By 2030, we need a system that delivers both excellence and inclusiveness

Mahatma Gandhi while addressing the fourth FICCI AGM in 1931 had entrusted industry with the duty of being the trustees of society. By virtue of this, it becomes the moral responsibility of my generation to create a vibrant nation that is socially, economically and politically stable and prosperous.

This can be achieved only by educating and empowering our youth through a sound education system with a clear vision and a time-bound roadmap. We have seen our neighbouring countries like China, Korea and Singapore, transform from developing to advanced economies in a short span of time owing to a larger vision that correlated economic development to reforms in the education sector, in particular higher education and research.

Demographic dividend

In 2030, India is expected to be the fastest growing economy touching a GDP of $10 trillion and one of the youngest nations in the world with a median age of 32. The greying developed world is expected to face a skilled talent shortage of approximately 56 million by 2030 and is already looking at India as the future stock of skilled talent.

Hence, the responsibility of providing a skilled workforce to the world would rest on us, as one in every four graduates in the world would be a product of the Indian higher education system. This is an immense opportunity that could soon become a liability if we do not take corrective measures to make our education system responsive to our future needs.

In this context, FICCI has endeavoured to create a ‘Vision 2030' for Higher Education in India. We need to bring in a revolution in the higher education system just as we did in telecom in the early 90s.

Vision 2030

We envision India as a largest provider of global talent, a global magnet for aspiring learners, and a role model for high-quality affordable educational system. The Indian higher education sector would be governed by the highest standards of ethics and accountability with every single institution being peer-reviewed and accredited.

Fifty per cent of our youth would be in the higher education system, at least 23 Indian universities would be among the global top 200 and 6 Indian intellectuals would have been awarded the Nobel Prize. Our country would be among top 5 countries globally in cited research output, its research capabilities boosted by annual R&D spends totalling over $140 billion.

In order to realise the goals we envision for 2030, we have to move to a differentiated academic system with a three-tiered structure comprising highly selective elite research universities, comprehensive universities and specialised institutions and an array of highly accessible and high quality colleges.

Three-tier system

While the first tier of universities would cater exclusively to furthering India’s intellectual capital, the others would focus on delivering economic and social value, respectively. Our vision for each tier is illustrated below:

The top tier universities would develop as the centres of excellence for creation of new knowledge in multidisciplinary areas such as biosciences, the environment, climate change, material sciences, urban development, among other areas. The faculty and students would be a diverse mix of highly talented and research oriented groups with the ability to attract national and international research grants and funding and further collaborative research with top-rung universities around the world. These universities would also provide seamless access to high quality content and curriculum through open source such as the Massive Open-Online Courses (MOOCs) model.

The second tier of industry-aligned professional education institutions needs to expand, producing highly employable graduates with technical know-how, critical thinking and problem solving skills. To correct the current model that promotes narrow specialisations, a freedom of choice coupled with a liberal arts component needs to be integrated within the curriculum. Engineering and professional graduates would take a comprehensive view, looking at the environmental, socio-economic, funding and regulatory aspects apart from the domain-specific issues. The focus of these institutions would be more on content delivery, where faculty borrows from the best open-courseware and customises it to the needs of students. The faculty would be a mix of academics, researchers and industry professionals.

The last cluster of broad-based highly accessible foundation universities should be designed to expand the reach of higher education to all eligible and deserving students to address access and equity. They would provide holistic education to varied student populations with significant regional and linguistic diversity and gender profile. The institutions would rely heavily on online methods of teaching and learning, collaborate with ITIs, polytechnics and other vocational training providers to impart skill based training and offer both part-time and full-time options.

The system would enable seamless mobility of students, faculty, researchers and professionals across institutions of all types. It would offer the students a variety of unique and quality programmes at both the graduate and under-graduate levels and hone the natural flair of entrepreneurship in Indians.

Apart from solving the academic issues, planned expansion too is important. Our future cities should tightly integrate in their urban planning, creation of education cities where several universities are able to co-locate in a single campus and share the common facilities.

Campuses should be located in the heart of the cities and embedded in communities. To make rapid progress in this direction over the next two decades would indeed require a committed and concerted effort from academia, industry, government and most importantly the student.

(The writer is Chairman, FICCI Higher Education Committee)

(This article was published on February 4, 2014)
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