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Commentary

Reforming Higher Education in India: Quest for Global Standards

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Students at the former dental school of Savita Halappanavar in Belgaum. Source: IBT

What should the aim, purpose and methodology of higher education in India be in the face of social, economic, political and cultural changes? How should institutions of higher learning respond to present, as well as future challenges that potentially will tear apart the socio-cultural and emotional bonds of humanity?

Since institutions of higher learning occupy a pivotal position in Indian society for the creation, dissemination and preservation of knowledge, this knowledge determines, to a great extent, the future course of progress and development of, not only society and polity, but also of mankind.  Importantly, national economies rest upon whether an educated and skilled workforce can herrald in new developments that will enable a country’s economy to stay competive in a globalized world. For a state to be successful in a globalized economy, universities are responsible for the development of an educated and skilled workforce. If they fail in this regard the economy will suffer.

These forces, including globalization, leads us to ask a fundamental and simple question. Because these transformations took place in such a short period of time, have institutions of higher learning been able to keep pace with these new developments?  Indian classrooms should focus on a new global curriculum comprising of cultures of several societies, not just Indian society, which could then be adopted in all Indian universities. It should be interdisciplinary and promote divergent and convergent thinking.  Apart from these, the mobility of students and faculty should also be facilitated at the national level. Information and knowledge have become increasingly important inputs to the development process. Increasingly, higher education is becoming a tool for preparing the youth for employment in the short term rather than a place to gain knowledge, wisdom and scholarship.

The present system of Indian higher education needs to be reformed because it has been using the same British model since 1857. In recent years, a system influenced by the United States education system has served as a benchmark in our self-directed academic efforts to restructure the Indian higher education system.  However, the overall picture is not encouraging. Perhaps, Indians have not been able to develop their own national model of education. In fact, even in the days of globalization, no country can afford to ignore or dilute its commitment to the unique heritage of culture and knowledge, and at the same time maintain a competitive edge.

Indian universities face a number of hurdles. First, finding financing is exceedingly difficult, which prohibits a number of potential students from pursuing a degree at a university.  Second, undergraduate programmes are fragmented. Third, the present affiliation system for colleges and universities creates a bottle neck which prohibits innovations.

Additionally, inadequate infrastructure, including research facilities, laboratories, libraries, computer and internet facilities need to be addressed.  Beginning with the Radhakrishnan Committee, many committees and working groups were constituted by the government and the University Grants Commission for developing a number of possible reforms. A number of proposals were submitted but many have yet to receive serious consideration.

What is urgently needed is a healthy public debate comparing the major differences between Indian and world class universities and how to close any gaps that exist.  A goal of the education system in India should be the creation of a knowledge based society including developing worldclass universities so that young Indians do not travel abroad to pursue a degree but stay in India and contribute to India’s economic development.

To ensure the survival and growth of Indian universities, they need to measure their performance from time to time and make necessary adjustments depending upon circumstances. To participate in the global community comprised of worldclass universities requires effort and resources which the state will need to provide.  In a rapidly advancing world, where educational possibilities are endless, the system of higher education in India has to adapt itself to contemporary requirements and must respond to new challenges.

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