Private universities make a difference

Today the higher education landscape in Karnataka is transforming rapidly with the entry of six private universities into the state.

Despite a central university and 22 state-owned universities in Karnataka, the fact that several private universities have entered the higher education space, highlights a gap in the quality of existing universities. This implies the need to create institutions in order to extend educational services to students who are unable to enter existing universities.

It also indicates that demand for higher education is growing and government universities are clearly unable to cater to the magnitude of demand in a qualitative manner. Over the last seven years, Karnataka’s expenditure on higher education from 2005 to 2012 is just 2.81 per cent of its GDP. This is less than the national 3.2 per cent of average GDP spent on higher education. Unfortunately the bulk of this expenditure is to pay pensions and salaries of faculty and staff without much scope for investment in infrastructure. In a sense it explains the ageing infrastructure like buildings, laboratories and technology in the 22 state universities, which is something that private universities are able to provide for better learning.

Lack of leadership

Moreover state universities lack leadership which requires an amalgam of academic acumen and administrative ability. Instead appointees for these positions are handpicked based on political considerations which manifests in lack of vision. This has hampered the growth of state universities which only explains the need for private universities.

How is a private university different from a state university? Essentially the autonomy which defines a private university empowers its faculty members to decide the nature of educational programmes without administrative or financial red tape. On the other hand, delayed decision making plagues state universities. Therefore private universities tend to be far more flexible and adapt trends in education, whereas state universities are only prone to adopt without much regard to their socio-economic or scientific environments. Another contrast is that private universities prioritise employability while state universities focus on dissemination of knowledge.

In order to achieve employability a private university periodically reviews its syllabus, connects with industry professionals through guest lectures, industry visits, student internships, management development programmes, professional certifications, besides inter-university programmes to foster joint learning. To that extent, a private university is unique in terms of autonomy to develop educational programs, backward and forward linkages with feeder institutions and ‘throughput’ which means evolution of a contemporary curriculum, choice- based learning, multi-disciplinary approaches and cross-cultural student mix which results in exposure to diverse value systems.

Whether private or state universities, both entities are meant to create knowledge through research and disseminate it through teaching which in turn would develop talent that would prove useful to industry and society. To do so, university or academia needs to connect with society and industry through constant interaction with each other. For instance, institutions need to avail of the expertise available with alma mater, parent community, civil service officials, industry executives and social entrepreneurs among others in order to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Diminishing benefits

Considering private and state universities also enroll students from outside a state it does not necessarily increase higher education levels locally but nationally. Otherwise how does a state benefit through the establishment of a private university? It would help a state to attract investments in the service and manufacturing sectors due to the availability of a pool of graduates and post graduates in diverse disciplines.

To that extent, a private university would contribute to the ecosystem so essential to encourage investment in a BPO, five star hotel, software company or non banking financial company. At another level the fact that students and faculty members relocate from their home states which results in spin-off benefits for the economy of their adopted state from a hike in real estate value to provide a boost to the tourism, travel and hotel industries. More importantly this indirectly contributes to the state exchequer. As a result the state emerges as a popular education destination and proves progressive in character.

Clearly the rationale for emergence of private universities is to arrest signs of decline in some state universities characterised by government’s apathy. The rigidity of the regulatory mechanism that governs higher education does not encourage academics to be creative and introduce new age programmes. In view of these realities private universities are the need of the hour.

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