Indian Higher Education Policy: March Towards Quality

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Guest Blogger: Dr. Rahul Choudaha

Dr. Choudaha is an international higher education professional with expertise in strategy, quality and policy issues. Currently, he is Associate Director at an International Education Services organization based in New York. He earned his Ph.D. in Higher Education from the University of Denver, US and holds an MBA for NITIE, Mumbai and B.Engineering from Jabalpur. He also writes a blog on education — www.DrEducation.com.

Kashinath Laxman Joshi in his book Problems of Higher Education in India (1977) mentioned that “There is a preoccupation with numbers to be enrolled as opposed to considerations of improved quality and relating education quality with manpower requirements.”

More than thirty years later, the statement still holds valid despite significant advancement in the socioeconomic environment. The problem of quality and misalignment with the skill demand is evident from the unemployability crisis among educated youth and also the regulatory mess Indian higher education is into.

According to a survey, by McKinsey only 25% of the Indian engineering graduates and 10% of generalists are suitable for employment with multinational corporations. Likewise, India Labour Report 2007, suggests that 57% of India’s youth suffer some degree of unemployability.

Indian higher education system has a complex web of specialized central regulatory bodies like the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and University Grants Commission (UGC). A panel formed by the ministry of human resource development found that universities consistently experience corruption and inefficiency of the regulator (AICTE). Recent reports also highlighted the inefficacy of UGC related to approval process of deemed-universities. This indicates that quality assurance mechanism has some serious problems to be addressed.

Does that mean that institutions are not at fault for the current dilapidated state of higher education? Definitely not. History suggests that when private players were allowed an opportunity to enter higher education, they misused it for profiteering from students. For example, the Chhattisgarh Private University Act, 2002, which gave state government power to grant registration for a private university without prior permission from authorities, resulted in mushrooming of “universities” that ran from a single room setup. The situation became so grave that the Supreme Court of India ordered closure of 117 universities in 2005.

It is fair to say that both regulators and institutions have shown their areas of malfunction. This suggests that overall quality assurance process in Indian higher education has failed and it has not kept pace with the local changes and global best practices resulting in a persistent challenge of balancing quality and accessibility.

A report by UNESCO entitled A New Dynamic: Private Higher Education argues that “quality mechanisms must find a balance that ensures high levels of provision while at the same time not constraining appropriate innovation that responds to the evolving public and private education sectors.” New Minister of HRD, Mr. Kapil Sibal, is attempting to bring several changes in higher education system and build an environment that encourages innovation and quality. He is also considering the proposal from the Yash Pal committee to create one independent regulator–National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER)–to bring coherence and accountability in the process.

Prof. Philip Altbach (2005) defined India as “A World-Class Country without World-Class Higher Education.” With the changes expected in the regulatory and quality assurance process, there is hope and optimism that Indian higher education system will also advance towards achieving world-class standards.