Higher Education needs Autonomy, Capacity and Good Governance

28 Oct

The wrong way to revamp education

Thursday, 04 September 2014 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped

Given the scale at which higher education governance needs to build capacity, the goal must be to strive for oversight and delivery, not micro-management

Observers of higher education in India are right to be puzzled. The recent actions of the Government are neither explained, nor explicable at first sight. In recent months, the University Grants Commission has engaged with almost all institutes of excellence in the country and asked them to change specific programme designs. Each of these are institutions that has earned their place on the global map — either due to their research and faculty collaborations, their ranking in the university league tables or their alumni placements. These institutions are not perfect, but they are beacons in a troubled higher education sector.

Nobody can deny that the higher education sector in India is troubled. Smaller universities are under-funded,and there are severe faculty shortages. Laboratories and research programmes in many are in shambles, even those in the social sciences have been called out for their poor quality and worse — plagiarism. The faculty has little connect with the industry or the real world except in the institutes of excellence. Administrative and regulatory nooses are blamed for stunting progress. There are many problems to resolve both the quality and quantity of education.

From a systemic point of view there is much to do. The exploding demand for higher education, the decaying capacity, the employability gap — all indicate the need to create more institutions. The population of India is vast and complex and its higher education institutions need to be diverse to meet their various needs. One size does not fit all, nor can it fit the aspirations of the millions of its youth. Nor can the supply side create enough capacity unless each plays to their strengths.

Building these institutions is a priority. The nation has to educate and employ an additional million a month if some projections are to be believed. Additional institutional capacity at this scale cannot be built by tinkering with existing institutions. The sector needs to be firing on all cylinders with actions in line with strategic intent and priorities.

Then, why have energies been devoted to tinkering with the course design of higher education institutions that have delivered better results than most others? What makes that a priority? There is enough goodwill for the new Government, and, of course, faith in the decisive mandate to accept that there must be good reason for this. But goodwill is easy to fritter away. Such moves have consequences — investors tend to find themselves wrong-footed, unable to plan ahead since they are not sure they will be able to design their own programmes. Innovators tend to find themselves stymied — preferring to hold back on ideas that could have powered efficient scaling which is so required.

The stated reason for this has been the need to conform to the education policy of 1986, that says that education must follow the 10+2+3 pattern. The call is to ask all institutions to align to this. Regulations need to move on and align to the needs of the people and their institutions.

Regulations were created to ensure that institutional goals were met, not the other way round. If there is a mismatch, this must be debated. In any case, a new education policy has been mooted. Adherence to the old rules, just for the sake of rules, does not allow for the dynamic agility that this world requires.

For long, innovation and research have been held back by over regulation and under governance. It is time to reverse that and invest in better and smarter governance processes. Smart governance is about efficiency in the governance processes. Given the scale at which higher education governance needs to build its own capacity, the goal must be to build for oversight and delivery to goals rather than be bogged down in operational micro-management.

This was published in the Daily Pioneer newspaper

http://180.149.243.110/columnists/oped/the-wrong-way-to-revamp-education.html

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