Millennium Post

Bring back quality education

A cursory look at the recent headlines in newspapers on the ranking of our educational institutions made me sit up and go deep into the details. What I found was shocking. Eighty nine per cent of our NAAC-accredited universities and colleges are either average or worse than that. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) which assessed over one hundred seventy universities and over five thousand colleges registered with it found that only eleven per cent of these were ‘A’ grade. This has raised serious doubt about the quality of education in majority of our educational institutes.

It is expected that the top institutions of learning must be registered with NAAC and the accreditation body would have taken their performance also into account.

Globally also the situation is not any different. Ranking agencies like QS World University ranking, Times higher education ranking, World University ranking, Shanghai ranking etc. have put our educational institutes far below that of major American and European universities, even universities in China, Singapore and Hong Kong. Our prestigious IITs and IIMs don’t find place in the top 100 universities of the world. From time to time our educationists have tried to play these down by saying that since huge amount of fees were charged for participating in these global ranking, many of the top institutions were unable to participate and these ranking agencies went by whatever unofficial data was available in public and used them to assess these universities. Whatever it may be, the matter is of serious concern and needs to be addressed urgently.

A couple of years ago, educational institutions were being run only by governments. But due to
heavy demand, private entities were allowed to run schools and colleges.

Today, private colleges and universities have overtaken government ones in numbers. Government
over the years tried to fund its institutes of learning and providing material and human infrastructure but that was not sufficient. The result was that the quality suffered.

On the other side private entities pumped money into their schools and colleges resulting in good buildings, laboratories, libraries etc. But somehow these entities could not find the best of teachers for various reasons, low salary, security of job etc.

Education became a commercial venture for most of them. They set up engineering, medical and management colleges and demanded huge amount of capitation fee besides other annual fees which discouraged many bright students. So we produced thousands of engineers, doctors and management graduates who were not employable.

The government as well as the private institutes did not attract talent because of lower emoluments and promotional issues. All these factors combined together to result in the mess that we are in today. Unless something drastic is done things are not going to change and our dream of becoming a knowledge power will never materialise.

So what is to be done? The task is tough but can be achieved. First of all, Government should put a stop to any more private schools or colleges. Government should spend more on higher education, at least thirty per cent more than what it is spending right now for the next ten years at least to create infrastructure in the existing institutions apart from opening new institutions.

If at all private entities are to be permitted, stringent standards have to be prescribed for them which need to be monitored on a regular basis. Qualified and well paid teachers have to be appointed through a fair selection process.

Teaching faculty recruited through this process have to be assured of career progression. Their performance has to be monitored by students and outside agencies. They also have to be made accountable for the performance of the students. In institutions of higher learning and super-speciality institutions ethics should be taught as part of their course curriculum like in the USA.

On the part of the students, they have to take oath that they will not lie, cheat or allow their peers to do the same. Students should realise that they are in these portals of learning to truly learn and not to somehow obtain a degree for a job.

To what level our education has slipped can be gauged from a recent happening. The question paper for eligibility test examination for PhD. Programmes in an Orissa university was recently leaked which led to the cancellation of the test and an enquiry. Imagine a student entering a PhD course through such unfair means!

All such malfeasance should be stopped through exemplary punishment including criminal action. In many of our research institutions proper research work is not being undertaken. Money is being wasted in chemicals, reagents, seminars, travel and the like. That should stop.

Research institutions need to be accountable. They have to either publish their work in reputed journals or they should perish. It would be better if they are asked to obtain grants from Government and or industry by showing what research they are going to do and the implication of such research.

In conclusion, we have to ensure that there is proper spending in education, there is proper accountability on the part of the faculty and spend on research is worthwhile. They should be reminded that either they do well  or close shop.

The author is a former Indian Information Service officer
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