Where do we stand in global higher education sector?

The Indian higher education sector is a priority sector today. The Government has formally accepted it’s importance and role in nation building. But where do we stand vis-a-vis the global standards of excellence in this sector?

According to the “Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2016-17” list released last month India has improved its position in the global higher education, with a record 31 educational institutions making it to a new list of the world’s top 1000 varsities with University of Oxford topping the list.

The Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore is India’s top institution (201-250 group), up from last year’s 251-300 group. There is no Indian university in the coveted top 200 list.

Only two Indian universities have made it to the top 400 group with Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay (351-400).

In South Asia Region India is the star with 31 universities in the top 1000 list. The other Indian universities on the list include the IITs Delhi, Kanpur, Madras, Kharagpur and Roorkee.

Phil Baty, the editor of the THE World University Rankings said, “India’s strong performance is partly thanks to the country recognising the importance of participating in global benchmarking exercises; just last month the government launched a new funding-backed project aimed at catapulting Indian Institutes of Technology to the top of world university rankings,” he said.

Baty said that it was “encouraging” that the Indian government had displayed an ambition to create world-class universities, witnessed by the country’s leading institutions “edging towards the world top 200”.

However, the higher education sector is still besieged with problems in terms of quantity and quality of education delivery, funding, research, development, employability of graduates and access to the benefits of international cooperation.

Today the key concerns of Indian Higher Education are :

The General Enrolment Ratio (GER) is very low at 11 per cent compared to world average of 23.2 percent.

The Government spending per student in Indian stands at US$ 400 compared to the average developing country spend of about US$ 1000. China spends about US$ 2500 and developed countries like US spend US$ 10,000.

There is shortage of faculty, and inability of universities to attract and retain top talent.

We are facing increasing competition from China which is investing heavily for improving a small group of its best universities to world class standards.

Other Asian countries are also upgrading higher education with an aim of building world class universities. India cannot afford to remain isolated to the opportunities and threats from these new markets of education.

To compete successfully in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century, our country needs universities that can also support sophisticated research in a number of scientific and scholarly fields, in which area we sadly are lacking.

Also adressing issues of equity and excellence are very crucial.

India must make full use of Information Technology and satellite based communication systems which can change the needs and character of higher education. Proper hybridisation of online teaching and face to face teaching is required.

The cost of Higher education of quality is very expensive. The private sector must be encouraged to actively participate in higher education. There is every likelihood of strong growth in revenues in this sector. Merrill Lynch estimates global education market of US$ 2 Trillion. Indeed, it is a big market that cannot be ignored.

However, the government too must increase its participation so that there is a balance and accountability in excellence, equity, commitment, autonomy, and most important-its relevance to the societal and national development.

The government must urgently boost selected universities to become world class. World class universities would require world class professors and students along with an appropriate culture to sustain and stimulate them.

Academic salaries must be competitive enough to attract the best faculty. Fellowships and grants should be available to bright students if an academic culture that is based on merit based norms and competition for advancement and research funds is to be maintained in such institutions.

A necessary component is a balanced mix of autonomy and accountability for these institutions to do creative research as well as ensure productivity.

Indian Universities also need to take steps to protect and capitalise Intellectual Property Rights. Global efforts are for systematic conversion of intellectual activity into intellectual capital and property.

The substantial gap between the levels of Central Universities and the State Universities needs to be reduced.

University education in India today is in the early stages of a major reform. This knowledge-based learning industry is getting restructured by emerging technologies-particularly, the information technology. Changes will be required by faculty, administration, and every component of the education system to adapt to these new requirements.

Role of governments, managements, society and most important that of teachers will decide the fate of the system. Quality and innovation will be the major determining factors of the advancement of the University system and its components including the faculty, the administrators and the rulers.

Our sophisticated educational systems like IITs, IIMs, IISc, many elite institutions and a few central universities that have developed as world class institutions of excellence only prove that we are capable of creating a robust educational system. With the required mind set and proper actions certainly we can attain to higher global standards and prove ourselves to the world in this field.

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