More autonomy and for-profit is the way to go
Given that it was one of the reasons why his predecessor was sacked, education minister Prakash Javadekar has done well to accept the prime minister’s suggestion to empower the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) and to allow their boards to select a chairperson; indeed, the same autonomy needs to be extended to the IITs and every other university under the government’s control.
The increased politicisation of universities has to be stopped and this includes the powers given to the University Grants Commission to standardise curriculum, salaries for teachers, etc, across universities—if universities have to run well, their curriculum have to be decided by faculty, not the UGC. All of this, if done, will address one part of India’s education challenge, that of the lack of global-class universities. It is a matter of shame that just one Indian university figures in the top 300 universities globally—based on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings listing.
India’s challenge, however, is a twin one, of both quality and quantity. Given the existing colleges are bursting at the seams, India needs anywhere between 14,000-15,000 more colleges and another 4-5 lakh teachers in disciplines varying from English to engineering. At even R100 crore a college, that’s R14 lakh crore of capital expenditure that’s required, something that the government clearly cannot afford.
Which is why, the NITI Aayog’s proposal to allow for-profit colleges in medicine is a good idea —the proposal was made in the draft National Medical Commission Bill, but needs to be extended to other disciplines as well. Apart from the fact that it takes decades for educational institutions to really develop, it is not clear that for-profit institutions can compete with non-profits when it comes to quality—the world’s top universities are all non-profits—and there are several studies that show salaries of graduates of for-profit universities tend to be lower. Intuitively, that makes sense since a for-profit is unlikely to spend as much on top-class faculty and research since the bottomline is as sacrosanct.
A good comparison, in this context, is Harvard University and the University of Phoenix—one was established in 1636 and the other in 1976; one is not-for-profit, the other is for-profit and no one even compares the quality of their education. But while there is just one Harvard campus, the University of Phoenix has 91 campuses and learning centres—Harvard has 21,000 students and an endowment fund of $37.6 billion while the University of Phoenix has 162,000 students even after a sharp fall from 5 lakh in 2011. If India has to reach even China’s level in terms of the number of students that go to college, it has to realise that education cannot be an either-or issue— India needs both for-profits and non-profits