Hasten reforms process in education

Hasten reforms process in education

A drop in students seeking higher education in traditional strongholds like the United Kingdom and Australia should have benefited universities and institutions offering higher education in India. But are Indian universities attractive enough as a proposition to benefit from the slowdown, and stem the exodus of students?

Experts point out that there are not enough incentives for students to pursue their higher education in India. Professor S Sadagopan, Director, Indian Institute of Information Technology-Bangalore,  believes that there is a need for the government to be proactive and make use of factors like the economic slowdown to ring in reforms in higher education.

“The government does not finance its own institutions, does not allow the right private institutions, and allows the wrong institutions to thrive. All three aspects have to change to see improvement in higher education,” he said. He cites the example of Shingua University in China, which has dramatically changed, and made a name for itself in the international arena.

Bindu Chopra, Regional Director, Chopra Consultants, says, “Although the number of students actually continuing post graduate studies in the UK has come down by 20 percent in comparison to the last year, a large number of students still apply and pursue technical courses in the United States.” Recent incidents of racial violence in Australia has resulted in a significant drop in the number of applications, compared to those of the previous years.

Chopra points out that education fairs showcasing Australian universities, which used to attract thousands of students the in previous years, were attended only by a few hundred this year. However, she adds that destinations like Singapore, New Zealand and Chinese Taipei are quickly taking the place of Australia as a preferred destination for higher education.  Experts do not see the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, which allows for 100 per cent Foreign Direct Investment in higher education, as an answer.
Although the bill is being tabled with a view to saving billions of dollars in foreign exchange outgo, the quality of education remains an unanswered question.

Vice-chancellor of Bangalore University Dr N Prabhu Dev says that the bill will not attract the Harvards and Stanfords of the world, but only a string of “second and third rate foreign universities”. “There is an immediate need for a change in pedagogy techniques and built-up infrastructure to improve the quality of the universities. It is far-fetched to believe that recession and stray incidents of violence abroad are somehow going to benefit higher education here,” he says.

But Professor Sadagopan concurs and says that some of the great universities of the world are centuries old and Indian universities still need time to be institutions of international class and repute.

“Premier universities in the United States are hundreds of years old, and possess tremendous financial, human and physical resources. Indian varsities, to reach to that calibre, may require at least 30 to 50 years of growth,” he says.

Foreign universities still preferred choice
Naysayers may dismiss the middle class obsession with foreign degrees as a colonial hangover for all things ‘phoren’, but students with first-hand experience believe that a foreign degree is still superior. Further, notwithstanding recent incidents of racial discrimination, alumni of foreign universities swear by the atmosphere and call it extremely student-friendly.

Shruti Ashok, an alumnus of the Latrobe University, Melbourne, says that managing finances is a bigger challenge than racial vilification, for students in Australia. “It is a far cry from being pampered by parents at home, as there you have to be financially self-reliant. Universities abroad believe in practical learning and focus more on equipping students with the ability to create opportunities for themselves,” she says.

She believes that the international exposure which students receive is invaluable. “You do so many odd jobs from waiting at restaurants to working at international events. I met Lebanese, Malaysians and Australians,” she says.

Students say that besides social exposure, the structure of the curriculum and syllabus encourages practicality and independence. Divya Rabindra, who has an MS degree from the University of San Diego, says that both the approach of faculty and the kind of assignments which students are given make a big difference. “There is no distance between teachers and students, or even a semblance of formality. The manner of interaction is always casual, and is learning-oriented as opposed to being examination-driven,” she says.

Students also lament the fact that the dearth of quality institutions in the country often drives them abroad. Akshitha, a student of civil engineering, does not intend to go abroad for her higher education “I want to pursue higher education in construction management, which only one institution NICMAR (National Institute of Construction Management and Research) offers,” she says. And the limited amount of seats on offer may make her seek foreign alternatives, she adds.

Indian institutes are on par with best in world
Premier institutions in the country are most sought after by those students who prefer to study in India. Kushal Bhimjiani, a final year student, National Law School of India University(NLSIU) believes that India offers good post graduate courses in Medicine, Management and Biotechnology. “Institutes like Indian Institute of Science, Indian Institute of Management(IIMs), Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) offer the best undergraduate technical courses”.

However Kushal says that there is a need to revive the quality of faculty by imposing strict regulations. “Expert committees will have to be formed to examine the quality of teachers,” he adds.

Manohar Kumar, an entrepreneur, says, “Pursuing technical education in India is worthy of comparison to foreign universities. Students obtaining post graduate courses from Central institutes gives an international exposure”.

He points out that institutes like XLRI, the IIMs, and other management institutes are the best, and most students aspire to study here. “I have completed my MBA from a premier institute in India and have bagged projects abroad. This clearly indicates that the education imparted here is laudable,” adds Manohar.

Subash Chandra Rao, a lecturer at Mahaveer Jain University, says, “The facilities in my profession matter a lot. For instance, if a university in India that provides courses in cinematography or television media has good facilities along with experienced and informed faculty, then students would not hesitate to study there. At present, universities in the US or Europe have more experience and better facilities in these courses. For Medicine or Engineering, students would do well to study in India.”

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