According to a recent paper by Goldman Sach titled "Ten things for India to achieve its 2050 Potential" by Jim O'Niell and Tushar Poddar, Higher Education reforms is the third most important item only after Governance and Primary Education.
In a way it is linked to the earlier two even more important issues.
Reforms in our political governance process is likely to free our higher education system from the self-imposed shackles stemming from rules and procedures dating back to the British Raj.
While much needed effective implementation of Sarva Sikhsa Abhiyan is likely to create a new wave of high school educated students seeking opportunities for quality higher education that is bound to make our current system respond differently.
Knowledge Commission in its various reports is predicting a three fold increase in the number of students entering higher education by 2020.
In anticipation the Commission has called for an increase in the number of Universities from the current figure of about 350 to about 1500 by 2020.
The experience in Orissa is singularly illustrative in what ails the Indian higher education sector as a whole and the reforms that are urgently needed to move forward.
In the early 1990s, the state had only 4 public universities for several decades underlining the stagnation characteristic of pre-liberalisation India.
Today it has close to 20 Universities including 3 in the self-financing deemed university category.
While in terms of numbers of institutions that are coming up, many of which may go on to become Universities the situation looks quite satisfactory.
But the quality of academics in most of the existing institutions range from shocking to below par at best.
On the one hand, the public universities have been moribund for decades and have shown distinct signs of degradation due to lack of resources, stifling control by state government, lack of reforms in governance, rampant political interference and more over serious lack of visionary leadership.
On the other hand, the self-financing institutions have suffered from lack of academic tradition, weak regulatory framework and a profiteering culture among the promoters.
In light of the above, the following urgently needed reforms must be undertaken to achieve the vision 2020 set forth by the Knowledge Commission for Orissa:
1. Decentralisation of Governance:
The role of the Department of Higher Education in the state government should be greatly reduced as it is hamstrung by red tape and increasingly losing relevance in the 21st century.
To supplement its largely strategic leadership role an independent state level regulatory body comprising of eminent educationists should be entrusted with the responsibility for providing a progressive policy and transparent governance system for both public and self-financing institutions of higher education.
Government's role should be one of goal setting, funding, assessment and broad strategic leadership.
2. Private-Public Partnership:
The public universities must be not only freed from the shackles but positively encouraged to enter in to public-private partnership to mobilise resources.
3. Leadership and Human Resource Development
The people that lead the institutions define it to a large extent.
The archaic procedures in this regards must be reformed at the earliest.
4. Political interference
Political interference in all aspects of public universities has played havoc in the past.
Urgent reforms are needed to ensure that the campus is free from the kind of students politics.
5. Resource generation and Financial autonomy
Having set up the public institutions and endowed it with appropriate infrastructure, manpower and may be an endowment, the state should require these institutions to raise their own resources.
This should occur while meeting social obligation of providing low cost education to a reasonable number of needy but meritorious students.
This would ensure that the institutions are vibrant entrepreneurial, self-sustaining, growth oriented and competitive organisations.
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