Chaotic expansion, a nemesis

Chaotic  expansion, a nemesis
Great universities boomed in India when most of the western world was snooping in the dark. Colleges affiliated to state universities catered to the needs of higher education in the country till the late 1990s. Realising that affiliation means regulatory power on admissions and fee structure in course of time, the promoters of private institutions made every effort to move out of their grip.

Baptised by the government machinery, private institutions, open universities, distance education and e-learning programmes gradually proliferated and gained wider acceptance. Self-financing programmes by public universities and colleges and cross-border education programmes offered by foreign institutions by themselves or in partnership with Indian institutions facilitated mass catering of higher education.

At present, all these experiments have led to a chaotic and unplanned expansion of education. From an elite system of higher education, it is now moving towards a mass system of higher education lacking material and intellectual resources. Superfluous media ratings without real fact finding and publicity stunts draw a band of unsuspecting parents and students to fake institutions. As a result, academic standards have become unsettled and are in jeopardy. This trend has gradually weakened the regulatory arms of the government. 

In this scenario, there is little clarity about promoting and regulating private initiatives. Due to inconsistencies, ambiguities, and vagueness in the light of different legal mandates of various monitoring agencies and the concurrent status of higher education, there has been a plethora of legal battles and sadly it is still mired in substantial confusion.

The failure of Indian institutions to find a place among the top 200 the world over is often heard. At the same time, there is also talk of creating world class universities. But the criteria for approving or grading our institutions still depend on the number of doctorates and published papers in journals–both are manufactured in their own factories by fake universities or are available for a competitive price in the neighbouring shops run by their pals–rather than the number of patents or contribution to the industry and farming sector.

It should be mandatory for all institutes of higher learning to make public the status, recognition and acceptability of their courses and degrees. Any misrepresentation of facts to the public should make the institute and its promoters liable for prosecution. Dubious providers of higher education should be taken to custody and media alerts should be frequently released. If the administration fails in this important duty, building quality institutions and internationalisation of higher education will remain a chimera.

All government approved universities are to be compulsorily accredited and regularly inspected as is done in the UK. Universities which are allowed to issue degrees should be clearly cited in a government portal. Degrees issued by such institutions alone should be accepted by employers. Lists of institutions which are considered to be degree mills are to be regularly published by the government as is done in the US.

Accreditation agency
Developing an independent accreditation agency with a conglomerate of all stakeholders of education-government, industry, academia and society will give a firm foundation for quality assurance and transparency. Leaving higher education to market forces may not be a viable option. False or over-stated claims to have partnership with reputed Indian and foreign research institutions or accreditation bodies by bogus universities should be scrutinised.

Many associations require the payment of a fee to become a member. There should be regulations on media ads for such degree mills. Universities registered under foreign agencies should not be allowed to operate in India without a permit from accreditation board of the country. There should be strict regulations on haphazard use of terms such as “university”, “college” or “business school” by institutions. Privileges like educational loans and travel concessions for students seeking admissions in fake universities should be denied.

Visa and other assistances to foreign students seeking admissions in such places should be refused. The bylaws for the establishment and regulation of private educational institutions should have clear, objective and streamlined criteria and processes.

It is the responsibility of the state to provide parents and students facts to help them select quality private educational institutions. In a more liberalised regulatory framework for education, well-informed consumers and regulators are an important building block.

(The writer is Professor, Department of  Zoology, Christ University, Bengaluru)
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