Higher education is at a critical juncture in India. The widening gap between education and employability has been a persistent problem of the Indian higher education system for some time now. Despite numerous governmental initiatives, the unemployment crisis in India is far from being resolved.
According to the report titled ‘Issues and challenges before higher educational sector in India’ submitted by the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development headed by Dr. Satyanarayan Jatiya on February 2017, the bulk of the enrollment in higher education is handled by state universities and their affiliated colleges. These institutes operate on 35% of University Grants Commission (UGC) grants as the maximum amount of these grants flow into central universities. This serious discrepancy has been noted in the report and needs to be rectified.
The focus of the government is now entirely on skills that serves corporate interests. However, an important prerequisite of higher education is knowledge creation. Knowledge in the sense of a critical engagement with the world of ideas is fading from the focus of India’s education system and needs to be brought back to encourage criticality. Speaking to BE, Indraneel Dasgupta, Professor, Economic Research Unit, Indian Statistical Institute, said, “Even our best institutions figure below the top 150 in almost all global rankings almost all the time. When it comes to a majority of academic staff publishing regularly in leading international journals in their respective research areas, the number is very less. An overwhelming majority of Ph.D theses produced in India never get published in respectable international journals.”
The shortage of teachers in higher education institutes is worrying. According to the UGC, the total number of sanctioned teaching posts in various central universities is 16,699 for professors, 4,731 for associate professors and 9,585 for assistant professors. Out of the total sanctioned teaching posts, 5,925 (35%) professor posts, 2,183 (46%) associate professor posts, and 2,459 (26%) assistant professor posts are vacant.
According to the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development this shortage of teaching resources can be because young students don’t find the teaching profession attractive or the recruitment process is long and involves too many procedural formalities. There is an urgent need to simplify the recruitment process in higher education without diluting the qualitative aspects. According to Dasgupta, “Financial and non-financial incentives for research excellence and internationalisation of both staff and student recruitment are essential to push higher education in India to new heights.”
The higher education sector in India is reacting too slowly to industry requirements. Identification of skill gaps in different sectors and offering courses for enhancing employability in them is necessary. The country needs to react fast to rectify the higher education sector. In an article titled ‘The challenges of higher education’ written by Harsh V. Pant for Observer Research Foundation, “The UGC has been one of the worst performers when it comes to regulation. It was overregulating in areas where it needed to back off such as admissions and funding but was under regulating where its interventions were most needed such as ensuring if the quality standards were being met. Over time the UGC became incredibly adept at mismanaging funds even as it resisted the push for greater autonomy coming from institutions.”
Privatisation of higher education comes with its own set of challenges. Commodification of education is one of them. According to an article written by eminent economist Prabhat Patnaik for this publication titled ‘Commoditisation and the destruction of education’, “One obvious implication of the commoditisation of education is that it excludes those belonging to non-affluent households from getting an education. But it has two other implications as well which are no less important. One is the destruction of quality. In general, education becomes a commodity when the product of education, i.e., the person into whom education enters as an input, becomes a commodity. Additionally, commoditisation of education destroys originality, and any desire to go beyond the given, among the students. Since going beyond the given is the hallmark of creative thought, commoditisation of education destroys creative thought.”
The Report of the Education Commission (1966), which was the first comprehensive report on India’s education system emphasised on a robust university education and research system. It placed high emphasis on research and was in favour of integrating it with the university education system and advocated increased spending for higher education. Similarly, the National Knowledge Commission’s ‘Report to the Nation’ (2009) focused on expansion, excellence and inclusion. However, the ground reality points to a different direction. The University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Union Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry have tightened purse strings and replaced the usual system of grant of funds with loans for infrastructure development in public institutions. The spending on education in terms of its share in GDP has been declining. It touched a peak of 3.3% of GDP in 2012 but has been declining since then.