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Problems in higher education and challenges before RUSA

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Accountability and autondl statues of many institutions which is a challenging task to accomplish.

By Prof (Dr) S S Chahal, Chancellor, Desh Bhagat University, Mandi Gobindgarh, Punjab

The National Knowledge Commission in 2007 had recommended massive expansion of higher education, setting the target to achieve 15 percent enrollment by 2015. Since then the system has witnessed tremendous expansion. The number of universities has increased from 348 to 700, colleges from 17,625 to 35,539 and enrollment from 10.5 million to 20.3 million during the period from 2005-06 to 2011-12, surpassing the target much ahead of time achieving 19 percent enrollment in 2012-13 as per University Grants Commission (UGC) estimates. Massive expansion however, has generated certain problems as well.

Expansion generated issues and the need for reforms Rural Urban Divide:
Mostly universities and colleges have come up in and around different cities making their distribution as well as the gross enrollment ratio skewed across rural and urban areas. More than 65 percent universities and 55 percent colleges are in urban areas. This rural urban divide is more visible from large difference in Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) which is about 13 percent in rural areas and 24 percent in urban areas against the national average of 19 percent. It needs serious attention because despite increasing trend towards urbanization still more than 68 percent population live in rural areas which cannot be overlooked.
Gender disparity: The National Sample Survey Organisation’s most recent estimates show a GER of 15.8 percent for women against 22.8 percent for men. Except for education and medicine, enrollment of boys is higher than girls in all other faculties.
Inadequate infrastructure: With rapid expansion, most of the institutions are not coping up with the required infrastructure. This deficiency has ultimately resulted in paper degree education with very low level of employability of graduates which are being produced.
Low industrial training: There is dire need to support necessary infrastructure within institutions as well as to promote institution industry interface by involving industry in curriculum development, developing database of available facilities across institutions, conjoint research and development and mandatory attachment of students with industry at least for one semester.
Faculty crunch: The growth in teaching faculty has not been kept in pace with the growth of teaching institutions and enrollment, thus causing great imbalance between teacher student ratio. There is about 38 fold increase in faculty against 51 fold increase in enrollment during the period from 1950-51 to 2011-12.
Decline in research: Out of total enrollment, there is less than one percent enrollment in research, against 86 percent in graduate, 12 percent postgraduate and one percent in diploma and certificate courses. India’s global share of scientific publications of 3.5 percent is very low as compared to China’s share of more than 21 percent as estimated by Thomas and Reuters.
Large affiliations: Affiliated colleges with 89 percent enrollment of total students are mainstay in the system of higher education as they contain bulk of enrollment. Almost all the newly established colleges are affiliated to state universities, increasing their burden of affiliation system. Many are having more than 500 each and it is quite common to have 400 such colleges per university. Over-affiliation dilutes the focus on academic quality and research. All these factors have caused fall in academic levels requiring major initiatives to address the issues.

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Over-Affiliation – A Cause Of  Concern
Number of Affiliated Colleges
Osmania University: 900
Pune University: 811
Nagpur University: 800
University of Mumbai: 711
Bangalore University: 687

RUSA – the new scheme
The new initiative of MHRD centers around strategic shift in central funding for higher education through synergistic approach in spending by central and state governments, addressing issues related to access, equity and excellenceand demand and supply linked expansion. Aiming at 30 percent enrollment by 2020, it includes bringing improvement in teaching learning process to enhance employability, research and innovation. There will be strategic interventions to bring institutional autonomy, regular monitoring and implementing accountability. Student-centric and result oriented approach will be other contours of the scheme besides creating research universities, developing alliances, clusters, consortia, networks and internationalization of higher education to be competitive in global market. It has also been planned to bring affiliation reforms, ensuring qualified faculty, reaching unreached and strengthening academic, administrative as well financial autonomy in colleges and universities.

The Challenges
Ahead The scheme has covered major aspects but its implementation and effectiveness will certainly be a challenging task. There will be major shift in the funding pattern. Hitherto directly by the UGC, funds will be channelized through state governments. States have to contribute their share to receive the center’s share. It will largely depend upon the priority of the state governments to add their own share which is not free of apprehensions from many fund starved states running under huge debt. Even the diversion of central funds is common, which if happens will be a great setback to the higher education system which is already under stress. Mandatory setting up of State Higher Education Councils has to be implemented with due caution to avoid overlapping of responsibilities with other such bodies already functioning in the states to avoid confusion and chaotic situation detrimental to achieving objectives of the scheme. Still important are many other complex issues like: non-availability of qualified faculty, overcoming the rigid mindset, up-gradation of infrastructure, training and capacity building of existing faculty to which it is difficult to find answers in the document as to how RUSA will grapple with them. It is widely acclaimed that teachers have been well treated by implementation of revised grades in 2006. Still it has so far failed to inspire or attract the bright students.It is great challenge as to how RUSA will be able to fill the gap of inspiring, motivated and committed teachers around which revolves the system of higher education. Rampant inbreeding and extremely low magnitude of mobility of teachers is a serious issue adversely affecting quality of teaching and research. It is an important area needing due consideration although RUSA has not spelled out a viable policy in this respect Recent expansion has left teachers only coping with teaching and examination assignments and the research component is nearly absent. Measures to improve research under RUSA are welcome but in addition to resources and adequate facilities, it is important to nurture and promote culture for research. Setting up of Centers of Excellence is fine as envisaged under the scheme. It will be worthwhile to strengthen linkages between the existing research and academic institutions to harness synergy for speedy march towards excellence. Our libraries must be modernized, digitized and fully loaded with ultramodern software to meet the emerging demands of education through Open Education Resources (OER) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which should be taken up seriously. Interlinking of libraries atleast at regional level will greatly improve standard of learning and research. Establishment of new institutions should be need based only. Besides opening new institutions, it will be prudent to attend to the crying need of strengthening the existing ones and expanding avenues of extension and distance education which will play a great role in meeting the demand of enrollment acceleration.

Good practices may yield good results
Emphasis on semester system and determining the quantum of work to be completed by the students in different programmes, Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) to enhance learning opportunity and making inter-institutional transferability of students possible, flexibility for working students to complete programme over an extended period of time and thrust on issues related to employability, streamlining admission process, continuous internal evaluation in addition to end of semester evaluation and mandatory accreditation of higher education institutions under the scheme can make higher education relevant provided these are implemented with sincerity and committed approach.

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