Roadmap for knowledge creation
Dr Balvinder Shukla, 09 Jul 2014
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Dr Balvinder Shukla
Vice Chancellor, Amity University, UP

The Indian education sector has been recognized as a “Sunrise Sector” for investment in the recent past. The higher education sector, owing to its huge potential, holds very promising prospects. Despite some inherent concerns with respect to choice of entity, not for profit character and foreign investment in formal education space; the industry does offer various innovative business opportunities, which can be explored for establishing a presence.

The Government of India has recently reignited its reforms agenda by opening up certain sensitive sectors to foreign investment such as retail and civil aviation, which should ideally result in increased economic activity and employment generation. In order to capitalize on this huge employment opportunity, we believe the Government should take such a positive step in the higher education sector also by reducing the complexities governing foreign investment. This should also help the Government in achieving its aggressive goals of access, equity and excellence in higher education.

Over the past few decades, the global economy has shifted from being manufacturing-centric to a knowledge-driven one. Success in leveraging knowledge and innovation is only possible with a sound infrastructure of higher education. A successful education policy forms the foundation of all fields of national development including political, social, economic, technical, scientific, and environmental. Thus, the higher the quality of university education in a country, the more prosperous and competitive are the people.

Speedy implementation must    
There is a growing realization that if India has to achieve a leadership role in the global knowledge economy a substantial part of the public funding must flow into the education sector through not-for-profit private participation. The education sector must be given a budgetary allocation of 6% of GDP to address the needs of primary, secondary, tertiary and higher education sector. The “Universities for Research and Innovation Bill, 2012”, provides for establishment and incorporation of Universities for Research and Innovation, in both public and private sector to create institutions of globally recognized quality in teaching, learning and research. Unfortunately, the fate of Bill is still not known. Couples of other bills were introduced in the parliament, which are either pending or need to be re-examined or allowed to be lapsed as these are draconian Bills, which, if allowed in its present form, would badly affect private investments in education sector.

Don’t undermine private entities
The overwhelming response of private promoters, in making meaningful contribution to higher and technical education sector, despite facing continued adversities and onslaughts of governmental agencies, ought to have been recognized by the government.  The statutory authorities undermine the contribution of private sector without realizing that the private sector had to step in as the government failed to provide required infrastructural facilities. Therefore be recognized and any policy planning that is devoid of private participation, will only remain on paper. The cash trapped state governments will never be able to invest into matching the growing needs of this sector, arising out of high inspirational level of middle class, a ballooning demographic power of Indian youth. It is high time to appreciate the contribution of private sector in education and schemes like PPP must be encouraged to promote skills development and training for keeping future work force ready for employment, as 50 million jobs are likely to be created by the present regime in the next five years.

Transparent fund allocation
The new flagship scheme - Rashtriya Ucchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) of Ministry of HRD, Government of India, introduced under 12th Plan requires re-examination for effective RUSA, which focused on Access, Equity and Quality. According to OECD analysis, quality and equity are twin objectives that are best pursued and also can be achieved together. RUSA aims to bring paradigm and strategic shift in approach with respect to increase in fund allocation, fostering autonomy, integrating research with teaching, internationalization, creating cluster of institutions, promoting innovation, research, improved governance, carrying out educational reforms in academics & examination and strengthening States’ machineries through decentralization and higher fund allocation. 

The strategy and guiding principles of RUSA mission will certainly help creating a level playing field, ensuring quality and transparency in governance of all institutions at State level. The approach of RUSA is also intended to reduce affiliation burden of University which get bogged down by administrative activities. It aims to introduce cluster approach whereby University takes over control of cluster, networked institutes, neighborhood colleges and constituent colleges, with maximum students’ strength not exceeding 50,000. While these are well intended and well defined objectives, the implementation will always remain a concern. The overhauling of present system will require major policy changes and legislative decisions on statutory amendments. The fund allocation for RUSA vis a vis UGC ought to be clarified.

The inclusion of education under GATS of WTO and the compliance of selected commitments by member nations would require urgent attention as India is yet to make commitments. Irrespective of India’s stand on GATS, the mobility of students and professionals across the globe and cross border education is widely accepted and acknowledged. India’s funding in education sector hovers around 3.85% of GDP of which only 1.25% of GDP is dedicated to higher education with negligible share of technical education. It is, however, expected to reach up to 6% of GDP onwards the XIIth and XIIIth plans.

Minuscule technological support  
In an increasingly dominated world - by technological innovation and ICTs, the public and private universities are contemplating how to take better advantage of established and emerging technologies to enhance learning and skills development of the students, thereby increasing the number of research publications, and conducting socially relevant, and purposeful research of desired quality. Unfortunately, the government support to private Universities for above is negligible. If support is provided then there will be better academic aura for:

  • Investigating, creating and implementing innovative teaching and learning practices to enhance student success, quality and holistic development.
  • Expanding the use of information technology in delivering to graduates who are well prepared for the place of work and responsible citizens equipped to make an impact in their respective communities. 
  • Continuing to strengthen and develop research capacity, and remain committed to conducting research that is relevant to the community and the nation.
  • Remaining ever committed to being a transformative, Indian University that supports continental growth and development.
  • Competency-based education (CBE) will receive attention from the media as more Universities dip a toe into these new waters.
  • Online education will further advance vital education components will remain face-to-face for times to come. There is important specialized knowledge in the emerging and developing world that can now be contributed that was previously far less accessible.
  • It will address the problem of brain drain and mobilization of the Diaspora and give mechanisms to reverse and benefit by controlling it.
  • Inability to meet increasing demands for access and equity will be sorted to a greater extent.

The fundamental challenge facing society, economy and higher education are the need for research into intractable global issues on the one side, and access and equity on the other. Higher education has continued to expand and diversify, with increasing international competition.  Internationalization and Research has always been extremely important for institutions and for individual academics, which must 'publish or perish'. Fundamental research, inter-disciplinarily and the role of higher education in culture and innovation, to policies, changing business models, the role of the non-profit sector, technological advances and growing international competition are other issues. Our country largely revolves around the following points in higher education:  financing Higher Education, expansion and accessibility, quality assurance and relevance, Information & Communication Technology (ICT), building a skilled human capital, and most importantly, research.

Recommended Roadmap:

  • Allow setting up research and innovation University, incentivizing private partners by way of PhD scholarships for students and one time/block grant of Rs.50-100 crores for creating world class lab facilities with an aim to attract best talents from overseas. The government will save considerable amount money from investing in land and building.
  • Promote such University under PPP mode under RUSA scheme involving three partners; Central government, State government and Private Partner.  
  • Provide financial support to NAAC accredited universities with grade-A, and covered under 2f of UGC Act. The latest UGC circular, dated April 16, 2013 debars private, self financing HEIs from receiving grants even if those are under 12b of UGC Act.
  • Provide grants for creating girls hostels and auditorium, in NAAC accredited private universities
  • Allow academic partnerships with neighborhood IIT, NIT and IIM and/or other Center of Excellence, in the cluster, for joint research and PhD programs, as a mandatory obligation on the part of centrally funded institutions. This will also help building National Knowledge Network (NKN) of Clusters, in line of objectives of RUSA.
  • Set up a Research Grant Commission (RGC) to promote Research and Innovation not only to NAAC accredited private HEIs and universities but also R&D initiatives of industry under collaborative arrangements with HEIs/Universities.
  • The RUSA grants to government Universities and HEIs must also be earmarked for setting up centralized high end research facilities in specific domain of science, engineering and technology for the benefits of students and faculty of neighbourhood HEIs/Universities. Such facilities and other physical resources of government Universities and HEIs may also be given to private HEIs on rental and on evening shift basis to ensure optimization of national resources. This will also help building additional revenue generation, to be used for further augmentation of facilities and removal of obsolescence in University Labs.

A set of initiatives required are immediately emulsifying and combat issues related to higher education sector include: Realigning of higher education with employment market; Expanding through non-state resources; and harmonising processes for global integration. Today India faces a crossroads, as a global knowledge economy demands a new level of knowledge, skills, and abilities on the part of our citizens. Just as in earlier critical moments in our nation’s history when federal initiatives expanded the role of education, Acts in the 19th century provided higher education to the masses, universal access to secondary education in the early 20th century, a major expansion of educational opportunity could have extraordinary impact on the future of the nation. It is time for the government to take bold action, completing in a sense the series of these earlier education initiatives, by providing all citizens with universal access to lifelong learning opportunities, thereby enabling participation in the world’s most advanced knowledge and learning society. It is expected that our government supports a world-class system of higher capable of meeting the changing educational, research, and service needs of the nation.

Our higher education must re-establish through its quality, nimbleness, innovation, efficiency, responsiveness and accountability its fundamental purpose as a public good, serving all of society, in addition to the private benefits it provides its students and other patrons. It must sustain and enhance the world’s leading system of research universities, capable of attracting and educating the world-class scientists, engineers, and other knowledge professionals while providing and applying the new knowledge necessary for national prosperity and security through basic research, development, and innovation. 

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