Education: A crying shame

By M. N. Minocha

Only recently, several hundred students in Delhi were denied admission to the top colleges because they couldn’t compete with their follow students who had apparently scored 100 per cent marks in the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) examination.

Just scoring 90 per cent marks is not considered enough these days to get admission to so- called high quality colleges. Many of those “disqualified” students apparently decided to go abroad to continue their studies, no matter how high the cost is. It is not just he students or their parents that have to spend a fortune for admission to foreign universities, but the country itself has to spare foreign exchange. It is estimated that as many as 160,000 students leave India annually to study abroad, costing the country over $ 10 billion. It is a crying shame.

The tragedy is that Indian students do not necessarily get entry into the best of American universities. Often they have to make do with third rate ones. Worse, hundreds get cheated.

One US educational institute, the Tri- Valley University, close to Washington DC, which had 95 per cent of its 1,555 students from India, turned out to be a fraud and was closed down, causing great distress both to the students and their parents.

In Australia, as many as eight colleges are closed down in 2010, leaving 2,300 students in the lurch. That is cruelty and deceit abounding. In the first place, there is something wrong with the marking of papers in the SSC examination.

Of the 12 lakh successful students who appeared for the board examination last year, as many as 41,000 reportedly got 90 per cent and more marks.

If even 90 per cent plus is not enough to get admission, what about whose who get anything between 75 per cent and 90 per cent? Where are they to go? According to human resources development minister Kapil Sibal, India, which now has 480 universities and some 22,000 colleges needs 800 universities and 35,000 colleges to meet student needs in various disciplines which means that if the demand increases, we may need as many as 1,000 universities.

Currently, the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in India is 12.4 per cent, which means that only 12.4 students out of 1,000 eligible are pursuing higher education. India is far below the global average of GER which is 23 per cent. In developed countries, it is above 40 per cent. One can imagine how many new universities and colleges we will need to meet the economic potential that is now rapidly growing in the country. It is claimed that a lot of money, as much as $ 7.5 billion or about Rs. 34,500 crore can be saved if foreign universities set up their counterparts in India. But why should they? According to a media report, as part of the Obama- Singh initiative, a “summit” of Indian and American academic leaders and policy makers met for a day in Washington DC on October 13, when goodwill was expressed and promises of cooperation were professed. But, as the report added, “In fact, relatively few courses of action exist for Americans to improve Indian high education and there is only a modest need for US involvement”. It is not that there are no foreign education providers (FEPs) in India. Actually, in 2008, there were 156 FEPs operating in 90 universities, 20 colleges and 46 training institutes in India.

Furthermore, there were 225 collaborations, delivering 665 Programmes: 168 in Management and Business Administration, 144 on Engineering/ Technologies and 132 in Hotel Administration.

But the FEPs cannot award degrees on their own. This is only possible if the foreign educational institution (Regulating of Entry and Operations) Bill which was introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 3, 2010 gets finally passed. But even that cannot help stop the departure of Indian students to foreign universities which have an attraction of their own and to which Indian students (and their parents) are highly susceptible.

To stop or at least control this immigration, three things must be done: One: Our own universities must be enabled to upgrade their curricula and their teaching standards. This is more easily said than done, but it can be done, given the determination and a well planned programme.

Two: We must give up our inferiority complex. Many of our students, denied entry into top foreign universities, especially in the United States, would rather go to third rate universities, the ultimate aim being getting an opportunity to settle in American. Again, we are told that according to a western study, not a single Indian university figures among the top 400 universities in the world. It is not clear on what basis the study came to this conclusion. One understands that hardly any good university in India bothered to fill up forms sent by the study; that may be one good reason. Quite possibly, there must be at least some universities in India that can figure at least among the top 200 in the world. For all that, there is certainly a great need for our educationists and policy makers to look inward.

Three: We need to send teachers, not students, abroad to make a detailed study of curricula and teaching methodology and allied issues, to see how we can upgrade our own standards. That, surely, would save us a lot of money.

Granted that some of our universities are very poorly run, this approach makes sense. Can one really believe that universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Harvard, MIT and CalTech, to name only a few would care to send their best teachers to India when they are themselves needed in their homeland? But let us remember one thing: For all the efforts of studies abroad to downgrade Indian universities, they are not as bad as they are made out.

Students from 48 to 52 different countries in the world have been studying at Manipal University at different periods between 2001 and 2011. That must be something of a record. It also carries a message: and that is, Indian universities can compete with some of the best in the world.

Doctors, engineers and technologists who have passed out of Manipal have been doing very well when they return to their homes as in Malayasia, Singapore and even the United States, a point worth remembering as we indulge in breast- beating, at which Indians are so good. A little faith in ourselves and our capabilities can go a long way in attaining world standards right in the field of higher education. Is that too much to ask? INAV

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