B S Raghavan

Stemming the rot in higher education

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on January 29, 2013

All the hopes built round the legislation to give effect to the Right to Education will come to nothing without remedying the ills plaguing higher education in India.

Going by the widely prevalent perceptions of discerning observers, there has been a sharp fall in the quality of higher education in India. Already, there is a cry among industry associations and business firms about the abysmally low percentage of graduates, post-graduates and professional degree holders measuring up to the performance expected of them as employees. Figures about the employability of notionally-educated candidates have not been more that 10-15 per cent of the lakhs of graduates churned out on the assembly line mode by the various universities in India.

Some recent media reports reveal a really scary scenario. In a recent teachers’ eligibility test, conducted by the Tamil Nadu Recruitment Board, it was found that as many as 42,000 out of 6.5 lakh teachers who took the test did not know how to fill the application forms and committed a variety of mistakes, including omission to fill their names in the allotted column. Even if this could be excused, when the answer sheets were evaluated, only 2,448 could be declared to have passed.

I am sure that the situation in other States is equally disturbing, if not even more so. If this is the quality of teachers who act as feeders for institutions of higher learning, one shudders to imagine the snow-balling effect of the extensive damage being done to the minds of young students who are taught by them and the potential danger it poses to the future of the country in terms of the quality of citizens, standard of governance and conduct of public affairs.

At the other end of the spectrum, the procedures, topics for research, and credentials of guides/advisors, with respect to conferment of Ph.D.s have become a cause of intense alarm for anyone with a modicum of awareness of what is going on. At one time, as a member of some University/College bodies to select faculties, I found a Ph.D. on a subject pertaining to English literature not knowing who the Lake Poets were and a Ph.D. in Law not being able to recall the writs mentioned in the Constitution and the purposes they were intended to serve.

SEVERE INDICTMENT

As per Srilata A Zaheer who has become the first Indian woman to head the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, “In the past 15 years….we have seen a decline in the numbers of high-quality applicants from India into US business PhD programmes. This does not bode well either for more Indian-origin deans in the future or, of greater concern, to meet a growing need for research-trained faculty both in India and worldwide.”

Another write-up by Careers360 published on November 11, 1012, is more severe in its indictment: “…. a PhD should be the easiest degree to earn in India. No screening tests and interviews, no coursework, and no rigorous assessment of research work. Just a Master’s degree in hand and a pre-determined waiting period will lead you to a doctorate!”

GREASING PALMS

It quotes Sushil Upadhyay, Assistant Professor at Uttarakhand Sanskrit University, as saying: “…anyone can virtually buy a PhD degree. You just need to pay two to three lakhs to the right person.”

The general purport of his remarks is that in many universities, registration, coursework, thesis and viva-voce can all be “effectively” managed by greasing the palms.

Things will head downhill with Ph.D.s now being offered through distance education mode also, without any guidelines being set by the University Grants Commission.

And finally, the incubus of falling standards seem to be slowly spreading to IIMs and IITs, thanks to the cumulative effect of the malaise afflicting higher education.

(Even in industrial countries, as an article, ‘The University’s Dilemma’ published on November 27, 2012 in the strategy+business Web site points out: “Today, many academics invest their efforts in relatively narrow research, writing papers read only by other academics, with relatively little time spent teaching and training students. …..the research simply offers alternative perspectives on long-standing, foundational knowledge such as the writings of Aristotle.”)

All the hopes built round the legislation to give effect to the Right to Education incorporated in the Constitution will come to nothing without remedying the ills of commercialisation, quotas, constant lowering of bars such as pass marks, grades and the like, and the poor quality of the faculty and infrastructure in higher educational institutions.

Published on January 29, 2013

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