|Date:16/05/2005 http://www.thehindu.com/2005/05/16/stories/2005051603561100.htm |
Opinion - Leader Page Articles
Isn't there something fundamentally wrong with the Indian university system today? Even the few centres of excellence we have are largely unable to keep up with global standards as far as research or teaching infrastructure is concerned.
Deepak Nayyar: Our universities have been in decline since the early 1970s. What happened to the Republic of India happened to the universities in India. We saw an erosion in values, a decline in the work ethic, a dilution of institutions, and that has taken its toll. If I think back to the time when I was a student — I spent five years from 1962 to 1967 at St. Stephens College and the Delhi School of Economics before going to Oxford — the difference between the two institutions then was visible but not striking. The quality of education DU provided in economics was world class. And John Hicks said to me, why have you come to Oxford?
Is this because the number of students has gone up without a corresponding increase in teachers, facilities?
Average levels declined as there was a proliferation of universities where not much attention was paid to standards in the new institutions. But the older institutions — the Universities of Allahabad, Calcutta, Mumbai, Madras, Aligarh — also experienced a decline. Now the University of Delhi, all said and done, has remained the premier university in India. Today, it still provides educational opportunities for undergraduate students that are at par with possibly much of the outside world. There is of course a diversity, we are large ...
Are the current levels of investment in our universities adequate?
I think the resources allocated to higher education are simply not adequate to meet the needs of our times.
Do higher fees provide a way out of this problem?
There is an incentive compatibility problem. In Delhi, university fees have remained Rs.15 a month for undergraduates and Rs.18 for postgraduates for almost 50 years. But this is not what a student pays. Colleges over the years have raised fees. Typically you pay Rs.300-1000 a month depending on which college you're at. Much of this has come not in the form of fees but disguised as library development charge, campus development fund etc. Why? Because the UGC formula for computing grants is to estimate total expenditure, deduct total income and give the rest as grant-in-aid. Fees for capital expenditure do not get adjusted. The UGC method of allocating resources creates no incentive to raise fees. Fees, of course, have to be raised but two conditions are essential. First, when universities raise fees, the entire increase for, say, five years should accrue to the institution. Later a sharing formula can come. Second, you have to make sure there are scholarships to support those who cannot afford the restructured fees.
In our universities, you have this paradox of affluent students paying next to nothing and a large number of students from poor backgrounds who find even low fees burdensome. You had once suggested college students should pay what they paid as fees in high school. This way the poor could study free, and the rich pay no more than what they were paying in class XII anyway.
The most logical solution to the problem is for universities to charge students fees that they paid when they left school. It is logical, just and fair, because it measures your ability to pay. But this has not been readily accepted because of concerns that this may not be consistent with law. Somebody may go to court saying `why should I pay more for the same educational opportunities?' Yet, I do believe it is possible to bring about a consensus on restructuring fees. I suppose had I been here a year longer, I would have done it. We are close to it. There is recognition on the part of everybody that what we have as university fees is anachronistic. A student will pay Rs.30 for a coffee at Barista, Rs.150 for a movie ticket at a multiplex, Rs.10 to park a car every day, and yet pay the university only Rs.15-18 a month! We need to index link what we charge as fees.
A few years ago, a leading Indian sociologist and historian was told he was ineligible for a job in a sociology department in Bangalore because his MA was in economics, not sociology. A student who has an MA in Women's Studies from abroad is not allowed to enrol for a PhD in history. Surely these kinds of absurd rigidities — at a time when inter-disciplinarity is being encouraged worldwide — have to be ended?
Despite the large numbers and diversity at the undergraduate level, what we have done in Delhi is dramatic. We have restructured programmes, not simply revised courses. The BA Pass course is now state-of-the-art, the BA Hons allows interdisciplinary courses. We have also restructured science courses that were caught in the boundaries of yesteryears.
But at the postgraduate level? Let's say an economics professor at the Delhi School wants to introduce a course on the application of game theory to resource conflicts. This would go through a whole rigmarole of approvals that would take years. Abroad, she could just up and offer it.
What about students assessing their lecturers? Why can't we have that?
So at the end of the day, the issue of university leadership is crucial.
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