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Higher EduCaution

Mark Twain must have been at his humorous best, when he famously said, Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education."

But looked at closely the statement is almost true about India’s state of higher education.


Let us begin with some hard facts. There are only five Indian universities in the Top 400 University Rankings of the Times Higher Education Survey. In contrast, the US has 45 in the top 100 followed by the UK with 10, Germany with six and Japan and Australia with five.  If you said, “look, these are advanced nations; we are developing ones," then look no further than BRIC countries.  India is the only BRIC country that is not represented in the top 100. China has two while Brazil and Russia have one each.

The rankings are based on performance indicators across five parameters: teaching, research, citations, international outlook, and industry income.

 

A teaching shop

The truth is that we have become a teaching shop and a degree-factory-nation, in the process forgetting that learning is the reason we go to college and that the degree is a byproduct. Sadly, India is swarming with under-skilled graduates. In industry, there is a dearth of a skilled, employable workforce. Parents are spending on fancy colleges. Fancy colleges are paying to get placements. Employers are in-turn spending to make these students employable. The formula hardly makes sense. It’s time that someone in the chain embraces logic.

A playground for sports, high quality in teaching, top-notch research and paper presentation, down-to-earth practical training, original project-work, great soft-skills and, most importantly, an open mind matter. Sadly, this isn’t how most of the stakeholders of higher education think; it’s all about the seat-degree-job. The colleges want to sell, the students want to buy and the companies will hire as long as their clients need the “heads-on-the-job” to award projects.

This is why none of India's 700 universities and 35,539 colleges has made it to the top 100 of the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings. It might be shocking, with all the noise about Indians leading Fortune 500 companies, our brains and knowledge being the best in the world, etc. But the ugly truth is that those Indians in top places haven’t either gone to college in India or worked in India. Yes, they might be from India, but that’s where the story starts and stops. This is sad, as we have the numbers in terms of student and count, but we haven’t  thought about quality, research, innovation, personality development and discovery.

However, there is a silent wave of baby-step change taking place. The opening up of the education sector has had its pluses and minuses. A thousand colleges might have mushroomed, but it has created an opportunity for a few good, innovative ones too. Private universities like AMITY, SRM, Manipal and VIT have been reasonably successful in their endeavours. They’ve not just made money but also have increased the quality of higher education across the board. They run in a very competitive market and at least for the sake of economics, quality, research and value addition per student mattered. This has lead to value addition and sustainability at various levels: for the students, teachers, colleges, employers, industry and the economy.

An interesting aside is that most of these universities are being established in vast land banks, much like the university towns of USA. ICFAI has a vast campus outside Hyderabad, so does AMITY outside Delhi, VIT in Vellore and SRM in Chennai. This has given everyone breathing space, to learn and develop. This has also led to economic development of the surrounding areas. Men and women got employment, the area got proper infrastructure, realty got a boost and finally, a new township developed.

This phenomenon can be seen across the country, even in a growing city like Vizag, GITAM University on the far edge of the city gave an incredible impetus to the surrounding region. The university has made the century old Andhra University take notice and get its act together.  Increased competition translates to better education. The students needed hostels, hotels, cinemas, stationery, clothes and what not. It has made that place come alive.  Once we realise that the higher education system needs a reboot, like the surrounding areas of a university town, the industry, economy and quality of life in India will increase exponentially.

The Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore tops that tiny list of Indian universities at around the 200th position, followed by IIT-Bombay, Punjab University, IIT Kharagpur and IIT-Delhi.

 

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