Ansari, while unveiling the first copy of a book titled ‘The Education President’ at the Rashtrapati Bhavan here, said a number of surveys of the overall educational scenario of the country present a “dismal picture”, whether primary, secondary, university or professional.
“It (higher education sector) suffers from the tyranny of numbers, the folly of seeking quick fixes, and indifference to quality. Correctives are piecemeal, inadequately implemented and insufficiently funded,” he said after he presented the first copy of the book to President Pranab Mukherjee.
The compilation has been brought out by O P Jindal Global University, by largely basing its contents on Mukherjee’s activities on the subject after he took over the office of the first citizen of the country in July, 2012.
“Almost 59 per cent of students in higher education are in private institutions, while some of these maintain high standards, a majority is lucrative degree granting portals,” he said.
Underlining some harsh realities plaguing the higher education sector in the country, Ansari said the regulatory structure and efficacy of both central and state governments in this regard “is a matter of debate.”
He said private providers in higher education have largely grown in states and in a policy vacuum. “A bill to regulate the establishment of private universities, introduced in Parliament in 2005, was shelved after opposition from various political parties and private players,” he said.
“Given these limitations and keeping in mind the egalitarian objectives of our polity, there is a need for an effective and transparent regulatory mechanism that can encourage private investment in improving the quality of state universities, starting skills development courses and capacity development of faculty.
“These regulations need to be strong to ensure that private universities are well governed and provide quality education,” the Vice President said.
Ansari gave out some figures to state that the indices of higher education in the country were not very healthy. “The proportion of the University and college going student population in India in the age group of 16-23 is a dismal 6 per cent, low even when compared with developing countries, the figure being 20 per cent for both Egypt and Thailand, 10 per cent for Turkey, 11 per cent for Brazil and 16 per cent for Mexico.
“In the developed countries access to higher education is to the tune of 40 per cent and more. Thus, though higher education in India has expanded generally, inadequate access continues to cause concern,” he said.
The Vice President added while it can be said that the enrolment of women and those belonging to SC/ST and other educationally backward communities has improved, they are still “under-represented in higher learning.”
“Infrastructure is inadequate and student admission is not transparent. The private institutions as a whole lack research orientation in higher education and have yet to demonstrate capacity to create knowledge on a sufficient scale,” he said.
Ansari while said there were “concerns about quality” in this regard, the high cost of taking professional or post graduate level of education was making it difficult for the poor to avail these opportunities.
“The cost of higher education in private institutions constitutes a substantial financial burden, thereby, making it increasingly more difficult for economically weaker segments to use education as an opportunity equaliser. This becomes a cause of concern since opportunities for gainful employment are not getting enhanced proportionately.
“Available data from Department of Financial Services (under Finance Ministry) shows that by December 2014, some 30 lakh students had availed educational loans amounting to Rs.70,475 crore,” he said.
Ansari said the “skewed” growth of private providers towards professional courses is “another issue of concern.”
“Most private self-financing institutions offer education in only a few disciplines- engineering, medicine and management– are considered most desired. They account for around 80 per cent of engineering and over 50 per cent of medical seats available to students.
“It is, with a few exceptions, not much concerned about social sciences, fine arts or others essential for all round development of citizens in our society with a multitude of problems relating to accommodation of diversity,” he said.
Ansari also cited a NASSCOM-McKinsey Report of 2005 that found that only 25 per cent of Indian engineers were employable in the offshore Information Technology (IT) industry.
“The National Knowledge Commission’s working group on medical education similarly noted that the rapid expansion of private medical and nursing colleges has led to falling standards and reduced quality of graduates. There has been no perceptible change in the past decade,” he said.