indian talent is certainly one of the best, Indian education is not world class but Indian economy can be world class. This is a time when the debate cannot be extended on method of treatment when education policy and system is in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) courtesy 30 stints (in 70 years) of education ministers/ HRD ministers whereas USA has seen 9 secretaries in last 35 years, Singapore saw 12 ministers in 55 years, Germany counted 5 in last 25 years, and 15 ministers by china since 1950. These nations are busy in making a great nation, and not a new education minister. OR at least, highest importance is to the need of education, research and innovation for the country. When India is losing its natural character of talent and skill, economic agents are crying of employ-ability material, and Indian still is hope for the world on manpower supply globally; hopefully, new education policy address the urgent needs in education policy and ensure execution and implementation of same by creating a team of experts and not administrative cadre only.
Dr Rahul Singh, Associate Professor, Birla Institute of Management Technology.