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What ails and what spurs higher education system in India?

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higher education system in India
Dr V S Kanchana Bhaaskaran

Dr. V S Kanchana Bhaaskaran, Professor, School of Electronics Engineering and Dean-Academics, Vellore Institute of Technology, Chennai

India will have world’s largest tertiary age population by end of 2020. Higher education makes human resource development possible and 21 st century is known as the “Knowledge Century” and the global slogan is “Innovation”, writes Dr. V S Kanchana Bhaaskaran, Professor, School of Electronics Engineering and Dean-Academics, Vellore Institute of Technology, Chennai for Elets News Network (ENN).

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi has avowed 2010-20 as the Decade of Innovation, with focus on unleashing the creative potential of every single Indian. In 2060, India is expected to be the most populous country with the largest economy in the world. Roughly 20 million people turn to 18 every year at that time.

India produces world acclaimed scientists in all fields of learning. India’s space programme has seen the year 2018 as a remarkably challenging and significantly successful year with the NAVIC constellation of 7 satellites put in orbit for its regional navigation purposes, thus operationalizing GSLV-MkIII heavy launch vehicle in the process. 2018 also found ISRO spearheading the successful launch of PSLV-C40 in January for placing Cartosat-2 series satellite in orbit along with 30 others for other countries. However, we find the country ranks abysmal on education and Indian students pursue higher education overseas with around 6000 students flying abroad every year, despite being the third largest education system in the world with India generating 4.0 Lakhs engineers a year while US produces only 60000.

Indian patent regime is underdeveloped with appallingly lower awareness than other countries. Rapid expansion of higher education system in the country during the last 30 years made universities grow and India possesses a complex higher education landscape with around 800 universities and 38,000 colleges. Despite this fact, 85% of our students do not have access to colleges. FICCI reports government setting a target of 30% GER in higher education by 2020, to rise from the current 24.5%. More importantly, with nearly 140 million people in the higher education age-group by 2030, one in every four graduates across the world will be a product of Indian Higher Education system.

The world university rankings 2019 finds only 33 Indian universities among the top 1000 and QS BRICS University Rankings 2019 identify 65 from India among the top 300 top universities across Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, based on eight factors that include the faculty to student ratio, the faculty with PhD and institution’s perception rating among academics and employers. Seven of this year’s top 10 universities are in China and the BRICS ranking is dominated by top Chinese universities. Though we claim that India would be ranked 3rd among all countries by 2020 in education, the necessary impetus from all stake holders must be enthused quintessentially.

Quality of education was higher 30 years ago. To reach the same quality, country needs 30 times the faculty. Indian higher education system consists predominantly of 80% undergraduate (UG) education and 20% catering to post graduation (PG) and research. However, PhDs in science and engineering have only doubled and PG only has tripled during the same period. Even quality educational institutions like IITs have more than one third of their faculty in shortage and multicourse efforts through various schemes do not bear fruit. Graduate technical and non-technical education have stagnated relative to undergraduate education, mainly due to students entering the job market with considerable salary in ITservice sectors, thus catering to 50 -75% of engineers who are produced. One can perceive that the service orientation of Indian IT industries happens to be a boon and a bane. With 40 to 45 subjects studied in 4 years spending 6000 hours in classrooms, 85% of undergraduate students are found to be unemployable.

States permit expansion of private colleges for want of assuring education to masses, however resulting in decaying quality. On the other hand, with only limited supply of manpower available from public and aided colleges,private institutions help in meeting growing demand from industries and labor market,.In order to maintain quality, the well intentioned monitoring and inspection by around 15 regulatory bodies such as UGC or AICTE through MHRD may not be more viable for realistic expectations, than enabling the effective partnership between the central and state governments for enhancing the institutional mechanism for creating an effective boost to quality education. The market of students and parents ultimately can decide and weed out non-performing institutions. The trend is already there with as many as 200 engineering colleges across the country applied for closure to AICTE, with their student admission translating to nearly 80,000 less of engineering seats. Student loans cover less than 3% students in India as against 50% in US or Australia.

Ways to Move Forward

National and International level accreditation and assessment for programmes along with institutional partnerships can foster competitiveness among institutions, whether private or government, which will ultimately attract industry. India can emerge as a global innovation hub when the students of higher education institutions are poised to play a crucial role in developing a sustainable ecosystem of innovation. Ideally all institutions must strive to create effective functional mechanisms to convert research into innovations. Such innovation can convert ideas into novel or enhanced products, processes and services, and in the process, can take the inventions to market place by translating scientific knowledge into usable forms for economic growth and social development. Such an ecosystem can nurture, inspire and encourage young students by instilling in them new ideas and processes, resulting in innovations during their formative years.

Creation of universities with science, engineering, humanities and liberal arts, and humanities will hold
greater merit. Industrial conclaves with eminent experts from industry can boost up the spirit of
innovation, strengthening university-industry linksby sharing the industry requirements with academia,
with both the industry and institution getting benefitted. Presence of an industrial problem in an
institution andbuilding in-housejoint talent widely among various disciplines will also help foster greater
inclusiveness.

R&D in such environments can lead to partnership of students of all levels of higher education, and multidisciplinary innovative environment will trigger in. This amalgamation of industrial leaders, inventive academics and young minds can bridge gap between the theoretical knowledge and vast sphere of human endeavours to facilitate creation of better technology and processes including their practical implementation for better Indian economy. Essentially, public research must happen in Indian institutions and as the most important requirement of 2020 job market, quality teaching programmes and advanced research activities must go together. However, the realistic figures staring at one show that research in higher education sector has risen from 1% to 4% in 20 years against the international figures of 15% to 25%.

Technology grows relentlessly like never before and exploitation of technology in right direction is the prime requirement. The current trend of automation and communication of data exchange in manufacturing technologies, encompassing cyber-physical systems, Internet of things (or of everything), cloud computing and cognitive computing, otherwise called industry 4.0can prod the innovation effectively, creating smart factory. However, use of technology in a cautious way also is pertinent, e.g., use of simulation studies in R&D.

Virtual reality systems that give the user virtual world experience can avoid danger and loss of lives, and the simulations can be carried out over the required time, rate and span of variations even while proving to be cost effective. However, a thorough understanding and awareness of the factors involved can enable efficient modelling of systems, computer aided design solutions by employing vast computational power and processing speeds which human cannot realize on his own, and computer aided manufacturing, which has actually been proved by the miniaturization of portable electronic systems, automation and embedded systems that are ubiquitous today. A note of caution however that is the simulation tools cannot fully replace the human thinking and its potential, and they can only augment the processes.

Effective simulation and interpretation can be realized only with a thorough understanding and awareness of all the factors involved added to the huge cost factors that may be involved in creating simulation environments, such as the study of fundamental particles of matter in CERN.

India has a tremendous prospect with an exceptional combination of huge student talent and an education system that can meet the market needs, philanthropists and private higher education providers with social responsibility and huge personal cost investment potential for education and, political and intellectual freedom. The country producing 1.5 million engineers a year as provider of higher education in the world can reflect in discernible economic outcomes. The 21 st century sees technology and skills as the crucial factors of economic growth and Information and KnowledgereplacingCapital and Energy as the primary wealth-creating assets, and the higher education policy must formulate its activities with focus on these factors and the country must build both hard and soft infrastructure to facilitate knowledge creation and application that collaborates with both public and private sectors.

Dynamic e-classrooms, Virtual lab facilities, Entrepreneurship and skill development programmes for students, on-line MOOC courses through SWAYAM, Problem based learning for making students creative, critically thinking, and analytically attempting to address challenges and problems are the fruits of technology. Effective use of technology to bring in holistic education, necessary academic rigor to improve quality, industry-academia linkages, industry to start thinking of education and research as investment opportunity, injecting innovation and research into mainstream curriculum and vocational training, teaching and research that go together, academic and financial autonomy to institutions, allowing for-profit educational institutions, keeping higher education affordable for masses and handholding of few nearby institutions by quality higher education institutions as institutional responsibility will pave for the growth of the country as envisioned by great leaders.

Atal Ranking of Institutions on Innovation Achievements (ARIIA) announced in 2018 is one such an initiative undertaken by MHRD to methodically rank all major higher educational institutions and universities in India on parameters pertaining to Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development amongst students and faculties. In this direction, the strategy document Strategy for New India @75released recently stresses on improving the policy environment in which all stakeholders can contribute their fullest for achieving the goals set out for New India in 2022 and drive India towards a USD 5-trillion economy by the year 2030 through exposition in 41 crucial areas through people’s movement for economic transformation. It prescribes a growth rate of 8 per cent over the next five years during 2018-23.

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