The allocation, as claimed, is about 11.7 times more than that of Rs 472 crore allocated in the year 2010-2011 fiscal.
In a workshop on quality education held in March-April 2015 at Busan, South Korea, by the ‘Global Education First Initiative’, under the auspices of the UN Secretary General, a teacher from Argentina recounted her attempt to promote career education in her institution. She said: “In my institution, parents of students came to the classroom once a month to talk to us about their careers. The events brought the community together, and helped provide students with career education which was not imparted systematically to students.” The anecdote was well-received by the stakeholders present not merely because of its innovative nature but because of its potential ability to overcome the challenges of higher education by converting these institutions into community learning and interaction centres.
The challenge to ensure both quality and quantity in higher education is has emerged the world over. Students can contribute to the socio-economic needs of the country once their higher education is formally complete. While there is general unanimity among all stakeholders on the need to improve quality, our educational scenario has three special characteristics which make it difficult to adopt mechanisms on quality that are modelled on developed nations. The first is the inter-relationship of educational levels in the country. We have been following what they call a “chain continuation system” that is strictly followed with a structured primary, secondary and higher secondary system. Any scope of lateral entry to higher education without the mandatory minimum of twelve years of schooling is not allowed as a matter of policy. This quality of higher education therefore rests on the quality of school education. The admission to centres of higher education through compromised schooling standards can render quality control ineffective.
One major reason for the rather indifferent quality of higher education in India is the poor skill attainment during the twelve years of schooling. No wonder the World Conference on Higher Education held in 1998 under the aegis of UNESCO declared under Article 3 that “Higher education institutions must be viewed as, and must also work within themselves to be a part of and encourage, a seamless system starting with early childhood and primary education and continuing through life. The higher education system must work in active partnership with parents, schools, students, socio-economic groups and communities. Secondary education should not only prepare qualified candidates for access to higher education by developing the capacity to learn on a broad basis but also open the way to active life by providing training on a wide range of jobs.”
The second challenge to the quality of higher education is the limited geographical reach of such institutions. While the current concept of “infrastructural augmentation” in the education scenario is limited to an increase in investment on tangible assets, such as classrooms or advanced teaching aids, a holistic assessment of the special requirements of diverse backgrounds of learners is largely neglected. The framing of the curriculum is typically urban-centric, and a large section of learners are forced to compromise academic tastes and interests while attempting to fit into pre-determined higher education modules.
The third challenge is a skewed distribution of manpower to teach and administer higher education institutions, with the best in quality and efficiency limited to the geographical reaches of metro-cities and large urban centres.
Steps have been taken over the past few decades to address these three critical anomalies, but its effectiveness still eludes us. Attempts to overhaul school education through compulsory training of teachers, setting up of model schools in backward districts, enforcing effective evaluation of skill development of school learners through continuous and comprehensive evaluation systems have failed to make the desired impact. The reason is lack of coordination in the framing of policy and implementation by the states and the Centre.
The scrapping of detention as a matter of policy in schools without matching progress in the evaluation of learners have ensured that millions of school children without basic school-level skills have ‘passed’ and entered the higher education institutions. Such students are a drag on the quality of higher education. It is a universally recognised principle that the no-detention system in schools can only work when the evaluation and remedial framework function in tandem with due seriousness and efficiency.
As regards the skewed distribution of quality manpower and infrastructure in higher education, the usual remedy of setting up of such institutions in rural areas has not been effective. This is due to the obvious disconnect between the prospective learners’ background and the urban-centric curriculum framework adopted in such institutions. Learners in remotely situated areas have been forced to adopt learning systems and standards which are removed from their interests, inclination, and sometimes, even ethos. The obvious consequence is a half-hearted participation in the higher education process, resulting in dropouts from higher education institutions and attaining degrees without the desired skill-sets required for effective participation as socio-economically active individuals.
One innovative course to circumvent such disparities is to introduce a nationally admissible choice-based framework that would cater to both core educational subjects as well as specialised academic and vocational areas. This is how Australia, Canada and China could overcome vast disparities in terms of higher education. These countries adopted a choice-based curriculum at the national level a decade back, and the fact that many higher educational institutions there routinely rank among the best reaffirms the viability of choice-based curricula framework in countries with vast diversities in geography, languages, and culture.
An area that is critical to higher education, which our policy-makers still have to grapple with and for which there are no readily available and tested models internationally, is to correct the skewed patronage of general and vocational streams among learners. The 2014 Survey of Higher Education, conducted nationally, points to the fact that nearly 90 per cent of school pass-outs enter the general streams in colleges and a single-digit per cent actually volunteer for vocational and technical education, thereby resulting in a critical shortage of technical manpower and burdening the system with an overwhelming number of general stream graduates with limited and unemployable skill sets. This is unlike most developing and developed countries where the popularity of vocational stream courses far out-run general stream courses in terms of popularity and learner interest.
While we have made some progress in assessment and accreditation of higher education institutions through the objective assessment criteria over the past decade, a review of the funds disbursed to such accredited institutions in accordance with their assessment grades, reveals that a disproportionate amount earmarked for higher education are diverted to institutions with suitable infrastructure. This is reflected in their higher assessment grades, leaving institutions with a challenged infrastructure and poorer assessment grades with little financial support to correct and remedy areas of quality. If quality has to be assured with equity, funds meant for higher education ought to be disbursed to geographically remote and financially challenged institutions.
Neglecting areas which cry out for resource-support would lead to another crisis in higher education that we can well do without, because the international higher education scenario has already evolved an ‘equity of quality’ mechanism from an ‘assurance of quality’ regime in contemporary higher education.
The writer is Assistant Professor in English, Pritilata Waddedar Mahavidyalaya, Nadia in West Bengal.