Reform in education will be back on agenda: Tharoor

Observing that India's education policy has remained out of synch with the time, Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor Monday called for reforms in the sector, critical to the country's growth needs.

"We will  work towards putting our reform agenda back on track," Tharoor told a higher education summit here, adding that as India aims to grow at 8.2 to 8.5 percent, the country needs to invest in education and help improve the quality of education.

The minister said there has been no significant improvement in terms of quality education delivery. The issues of "skill gaps, skill shortages and unemployable graduates still persist".

Referring to IITs and IIMs, he said: "These are still islands in a sea of mediocrity."
Also, even though India with 621 universities and 33,500 colleges has one of the largest network of higher education institutes across the world and second in terms of student enrolment, its gross enrolment ratio (GER) of 18.8 per cent in 2011 is still less than the world average of 26 per cent.

Global experiences indicate a positive correlation between GER and economic growth in the country and point to the need for a minimum of 30 percent to sustain economic growth.

Tharoor said that while countries in the Middle East and China are wooing foreign universities to set up campuses in their countries, "India turned away many academic suitors who have come calling in recent years".  

Bills relating to higher education reforms such as the Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011 and the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010 are awaiting Parliament's nod.

The minister said companies are entering the higher education space in the "guise of training".

"Our University system simply is not producing well educated graduates to meet the needs of Indian companies today."

He said there has to be a sharp improvement in the quality and quantity of institutions of higher education to match global standards.

There is a proposal to establish 50 centres for research in frontier areas of science, design innovation centres, innovation centres in different universities and also research parts of the IITs and other technical institutions.

"If finally established, it would transform the research environment in our country," he added.

Tharoor also stressed the need for public-private partnership to meet the deficiency in public funding. India spends 1.1 percent of its gross domestic product, while South Korea spends 2.4 percent and the US 3.1 percent.

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