Millennium Post

Outreach missing in Indian higher education

In the absence of a well defined, contextualised policy and actionable framework, higher education in India is now passing through a difficult phase. Globalisation has accelerated the growth of institutions of higher learning. Yet, several crises have beset the higher education system. A combination of factors is responsible for the present state of affairs in higher education, of which globalisation-led manpower production is a major one. This factor drives the whole process of higher education to achieve profit and prosperity. At the same time, it totally neglects the humanising function.

As a result, an exploitative culture is nurtured and perpetuated in the education system from elementary education to higher learning, which, ultimately, has changed the thought process of students.

In the formative years post Independence India, teachers advocated “serve-and-sacrifice” to students. Contextually, it can be modified to “serve-and-prosper”. But in reality, students are impressed by the practice of “serve to exploit”. Knowledge gained in the educational process is to serve human society without exploiting its people. The reality, however, is different. A dominant thought and discourse has been set in motion in the functioning of regulatory and funding bodies to focus on employability, skill, quality, ranking, accreditation, academic accountability and auditing, standardisation, and internationalisation. Many of the above attributes are drawn from the West to drive the higher education system to produce quality manpower for the labour market in India and the world. It is a known fact that disparities and differences in the Indian society are reflected in institutions of higher learning in terms of infrastructural facilities and quality of teachers. Like the graded social structure, we find graded higher learning institutions.

The conditions have further worsened with perpetuation of corrupt practices in these institutions by the political class, which is co-opted by the intellectual middle class without any resistance whatsoever. In this market-driven approach, the crony business class, along with crooked politicians, have started to capitalise on the weaknesses of governance mechanisms by investing huge money in higher education as new opportunities arise as a result of globalisation. Creation of education factories for manpower production pays rich dividends to the investors and a select few students, leaving large segments in the unemployable category, despite repeated warning signs from prospective employers to higher educational institutions. In the process, one can see the marginalisation of public funded institutions, especially those located in rural areas and difficult to access terrains. As a result, one can see the dominance of the profit-driven business approach in the thinking of teachers and students. Concern for nature, the poor, the marginalised and oppressed people, and pressing social issues is absent from both students and teachers, as they are increasingly driven by the blind pull of consumerism.

The task in higher education before any government is onerous. The condition of higher education and consequently the nature of its problems have worsened since Independence. Higher education in India is undergoing a transformation of sorts with many resultant complications. More problems are added to existing ones as deeper issues remain unresolved. The outcome does not seem positive for a majority of people. Hence, we have to explicitly discuss and decisively act on these complex issues. Even in difficult times, one can find opportunities to achieve better things. The difficulties in higher education can be turned into opportunities, through which human resource transformation could be achieved in a country that has more than 745 universities, 39000 colleges and 11000 research institutions with 80,00,000 students. It is not a small number. It is a huge number which can transform India in many significant aspects of life.

For a meaningful engagement, we need to have a comprehensive and exhaustive policy for higher education. The new policy should integrate outreach activities involving institutions of higher learning. In essence, these institutions have to perform three functions - research, academic (teaching) and outreach (extension). In India, only a fraction of higher learning institutions are performing the aforementioned two major functions of research and teaching and a substantial majority are only performing the bare minimum function of teaching. Very rarely, if ever, institutions of higher learning perform all three functions synchronously. A high level of quality can be achieved in higher education by interlinking these functions. Further, they would do well to go into learning mode.

The Government of India is contemplating a revamped higher education policy as of now.

Conventionally, intellectuals and bureaucrats concentrate more on teaching and research but tend to ignore the extension dimension, which has rich potential to transform our society without adding much cost to higher education. Each department or academic discipline in such institutions can contribute directly to transform society. It needs only a policy, an approach, a system, and a framework of action. In India, beyond NSS and agriculture, no institution has consistently developed perspectives, approaches, tools and technologies of extension in higher learning institutions.

The regulatory bodies of higher education have not paid much attention to this subject and hence in the evaluation process of institutions and teachers rigorous attributes of extension have not been evolved and incorporated. As a result, extension becomes a discretionary function and not an obligatory one for teachers and institutions. All academic institutions can offer their available extendables to the community. It requires only a coordinating agency in each institution to carry out extension activities. It may be a centre or department exclusively for outreach activities.

Communities can be transformed even if minimal awareness is created of the importance of cleanliness, sanitation, water supply, skill, utilizing opportunities in government schemes for poverty reduction and prosperity. The extendables in higher learning institutions may be in the form of mere ideas, information, skill, knowledge and technology. They could be shared with the community systematically and followed up on a sustainable basis.
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