Dr. Arun D Sawant
Pro-Vice Chancellor, Mumbai University
“Unfortunately, currently we cannot fulfill the infrastructural needs and provide quality education in true sense. Leave aside instruments and high profile laboratories, even a good reference book is not affordable for small colleges”
What are the key challenges that are in face of delivering quality higher education in India?
We have moved into the 11th Five Year Plan and the focus now is on the need to increase the access of higher education. But this is a formidable challenge. Our current national target objective is to raise it from 9% to 15%. This will require a herculean effort and a massive infrastructure like hundred universities and some thousand colleges. Unfortunately, we cannot fulfill the current infrastructural needs and provide quality education in true sense. Leave aside instruments and high profile laboratories, even a good reference book is not affordable for small colleges. The cost of education also needs to be revised as it is a major hurdle in the establishment of good infrastructure and delivery of quality education.
Physical structure, along with internal infrastructure, is further challenged by lack of funds. It is difficult to pay attractive salaries to teachers particularly in non-professional colleges where the fees is not based on the cost of education.
Access to education is another major issue, as it is not keeping pace with the increasing population.
What initiatives have been taken by MU as far as ICT is concerned?
We have been on an expansion drive and have started many distance education programmes based on IT. e-Governance has been set up with SAP programme for speedy disposal of administrative issue. We have a scheme for laptops to every faculty and have WiFi connectivity. We use the website for all practical purposes including programme schedule, syllabi and examination schedules and now online admissions in distance education. Enrollment of students to colleges using IT application has started. We have a centralised computer unit for examination processes and a Computer Centre for maintaining our website.
Our young staff is technology savvy and has easily taken onboard new initiatives. As the older staff are not very computer savvy, we regularly organise training and orientation programmes to facilitate the process. All our colleges are connected through the Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Limited’s IT programme; the state government has asked the University to be stakeholders in the company and we have taken up the programme for connectivity between students, college, university and inter-universities.
What are current focus areas in the field of vocational courses and what new initiatives are on the anvil?
We have the Garware Institute, which offers over 45 vocational courses, and we are also coming up with a new Centre of JJ Applied Arts. We have 300-plus certificate and diploma courses. We are planning new courses for the Service industry. Many industries now have research and development centres affiliated with the MU. We have industry representation even in the board of management in the university. So it’s a symbiotic relationship. We have an MDP programme, where we train their executives in management courses.We also have a collaboration with NASSCOM. We are also in touch with international universities for student exchange and short term programmes for exposure and interaction between students from various cultures.
Do you think we need IT benchmarks in Higher Education?
IT benchmarks is definitely required. We need an IT rating agency right from the students, teachers and curriculum, to assess and rank each college. It’s very important. There are enough funds for education; we need to use it for improving the quality of delivery.