Higher Education Problems in India : Rethink #NEP2020

Author: K Sankaran.

A brief discussion of the malady of India’s Higher Education is presented …

  1. There is a serious problem in the Higher Education (HE) Regulatory framework.
  2. The country still suffers from the legacy of Thomas Macauley’s introduction of the University of London Model (teaching shop model) rather than University of Oxford or Cambridge Model (the academy as sites for contestation).
  3. Very many great Indian scriptures (eg., Bhagavad Gita, Kathopanishad, Vishnu Sahasanamam, Devi Mahatmyam) start by the perplexed student asking a question to which the Guru gives an answer. The current system does not promote asking questions. It only seeks to place oneself in the pecking order. This goes against creativity, autonomy and innovation.
  4. Where open minds are created there will be much greater understanding of the Indian ethos which ultimately may be the solution to many global problems. The current government-dominated control systems militate against the spirit of open dialogue enshrined in the scriptural wisdom of India.
  5. We seem to be so fond of hierarchy and have created a hierarchy of institutions too. Take the case of Engineering and Management with two main tiers. For engineering it is IITs and the rest of the engineering colleges and for management it is IIM and the rest of the institutions. Hierarchy creates problems for the top as well as at the bottom. For the top it would be the problem of pretenses and maintenance of the pecking order. For the bottom the problems are obvious.
  6. There is a large exclusion of a section of intelligentsia in nation building on account of such a system. More on this here
  7. A typical educational institution faces helplessness with so many regulators seeking information without any coherence to the long term objective of the institution. There is little time or incentive left to do anything creative at the ground level.
  8. Currently there are abnormal profit seekers and serious social entrepreneurs mixed up and collectively labeled as private players in India’s HE space. Such gross agglomeration has be disaggregated.
  9. If we recognize entrepreneurship as an Indian virtue there is no reason we cannot recognize social entrepreneurship as an additional virtue in its people. There is an enormous amount of social entrepreneurial energy that can be channeled to HE. More discussion here
  10. The serious social entrepreneurs in HE should be given an opportunity to collectively come together and create self regulating systems. This will take time and has to be facilitated from the top. Say, ten private institutions/ universities could come together and create a inter-university consortium ably overseen by a regulatory mechanism to promote self-regulation that truly understands the value of inter-institutional collaboration and exchange of good practices. There could be pilot project for this. A early blueprint for such a system is provided here.
  11. Such a system has to be free from narrow political groupisms. There would be several such consortia. The consortia would be encouraged to develop local chapters of reputed international accreditation agencies that will provide accreditation. Since international accreditation has only to do with processes, such a move will enhance local learning opportunities with no adverse national consequences.
  12. The idea of self regulation is not easy to understand. Adam Smith tried to tell what that means through the idea of “the invisible hand” with each person committed to one’s own self-interest. Mohamud Yunus also is essentially alluding to self-regulation, but the “invisible hand” being the emotional and social commitment of each of the members to the fellow members of the SHGs.
  13. Those in the bureaucracy or political establishment who desire order, but think that this can only be done in a hierarchical ordering and power, have difficulty understanding the idea of self regulation.
  14. Self regulation is not run-away freedom to do what the “regulated” can do. It is a nuanced way to achieve a via media between Commandeered systems and Laissez Faire systems. There is need to understand what this means through study and reflection. The overseeing function of any self regulatory system (as done by Council of Higher Education Accreditation in the US) requires a commitment to the idea that freedoms should be given and taken in an environment of trust. Such an arrangement would be far too stronger and enduring than any direct regulation.
  15. The jugaad-oriented Indian mind is more suitable to self regulation than most Indians are willing to admit. But systems have to be designed in the context of a group of participants with similar mutual interest with strong governance mechanisms to challenge the errant members. This could be done by a separate judiciary-like agency specifically meant for HE. There is need for constitutional lawyers to tease out this idea.
  16. In the current times, intellectual capital is too precious and needs sensitivity to be nurtured.
  17. The members of the academia too require to study their deeper role in India’s HE. There are some fundamental learnings that academicians need to undertake. Purely domain knowledge is insufficient for doing a good job. Academics should understand the neuroscience of HE. Local-level innovations in examination systems, grading systems etc. need to be developed that will require training of HE professionals. See, for instance, my note on relative grading ..
  18. Managing the academy requires higher cognitive and affective skills. Regular workshops and training programs in holistic thinking (which are not prescriptive, but productive of reflection) for HE professionals is highly required. There is opportunity in private universities to further these innovative leadership ideals.
  19. The consortia of private universities alluded to earlier could come up with their own academies for development of academic leadership in knowledge management. Leadership of systems where knowledge is generated and disseminated requires a different leadership orientation.
  20. Such a leadership would understand that the purpose of higher education is not to perpetrate the status quo. The purpose is to create strong autonomous individuals who would choose options that are more compassionate, logical and that balance individual interest with social interests.
  21. Help set an independent research center spearheaded by private initiative to work on social entrepreneurship in HE, governance systems of private HE institutions and leadership in these institutions.

Professor Sankaran, currently Director of Justice KS Hegde Institute of Management, Nitte, is a B. Tech Honours (IIT, Kharagpur), PGDM (IIM Bangalore) and PhD (Kent State University, USA). He has several years of academic experience in the India, US, UK, Middle East and East Asia. (View More)

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