Thursday, August 21, 2008

Creating world class universities in India

Dinesh Mohan, Professor at IIT Delhi, has an excellent piece in Business Standard on where India stands in the business of creating world class universities. The Shanghai Jiao Tong University's latest academic ranking of world universities confirms what we already know: we have been left far behind in the race.

In the top 500 universities in the world, India has only two: IIT Kharagpur and IISc, both ranked in the lowly range of 303-401. China itself has 18 universities in the list. Predictably, the US tops the list with 159, all of Europe has 210. The US has 9 of the top 10 (the tenth is Oxford) and 17 of the top 20. In academics, as in defence, it is a superpower.

The methodology, Prof Mohan points out, is sufficiently sound to command respect. The motivation behind the exercise was to figure out where China stands and what it needs to catch up. Prof Mohan highlights a number of interesting findings:
  • A vast majority .... are large public universities enjoying liberal funding. Even in the USA, where many private universities exist, over 70 per cent of the universities making the list for engineering sciences are state funded. Even in the private universities, a significant proportion of research funding comes from the public sector. In the middle and low income countries, only state-funded universities are able to do any scientific research of any consequence.
  • The age of specialised institutions like IITs, IIMs and IIITs seems to be over. A great deal of modern research involves interdisciplinary work and that is why such institutions are the exceptions.
  • The kind of people who take up research and teaching jobs in any country come from middle and lower middle class family backgrounds. They are the ones who look for security in a job and work hard. Those who have spent money on education or taken loans are unlikely to take teaching jobs. We will have to reverse the trend of rising costs of education and give liberal scholarships even for living expenses.
  • Our public sector institutions like the railways, NTPC, ONGC, DRDO, municipalities, BIS, building and road departments, etc. must put in place policies to hire such people (people with Master's and Ph D degrees) and give them meaningful jobs to do.
The bottomline? Forget the notion, currently popular, that in order to create world-class universities, we need government to get out of education. Forget also the notion that private institutions, motivated by profit and charging appropriate (that is, sky-high) fees will do the trick. Think again about the notion that you need fabulous pay packages in universities in order to attract talent- no, the types who are attracted look for job security, decent pay and a supportive environment.

We need to strengthen the IIT-IIM model and give it wider application. At least where the IITs are concerned, fees remain reasonably low and affordable and they must remain so. Improved governance at generously funded state institutions and inclusive, affordable education are the key to creating world class universities. In short, the drift towards privatisation, higher fee and higher pay packets for faculty as the answer must be checked before it is too late.


Vaibhav said...

May be I wont have much of the knowledge as you but to my best of the wisdom which I gathered in my 4 year of work exp. & present education a way out to pull out best intellect can be from Industry Itself who want to give more meaning to their education & experience (after a time span of time in industry and want to come back to field of education).This may help to cater not only the financial constraints the institutes have but also quench the thirst of people like these who want to serve the society. This could be also clubbed by the more consulting and strategies developed for Corporates as earning source.

Student(Systems & Finance-08-10,SITM)

Unknown said...

It quite true people who adopt teaching as a career are either interested in teaching or have nothing else to do.Schools and colleges now a days are opened for earning money.Education in India is only limited to the extent of entering the classroom and reading out from the textbooks.The infrastructural facilities are not considered by the people opening up schools and colleges on every street of the city.The state of education is really poor and I truly agree to the article.

Ramesh said...

I agree with the prognosis but would like to add that the key challenge in our education system is to ensure that we remove infrastructural efficiencies in our basic system. Unless education quality improves drastically at the entry levels there is no way we can hope to see world class universities in India. At any given point of time there are not more than 10000 students in a year who get access to IIT/IIM kind of educational system. This means that we can only 10000 super intelligent students while denying another 90000 the same kind of inputs. Also our systems measure just the academic skills of any entrant and does focus on the larger skills that individuals possess which have more weightage as one grows up in life.

Given our lack of political will I do not see privatisation or expansion of current supply of quality institutions happening in the near future. This means that the only way to correct the system is to find creative ways to remove infrastructural activities and technology could be the answer. IIT's experiment with live two way telecast of its lectures across a no. of engineering institutes could open up a new way of looking at creating virtual world class universities with minimum cost. Participation of private firms (Educomp,NIIT, Reliance etc)in facilitating this digitisation could act as a multiplying catalyst. To summarise as one popular ad say "What an Idea"

flexiadamant said...

Sir, i believe problem lies somewhere else...the inability to provide good education (at all level) in Hindi and other vernacular languages (and in some cases like engineering, medicine and management the education in Indian languages is not available at all) is the main reason...How can we hope for making formidable world class educational institutes when almost 95% people of this country virtully can't have access to the very limited quality education available presently...India desperately needs to have excellence centre of education in Indian languages

Victoryperfect said...

Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.

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