'Private school education costlier than higher education'
University Grants Commission chairperson Ved Prakash feels finances are vital but their generation should not give education a business orientation. Read his take on what challenges universities will face in the coming years...
An academic to the core, the Chairmanship of University Grants Commission sits lightly on his erudite head.
Here, in a considered e-mail to Princi Sharma, he gives opinions on the challenges faced by the university system.
In the last five years a host of private universities have been set up in the country. Do you think it augurs well for the nation?
It is a fact that the number of private universities has risen sharply in the country during the last five years.
However, there would be a need to ensure that the private university system imposes on itself a self-discipline of academic regulation and to stay away from commercialisation and profiteering in higher education.
Finances are indeed important but their generation should not be giving education a business orientation.
There is also another concern, in my opinion, which needs to be addressed. The tendency of the private universities to appoint their own kith and kin to the positions of Chancellors, Vice-Chancellors and Pro-Chancellors is demeaning the academic scholarship which the top leadership of the university should exhibit.
Such appointments should largely be based on establishing transparent mechanisms for identifying scholars whose contributions to higher education and also to teaching and research are unquestionable.
What do you think about the multiplicity of regulatory regimes in the country? Is the time right for NCHER or some such body?
At present, there is only one body which overseas higher education but does not regulate it by prescriptive norms and standards.
And what this institution has so far done in higher education has received good attention. This is the University Grants Commission (UGC).
There are other independent bodies for regulating sectors of professional education, namely; All Indian Council for Technical Education (AICTE), Medical Council of India (MCI), Pharmacy Council of India (PCI), Dental Council of India (DCI), Nursing Council of India (NCI), Bar Council of India (BCI), National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), to name some.
The role of these statutory bodies is essentially regulatory in nature and certainly is one of the many functions needed for overseeing the quality of education.
But too much of regulatory interventions sometimes restrict the functioning of the institutions from becoming free-thinking innovative entities.
The proposal to set up one over-arching body like the National Commission on Higher Education and Research (NCHER) could be seen as an attempt to encourage more of self-regulation.
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Image: Ved Prakash
Photographs: Courtesy Careers360
Professionals must renew their licenses to continue in the profession
Would it be a good idea to de-link professional certification to a separate body, the way Bar Council has appointed to have a eligibility test for lawyers?
I do not find anything wrong in prescribing stringent criteria for students seeking admission to any programme of higher education or professional education. For, it is the quality of entrants which will ultimately make the university what we would like it to be.
What is to be ensured is whether the testing instruments are appropriate for the kind of intellectual standards required for entering a course of study.
Such a provision can have a lot of meaning in bringing about seriousness amongst the youth to justify their credentials for admission.
However, pre-entry testing needs to be differentiated from certification to be a practitioner of a professional discipline.
In fact, in our country we have provisions for professionals to continue to practice their fields of activity but these are not rigorously enforced.
For a professional in any field of knowledge, it should be mandatory to undergo renewal of the "license" to practise the profession.
There are established mechanisms for such renewals and the onus should be on the individual to undergo continuous professional development.
What do you think about the spiralling cost of acquiring a university degree, especially in the professional domain?
The cost of higher and professional education is expected to be great and there need be no question about its justification.
In fact, school education, particularly in the private sector, is costlier than higher education.
However, care has to be taken that no young person is deprived of access to equitable higher education of quality for reasons of his/her economic situation.
It has to be ensured that such persons are not denied access to higher education and all possible interventions to support them financially with scholarships and loans should be available to them on terms and conditions they can stand.
The system should ensure that there are minimum hassles in students' accessibility to such provisions. All the world over, universities which have established their credentials as front-running educational systems have their fee structure which are higher than some other universities.
And students who are keen to get education in such universities do not mind arranging their finances to be the alumni of such world class institutions.
Image: Ved Prakash
Photographs: Courtesy Careers360
'Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford, cannot be created ab initio'
What does it take to have at least one world class institution comparable to a Harvard or Oxford in India?
I am of the view that world class institutions which have comparable international counterparts, whether Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford, cannot be created ab initio.
Even the world class institutions referred to in your question were not created in that perspective. They have become world class because of the quality of thought they generated over a period of time.
By sheer dint of the depth and quality of their work, a larger number of institutions could make to the club of excellence and world class institutions.
So, the lesson here is that each university has to strive towards contributing to the frontier areas of knowledge to be among the top universities and research institutions of the world.
It is the performance level of the university in research which would earn for itself the status of recognition for being a world class institution.
However, it may not be out of place to make an attempt to create a few centres with world class infrastructure facilities where cutting edge researches in different knowledge domains could be their forte for international recognition.
Creation of facilities in such centres could also act as a resource support to other universities to benefit from the facilities created.
In this sense, it may be a good idea to set up some top level institutions ab initio to act as catalyst to the best minds.
This can prevent recourse to brain drain of top ranking institutions elsewhere in the world but to nurture such institutions with their creative talents on the soil of the nation itself.
Are we moving towards an utilitarian view on education? Is it good?
I am convinced that a utilitarian view on education does not philosophically fit into the concept of a university.
Universities are the only places where knowledge has to be generated in different domains of human endeavour, for its own sake, be it Languages, Social Sciences, Humanities, Sciences, Mathematics.
All path-breaking discovery of ideas were a by-product of diving deep into the realms of search for truth.
It is high quality output in thinking in basic issues in knowledge domains that provide indicators of application to situations which can provide grass-root understanding of problems and also their solution.
Your thoughts on the challenges that Indian universities would face?
The coming decade would present a host of challenges. They broadly include focus of the university system in enhancing excellence, strengthening research and innovation as the key foundation to strive towards excellence, and dedicated initiatives towards inclusive and qualitative expansion of higher education by reducing regional, social and gender imbalances.
Focus on skill development through vocational programmes to produce the middle order skilled human resource is also an emerging challenge for the university system, which is beginning to take roots in the recent times.
Other challenges that will require attention are issues like internationalisation of higher education and the structural reforms in administration and also governance in higher education.
The university system would continue to face the challenge of attracting and retaining talent and designing ways and means in augmenting faculty through inducting intellectual resources available outside the university system.
Image: Massachusetts Hall, Harvard University
Photographs: Daderot/Wikimedia Commons