Indian Higher Education Pulse – Part-II

by B.H.S.Thimmappa

Education in the Universities – Scenario Awareness Journey

The standard of the higher education system (HES) in India needs further improvement and refinement through evolution involving higher education policy leading to accessibility, accountability, affordability, and equity. Further, looking beyond policy framework and management control in managing higher education to ensure a minimum quality of successful students is essential. The goals of higher education include the following; i) create multiple career paths including research and public service, ii) produce teachers for the education system, iii) training for leadership in maintaining social order, iv) inculcation of wisdom and knowledge, professional skills, and strategic thinking skills competence, v)  develop thinking and analytical ability, employment skills and integrate cultural values with education, and v) inculcate love for higher values in life, discipline, and patriotism. The career advancement would include technical avenues, business development, human resource management, administrative responsibilities, research activities, and other work-related duties. The higher education system should have a contemporary curriculum, experienced faculty members, state-of-the-art facilities, vibrant campus life, research and innovation, placement activities, laboratory practice, open electives, industrial/field visits, project work, seminar presentations, digital learning resource center, ethical guidelines, and an eco-friendly environment. In addition to the normal curricular activities, it is essential to initiate several student welfare schemes (co-curricular and extracurricular) to realize their full potential. These include industrial training, fieldwork, guest lectures, tutorials, seminars, symposia, conferences, workshops on specific themes or sensitization workshops, quiz competitions, cultural events such as dance, drama, and music, science/engineering/technology events, special learning resources, and extra-curricular assignments. Learning, unlearning, and relearning are essential to have an impact on young minds, society, and finally the global impact to realize sustainable learning and development through effective use of available resources and optimally leveraging technology. Thus the various activities shaping the student experience include curricular engagement, research engagement, co-curricular activities, teaching experience/professional development, and public/community service. 

Higher education institutions or universities offer a range of programs at different levels (UG, PG, Ph.D.) and research opportunities in a wide range of subjects to transform the aspirant learner into valuable citizens. The raw material input in the higher education system produces refined product output after the learning experiences. But the poor input only produces only poor output, no matter how much effort the institute might put in (GIGO-garbage in garbage out).  Enrollment in top universities of the world is high and the output is good because of stringent selection criteria in admitting only above-average students. There is a skill mismatch based on what they are taught in Indian higher education institutions and what they end up doing while working. People having a bachelor’s degree in chemical/mechanical/civil engineering, a master’s in business administration/electronics/computer science, and working in an insurance company/banking system/hospitality industry are not uncommon in India. The university building and strengthening and transformation in the Indian science higher education system involve several academic, research, administrative, and management processes. Higher education reforms with regulatory best practices and liberal regulations would help achieve balancing academic excellence and socioeconomic relevance. An institutional strategic plan should offer students a better experience by mapping different topics to give multidisciplinary flavor and general knowledge to provide peripheral knowledge. External dynamics and major policy developments must retain enough talent in India and awaken latent intellectual talent. We must spend public money on new research activities and ongoing research and development programs to increase innovation and creativity through adaptive, innovative, and reflective learning. The need to improve productivity and create a new innovative university is more essential than ever. Change processes and the use of institutional autonomy must identify, leverage, and capture the creative talent of the budding scientific community to help it stay relevant to the changing times.  

 Higher Education Digest India – Missing the Big Picture

Indian HES admits 35 million students, the third-largest after China, and the USA, and the gross enrollment ratio (GER 32 %) of India is much below the world average (36.7 %). Subject-wise student enrollment from engineering to education in the higher education sector varies widely from 0.55 to 36 %.  The estimated number of student enrolments in higher education in India in the financial year 2035 will be 92 million. There are 1057 universities and more than 42,343 affiliated colleges, enrolling nearly 40 million students. Central universities (54), state universities (456), deemed to be universities (126) private universities (421), and 130 institutes of national importance- IITs (23), AIIMS (15), IIMs (20), NITs (31), IISERs (7), NIPERs (7), SPAs (3), NITTRs (4) and others (20). We can obtain regular, special, and royal degrees depending on the institute where we get the degree and a better brand name is associated with better placement opportunities. The quality of knowledge determines the mind’s dignity and it is a result of sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution. According to NAAC accreditation on quality parameters, 62 % of universities and 90 % of colleges are average or below average. The majority of the students coming out of these institutions have no independent thinking capacity. The existing overall student-faculty ratio across streams in higher education institutions is 1:18, though there are regional variances and imbalances. India currently has a doctor-population ratio of 1:1456 which is less than the WHO recommendation of 1:1000. It is essential to maintain a lower ratio in both cases as the faculty or doctor will be able to offer tailored assistance to patients or students more effectively.

Our research work should speak rather than faculty fighting for power, prestige, or position. The Nobel prize is one of the most recognized awards in the world conferred to those who have brought the greatest benefit to humankind in the preceding years. They are conferred in five separate areas of chemistry, physics, physiology or medicine, peace, and literature. Dr. C.V. Raman was recognized for the Nobel Prize in physics for his work done on the Indian soil on the scattering of light (1930). Further, S. Chandrashekar (physics, 1983) and V. Ramakrishnan (chemistry, 2009) for their work carried out abroad. The younger generation can get inspiration from the hard work of these Indian people and carry out fundamental work to get proper recognition in the world. It has been extremely important to improve the quality of research considering the long gap (1930-present) in obtaining such rewards. This reward is only possible with the rise in the quality of higher education in universities and student learning. Scientific investigations based on the aspects of systematic methodology, technology, techniques, and modern, sophisticated instruments used to find out the truth behind every phenomenon must be actively encouraged. The recent tendency to carry out extension work to get a quick job, promotion, recognition, prestige, citations, popularity, publications, and patents is a matter of concern and the real challenge is to strengthen the long-term research culture in Indian universities without compromising research integrity through a system of checks and balances. India will contribute about 25 % of the young workforce to the world over the next decade. It is high time that we think of a better long-term plan for higher education and high-quality research. It is essential to have the macro picture, learn more about the transformation process, go further to awaken latent intellectual talent, save the future for creativity and innovation, work for the country, and get well-deserved recognition.

There is a concern over the fact that Indian universities fall in the reputed global rankings and higher education institutions face a growing credibility crisis due to political interference and other reasons that are India-specific, a country with 1.39 billion people. It is high time that we move towards degrees of excellence by improving the quality at each level of education. The position of India’s higher education institutions is not satisfactory when we compare India with other countries in reputed global rankings. Indian does not figure in the world’s top 100 universities. The QS world university rankings 2022 indicate that only 3 institutes are in the range of 150-200. The six key performance indicators in QS university ranking and their weightage for evaluation 2023 are academic reputation (40 %), employer reputation (10 %), faculty-student ratio (20 %), international faculty ratio (5 %), and international student ratio (5 %). The GDP spend on higher education is 0.37 %, while it is above 1 % in the US and the UK. We, the people of India, have to invest money and effort in making India a global hub of higher education. We need to actively encourage peripheral and multidisciplinary knowledge in L & D, the development of a one-of-a-kind device, a breakthrough innovation in processes, and the development of sophisticated systems useful to society. The shift from worship culture to work culture in the inner circles of science would inspire the aspirational faculty to focus on performance to provide scientific explanations to move people in the outer circles. We must go for higher education reforms with liberal regulations and regulatory best practices to establish world-class universities. We must retain enough talent in India and awaken latent intellectual talent. The government must spend public money on new research activities and ongoing R & D programs as well as conduct a statistical analysis of R & D spending and growth. We can create a new innovative university or flagship university once the capacity building in creativity and innovation is achieved leading to global influence and prestige.

Other challenges in higher education and academic research include managing the gross enrolment ratio, political interference, education infrastructure, quality and assessment of practices, financial support, industry-oriented research, and breakthrough innovation. The use of advanced technologies, improved decision-making, institutional adaptiveness, quality enhancement, a conducive ecosystem, employment opportunities, and affordability is the need of the hour. Cooperation and mobility, improved learning outcomes, improved career prospects, intellectual understanding, and sustainable development matter in the higher education system. The latest trend of running cloned programs by changing one or two courses in computer science and engineering, information technology, information and communication systems, computer forensics, computer networking, computer programing, cyber security, database administration, information security, software engineering, and web development to increase the number of seats that reflects a problem of plenty is not a healthy development. There is a mad rush for computer-related programs among the learners this academic year because of the herd mentality and expectation of immediate placement possibilities. This has to be tackled by proper career counseling at an early stage, change in compartmental attitude, strict implementation of regulating codes and policies, and creating awareness about the path to be taken in the medium and long term.

 Teaching Twist to Transform – Future of Learning

Now it is essential to adopt high-impact techniques to inspire the learners because they make the learning experience even more exciting. Active learning techniques include innovative introduction/conclusions, individual or group brainstorming, real or constructed case study discussion, group or panel discussion and debate, facilitator or learner demonstration, machine or instrument impersonation, mnemonic technique, cognitive analogies, crossword or jigsaw puzzle methods, convergent or divergent quizzes, role play, simulations, individual or team board games, seminar presentations by learner/facilitator, project or problem-based learning, and multimedia presentations. One or more of these methods may be adopted depending on the topic to deliver an enriching and engaging learning experience.   Facilitating the skill sets such as academic skills, life skills, teamwork skills, soft skills, computer skills, organizational skills, domain-specific skills, instructional skills, psychomotor skills, certain job skills, and finally survival skills in addition to developing normal reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills in HE institutions is essential in today’s competitive world. The current student profile includes limited attention span, well-informed, well versed with technology, impatient, eager to experiment, and these visually oriented learners find stereotype teaching boring. The student’s attention span is about 10-15 minutes, depending on their motivation levels, mood, perceived relevance of the material, and other factors. But the learner capabilities include acquisitive (knowledge, skill, and attitude in the specific domain), adaptive (flexibility to use new machines, processes, systems, and technologies), innovative (develop new designs, prototypes, processes, products, and systems) and operative (floor operations, project, planning, quality management, and communication skills). The five Es involve engaging learner interest, exploring content and learning laboratory skills through relevant and concrete experiences, explaining questions generated by introducing quality and accurate content, elaborating by applying concepts and practical skills to new inquiry situations, and evaluating the content, process, and communication skills are necessary but not sufficient things to do. Higher education for sustainable development should focus on creating a value-based society. Field-based education, interactive classroom sessions, problem-based activities, group projects, learner-centered education, and service-learning education all these active teaching-learning strategies help establish a higher education ecosystem for social transformation. Thus, it is essential to channel our energies into the best learning methods by setting clear, tangible targets to perform better and bring change in the mindset of people. The primary areas of responsibility/activity for faculty members include teaching and mentoring, research and creative work, professional competence/activity, university service, and public/community service to different extents depending on their interests, abilities, and stage in their academic careers. 

Problems, Priorities, and Prospects – Multiple Perspectives

As there is a need to catch up with the rest of the world, it is high time to give up the chalta hai attitude to grow fast to achieve higher education goals. We have to recall the fact that there were many human-made tragedies, including death by negligence/stampedes in the past. There is a need to increase the standard of Indian conferences because of the record of substandard presentations, unscientific statements, and scientifically unjustifiable claims. The need to highlight the real achievement of contemporary science rather than the discussion of aviation technology in ancient India is more relevant and appropriate. In climate change conferences, there will be waste disposal discussions inside the meeting room while disposable cups and bottles are kept outside the room! We have to realize that there are no quick-fix solutions and focus on long-term solutions to make the most significant contributions to the knowledge base of the country. The make-in-India initiative of GOI to encourage MNCs and domestic companies to manufacture their products in India is necessary but not sufficient. We have to change the whole technology scenario in India by developing indigenous technologies that reduce huge royalty payments to foreign collaborators for the transfer of technology or brand equity. It is essential to encourage the handful of Indian companies like Godrej, Kirloskar, Jindal Steel, Appollo Tyres, Hindustan Uniliver Limited, Reliance Industries, Tata Motors, Indian Oil Corporation, Aditya Birla Group, and Videocon Groups to raise their global ranking status. Developing a distributed manufacturing base in India is necessary to solve placement problems. India’s obsession with the service industry as reflected in the recent boom in the IT and BPO industries and education service industry affects the overall development process. Priority should be given to the work culture establishment and inefficiency management in multimodal higher education systems through convergence and connected technologies. Prioritize consistent, meaningful learning to excel and ultimately succeed in life. The keys to success include 3 Cs-choosing to be a better version of oneself, changing with changing times, and connect as a support system, and following three Ds-dedication, determination, and discipline. India’s true strength will be in connecting its science, technology, and innovation with its people and integration of deep fundamental insights with technology development, and the prospects of extending the university building to nation-building look bright. Youngsters should be molded into scientific innovators and architects of the future through the process of metamorphosis in the higher education system. Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Vigyan, and Jai Anusandhan are slogans for emerging India.  

Visionary leadership for higher education transformation must refine the system through evolution involving topic updates, proper training, vocational skills, interactive learning methods, and change management. Continuous updates on the developments across specialties in the curriculum and skill upgradation including skill development (upskill) and reskilling, complying with safety norms and guidelines, customized and affordable training programs as per specified needs of the industry, internal ranking mechanism that supplements the rankings of external agencies, establish the overall financial and operational stability, move towards operational excellence all lead us to move in the right direction with an optimistic outlook. Public-private partnership (PPP) and industry-institute interface (III) are the most essential to bring quality to the higher education system. The GOI should encourage standard foreign universities to come to India to set up independent operations or collaborate with existing Indian universities. The two corruptions of the higher education system are normalized complacency and imposed conformism. It has become an accepted standard and a way of life. It requires convictions and commitments, courage to swim against the tides, face a climate of intolerance and the threat of dictatorship, and awareness of the right to disobey. The contemporary trend is the rise of mediocrity as a norm of living that kills the constructive and creative attitude, reflecting a value crisis and mass immaturity. Thought leaders have to ignite the Indian higher education reform movement through progressive thoughts and forward-thinking observations and provide momentum to the movement by spreading the ideas of education reforms. It is a special higher education movement to reignite our excitement in the higher education experience. Re-orientation of HES at an affordable cost involves a proper action plan for improving quality at all levels, a quality policy framework, and its execution with zero tolerance for corruption at any level. The change in work culture is a requirement from an Indian perspective to create a nationalistic and global educational atmosphere. The effective implementation and management of higher education programs, an intensive investment, recruitment of better faculty, robust auditing mechanism (transparency & accountability), and the use of smart and affordable technologies for effective and efficient service delivery will eventually create cooperation in multiple opportunities and wellness in society. It is better to focus on long-term development over short-term attractions with proper checks and balances to continue on the path of excellence (Figure). Resetting the attitudes, points of view, strategies, policies and implementation in the higher education system with emphasis on the development of natural science, engineering, and technology education will put us on the right track. A developed country with intrinsic strengths will get recognition worldwide.   







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