Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Focus on higher education to improve states' economy

If individual states want to improve their economic situations, they should concentrate and invest in the higher education sector.

In a report on the annual status of higher educational universities and colleges in India, data analysis shows a very direct link between states that have higher "knowledge direction" and the state of their economies. In other words, states that lay more emphasis on the quality and depth of their higher education are economically better placed than those that do not.

Establishing this direct link will encourage states to come forward to invest in higher education. Or this is what the Centre and the Ministry of Human Resources Development hope.

Rohin Kapoor, senior manager, Deloitte India, who has worked on this report for two years, said: "The strength of correlation between education and economy is startling. States with superior knowledge direction have in general superior economies."

The Centre has allocated almost Rs 99,000 crore under the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) for improvement in higher education institutes, especially in infrastructure in the 12th and 13th Five- Year Plans. Of this, the Centre is to provide Rs 69,675 crore and states are expected to contribute Rs 28,459 crore.

The states are required to contribute financially to make the scheme a success. But states have so far in the past been reluctant to invest generously in the sector. Unless the states recognise the relevance of investment in education, the state of colleges and universities cannot be improved.

Further, at a macro level, to attract in the education sector, the government needs to clear the foreign universities Bill but it also needs to amend and align the way different arms of the government treat foreign direct investment(FDI) in the education sector. Also, different wings of the government prescribe different things. The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) says 100 per cent foreign investment is permitted in the education sector. This is one arm of government. Then, the (All India Council of Technical Education) Act says no foreign investment is allowed, directly or indirectly, in setting up a technical institute in the country. So, is out. The University Grants Commission (UGC), a third aspect, simply does not recognise foreign universities, so that rules out foreign investment totally.
Says Deloitte's Kapoor: "The different wings of the government need to echo the same voice. The Act 1956 needs to be amended urgently. At present, it does not recognise foreign universities. It does not define it. So, it clearly cannot regulate it. If you do not recognise something, how can you regulate it?"

As a result, so far, India has only got Rs 4,900 crore of foreign investment in the - not in formal education but in skill development, training schools and so on. The government has to realise that it cannot solve this problem on its own.

The number of institutes that can be set up through philanthropy will always be limited. "You can build a regulatory mechanism that has a strong monitoring and quality control process. There are companies in the US that run very high quality colleges and are firms listed on the stock exchange. This model can be replicated here too. A crystal clear regulatory framework will help eliminate the fly by night operators or those who are in it for a quick buck," explains Kapoor.

At a countrywide level, issues like enrolment and gender disparity have been addressed to some extent over the years. "The new issues are poor quality of teaching and staff. Our focus needs to shift altogether. Some of the softer issues need to be addressed far more seriously," says a former advisor to the Planning Commission. He argues that what is worrisome is that there is no plan for instance to set up teacher training academies to bridge the shortage of teachers. Nor is there any clear attempt to improve the quality of teaching staff. There are no attempts being made to try and raise salaries of teachers and make teaching a career of choice.

The HRD ministry is now trying through the setting up of an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in each state. For one, there is such a high demand for seats in these institutes; this will make them more accessible for everyone. Two, this is expected to have a rub off on other educational institutes in the state. They will act as a role model, so to speak, for other colleges in the region to emulate.

But there is already a 40 per cent shortage of teachers at the existing IITs and IIMs. It is possible that retiring faculty from the IITs and IIMs might be asked to mentor staff at the new institutes.

At a micro level, there are several problems across states that need to be fixed. For instance, 40 per cent of enrolments in all colleges are for humanities, social sciences (even higher than engineering and medical); yet, in India, there are hardly any liberal arts colleges or even courses on offer, which would allow students to sample all the liberal arts before choosing what they specialise in.

Then, non-teaching staff in colleges in some states is way too high. So, in states like Delhi (where jobs are typically handed out on sifarish), the average non-teaching staff per college is 171 instead of the national average of 34. States such as Bihar have a very high pupil-teacher ratio of 37 against the all India average of 13.1.

Gender disparity, which is not as sharp as one would expect in enrolments (55 per cent males and 44 per cent females), in teaching staff, however, remains significant. Sixty-one per cent of the teaching staff is male and 39 per cent is female. This drops further when one looks at the non-teaching staff with the percentage of males at 73 per cent.

Anjuli Bhargava  Source: http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/focus-on-higher-education-to-improve-states-economy-115012600814_1.html

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