Sunday, February 11, 2007

Higher hurdles

To create talent, reform higher education

It is no secret that if China today has surged ahead in manufacturing and has become the global factory, India too has taken a quantum leap, directly from agriculture to services, becoming the global knowledge hub. It is this service sector which has given India its much needed growth momentum and also made her a global enigma to reckon with. But for how long can we sustain this growth is the billion rupee question. The way things are shaping up, the future looks quiet unnerving, and for this no one else other than our consecutive governments are to be blamed. In fact, it is scary the manner in which our government remains reluctant, when every consulting organisation, industry, industry experts, apex organisations and academia is crying hoarse over the severe shortfall of talent India is going to face in the foreseeable future, completely eroding India’s equity in knowledge competitiveness.

Knowledge supply has always been a government monopoly, and it is amazing the way the sector has been unrighteously neglected. Be it primary, secondary, higher education or professional and vocational, wherever the government has directly or indirectly intervened, it has left an unprecedented academic calamity. Today not a single state owned/regulated institution can boast of churning out talent which can match up to the growing needs of our ‘talent starved’ industry.

In such a situation, why can’t our government allow private institutions and foreign universities and fill up the void, knowing the fact that it is impossible for the state to provide the much needed talent pool that the Indian Inc. is struggling for? The government has neither the ability nor the allocations (it is estimated that around Rs 250 billion is required to increase the seat capacity for higher education by 50%) to provide the same. As per ASSOCHAM, India’s spend on higher education as a percentage of GDP has fallen and stagnated at 0.37% of GDP while US, UK and China still spend around 1.41%, 1.07% and 0.5% of their respective GDPs. In the last 60 years, if India has created a handful of centres of academic excellence in IITs and IIMs, then it is not because of the government but in spite of them, as these institutions had always enjoyed a complete autonomy in their admission, courseware, pedagogy and faculty affairs.

Until and unless we bring radical reforms in education and realise the crying need of setting up institutions for higher education by embracing both foreign and private institutions by giving them complete autonomy, its doomsday ahead. The competence of these institutions would then depend on whether the talent pool they churn out meets the industry expectations. For those who cannot, would die their natural death and for those who can match would survive and excel. The government with its checkered track record, does neither need to intervene nor does it need to stiffle them with some incompetent regulator like AICTE.

The State’s age-old habit of making Indians ‘worthless mediocres’ by provisioning substandard education has been possibly the worst form of crime that any democracy can met out to its citizens. It is hightime we put an end to it.


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