Every year, organizations such as QS and Times Higher Education released their lists of top universities and educational institutions around the world. A consistent theme is the absence of Indian institutes as part of the lists. Barring the appearance of a few Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) in the Science and Technology field and a few Indian Institute of Management (IIMs) in the Business and Management Studies field, India still remains a no show with respect to competing with the world’s most elite group of universities. These rankings are generally determined based on the academic reputation and research output of universities which serve as an incentive for attracting foreign students.
Independent India’s vision to be an educational hub and provide quality technical education has definitely not gone according to plan. There is an urgent need for reforming the way higher education institutions work in the country so as to get the best out of them.
Each university has its own way of indulging in research and development but the budget allocation from each institution towards setting up research centres have been minimal and not encouraging. The academic reputation of a higher education institute is directly proportional to the quality of research done in the institute. There is a need for improving the capacity of institutes in terms of R&D which can result in the output of well-recognised papers. This can only be done with increased spending on research and investment in the field. It is seen that government funding is highly skewed towards IITs and IIMs while the rest get peanuts in terms of capital to set up effective and state of the art research centres. The funding that PhD students receive after the money given to the department is disbursed to the senior Professors and others is not sufficient to even set up basic experiments and surveys.
The setting up of the National Research Foundation (NRF), as per the National Education Policy (2020) is a small step towards encouraging and prioritising research at educational institutions. The primary goal of the NRF will be to ensure adequate funds are allocated for research work at higher education institutes. But it is imperative that the NRF should function in a way that no distinction is made between public and private institutions in research funding. This has also been echoed by the chairman of the AICTE who notes that except for a few IITs and IISc, research work has been absent in most other universities across the country. It is also necessary to include the participation of the private sector towards the setting up of the NRF as this would substantially increase the investment and also provide the private companies to take their advancements in the field directly to the students. Incubation centres and labs set up with the help of successful corporates will be instrumental in increasing the research output and creating a win-win situation for both the private sector and the universities.
The concept of a university in the country is different to what we see in the West. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has created a system of Public, Deemed and Private universities along with Institutes of National Importance which are technically not universities but autonomous institutions. The concept of different colleges (of different streams like Law, Engineering, Medicine) under the umbrella of a university, with the student free to tailor their program by selecting courses from different colleges, has not been established in the country with certain exceptions. A student is tied down to a single course and specific subjects with no opportunity to explore his/her choices. The idea of multidisciplinary education which encompasses the freedom of studying has to be introduced and encouraged.
The recent bill which seeks to merge all higher education regulators such as the UGC and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) into a single entity is a welcome move that can place all higher education institutes under a single framework. Earlier, each body was focused on sectoral education like AICTE for technology education and Medical Council of India (MCI) for medical education. A single Education Commission, which has been proposed, will help in bringing in multidisciplinary education at the institutes. It will be the responsibility of the Commission to ensure that students get a holistic education that can help them in both their personal lives and their professional careers.
Opportunities up the Academic Ladder
With low stipends for PhD students and dismal number of post doc positions, which are temporary positions given to PhD holders to continue their research and establish themselves in academia, there is no incentive for the average Indian student to pursue higher education in the country. There has been a significant outflow of brilliant minds due to the dwindling opportunities for students as they move up the academic ladder. It is imperative that we provide adequate facilities and monetary compensation for students conducting exemplary work in their respective academic fields. Raising PhD stipends to encourage students to conduct their own research in the country along with increasing the number of postdoc positions in the educational institutes will help keep the brightest minds in the country and build up the academic reputation of the institute itself. Currently, it’s only the government that has a fellowship for PhD students. Private donors, along with educational institutions can introduce programmes in providing incentives to aspiring researchers and academics in the country.
There is a lot that needs to be done in order to reform the higher education system in the country. While Indian students have managed to create a diaspora on every continent of the world, Indian universities have failed to attract foreign students to come and study in the country. Just like how the Indian diaspora in Silicon Valley and the financial hubs such as London have transformed the respective countries’ economies, educational reforms can make India an educational hub worth investing in, for both students and the private sector.
The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.