essay current topics

Topics: Higher education, University, Further education Pages: 17 (5909 words) Published: December 3, 2013
Abhay Pethe
Dr. Vibhooti Shukla Chair Professor
Department of Economics
University of Mumbai

In the emerging global world order, India is trying to
position itself as a knowledge driven economy. Higher
education assumes tremendous importance in this context.
Large scale changes are being talked about and may
indeed be implemented. The challenges are many and
momentous, and a successful transition in arena is full of
possibilities. Here, I present some the recent pieces that I have been invited to write. In the first essay deals generally with the issues specifically focusing on action plan with
regards to access and flexibility and has been published in
MEDC Digest. The second one deals with the question of
concrete steps that need to be taken in the context of
Mumbai and has been published in The City. Third is a
piece submitted to the 11th Plan subgroup on State
Universities of which I happened to be a member.

Abhay Pethe
Department of Economics
University of Mumbai
I wanted to say so many nice things; but,
that fool of a Shakespeare has already said them all!
--- A Wag
Whenever one sits down to write on the mess that one finds in the arena of higher education, one is struck by a sense of déjà vu as well as a sense of inability to say anything new. Pawan Agarwal’s comprehensive paper that he wrote for ICRIER, the excellent report by National Knowledge Commission (headed by the irrepressible Sam Pitroda) are just two of the many articles that easily come to mind. The first one mentioned, has exhaustive data at a fairly disaggregated level so that this aspect need not detain us here. The issues and challenges in this context –that are fairly well understood – are diverse not typical. Thus, the challenge is not epistemological but one of political will and at a more mundane level of implementation. In India, it does not take a genius to point out the problems in any sphere, least of all in the higher educational sector. The point however is (ought to be) to identify workable solutions. In this article I will concentrate on the capacity, flexibility and quality issues that beset the higher educational sector in India and suggest some steps that need to be taken to remedy the situation. Rest assured, there will be no magic wand and no single solution. Help and initiative from whatever quarter must be sought and grabbed by both hands. A bouquet approach will alone be realistic, driven by pragmatism rather than ideology. Whilst finance is undoubtedly important, I argue that governance is the key.

The essentials of the story are easily told: Despite tremendous expansion in the sector, there is inadequate capacity and hence access; after all we have 350 universities with huge enrollment (one of the largest in the world). The system is characterized by rigidity with absolutely no flexibility; we have degrees being offered in a rigid framework with very little choice for the students (who should matter the most) and the

regulations are archaic with peculiar unresponsiveness to the current context. Thanks to the perverse hiring policies and protracted procedures (not to mention politics: with and without state interference) the quality of faculty is in a state of rapid decline. The reasons and solutions are well known and yet some of them bear repetition. Having made a first cut let us revisit the issues in some detail, but first some preliminaries.

India is at cross roads. It has all the pretensions of emerging as a knowledge economy and yet the time is running out for it to catch the bus. Surely, we don’t require Thomas Friedman to point out the gravity of the situation. After all, what we do today – by way of investment – will have a decisive influence fifteen years from now. For that is how long (even in these fast paced times) it takes for changes in educational system to fructify. It is no secret...
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