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Myth And Reality About India's Higher Education

Goal setting, academic leadership, inter-disciplinary study and responsible ‘education for profit’ mindset are the way forward for private higher education

In India, the private sector got into higher education around the mid-Nineties. Back then, at moderately higher fees than those of government establishments, these new institutes built better-skilled graduates. Students passing from private institutes were better oriented to industry requirements than their peers from government colleges. As a consequence, students from private institutes got an open-arm welcome by employers. Riding on this came the viral proliferation of that boisterous marketing slogan – ‘100% job guarantee.’ A case of misguided vision, it ended up in distorting the direction of private higher education in India as employability began to be overridden by managing an appointment letter for the student, often with a total neglect of whether that employment was commensurate or not.

Unpleasant reality
The worst stage has now befallen the industry offering lower-level jobs to students in the beginning of the final year, for example, not a job for an MBA but for a graduate, which they use only to meet their targets through cheap manpower. Colleges, on the contrary, are not focusing on the big question – what is the quality of globally demanded industry skills that they are imparting to their students? Placement coordinators become more important than the academic dean. A repulsive offshoot of this is the mushrooming of a breed of incompetent and avaricious ‘campus to corporate’ soft skills trainers striking crooked commission deals with companies. In India, regulatory bodies have become defunct in spirit, working as mere licence-giving bodies rather than showing the way to private higher education.

Higher education in the country today has four serious deficiencies:

  • Lack of objective
  • Absence of interdisciplinary study
  • Acute famine of quality faculty
  • And laidback performance.

Interdisciplinary study draws from multiple academic disciplines that work together to create a powerful experience of integrative learning, critical thinking and creative problem solving. Institutions must take up the responsibility of producing leaders in academics especially at a time when there is an absolute scarcity in academic leadership. Importantly, unless India implements responsible ‘education for profit’, academia will remain mediocre and will never be able to move towards excellence.

There is no doubt that such a programme, if undertaken in letter and spirit, can galvanise another revolution in contemporary India – of human capital. This is a necessity we can no longer choose to ignore. The programmes will create a win-win situation by better need alignment and can help us short-circuit the average salary war that erupts every year. In the long term, the programme will help academic institutions evolve into dynamic and self-recreating bodies that churn industry leaders across ethnic, cultural and demographic barriers.

Goals Needed
Then there is the issue of goals. A few years ago, I suggested to a director of my institute to develop curriculum with the objectives outlined for each subject. This senior educationist with high-level experience in AICTE, UGC and IIT, shot me a blank look and said: “How can we write objectives for each course? I have never seen this in 40 years of my career.” How can institutions attain excellence if they do not even know why they are teaching a particular course?

No knowledge of objectives means no awareness of expected learning outcomes. Sans learning outcomes, how can a college design appropriate pedagogy and evaluation methods?

As beautifully expressed by Mario Andretti, desire is the key to motivation, but it is determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek.

The Author

Dr Raj Singh,
Vice-Chancellor of G D Goenka University, and former Vice-Chancellor of Ansal University, GurgaonPrior to a distinguished career in education, Dr Singh served in the Indian Air Force. The article is based on his speech at the international conference ‘The Excellence Agenda– May 2013 organised by Institutional Excellence Forum in New Delhi


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