Revive degree colleges

Revive degree colleges

Precious human resource

The All India Survey of Higher Education (2016-2017) revealed that we have about 864 universities, 40,026 colleges and 11,669 stand-alone institutions -- those recognised by the Distance Education Council of University Grants Commission, Indira Gandhi National Open University, All India Council for Technical Education, Niti Aayog and other apex bodies, but which fall outside the university system — with an enrolment of around 36 million, giving rise to a GER [gross enrolment ratio] of 25.2%. In fact, the Knowledge Commission (2005) had recommended a phenomenal expansion of this system. Of the students pursuing higher education, nearly 80% are in the undergraduate stream, catered to by the degree colleges. In effect, our colleges form large reservoirs of precious human resource.

Karnataka has about 1,360 colleges – 167 government colleges, 290 private-aided and some 900 private-unaided. According to the 2014 National Sample Survey, the state was next only to Telangana in college density, that is, the number of colleges per lakh eligible population. Bengaluru Urban district had the highest number of colleges for any city in the country. The average expenditure was found to be Rs ,6788 per student for the entire degree course. These colleges offer general or semi-professional courses leading to BA, BSc, BCom, BCA, BBA, BBM and other degrees. At plus-two stage, among lakhs of candidates who qualify (in Karnataka, 6.9 lakh appeared for II PUC in April 2018, with an average pass of 59.56%), nearly 85% are believed to enroll in degree colleges.

Parents of these students generally belong to social strata down the lower middle class, with limited income (those of middle and upper middle class can afford to send their children to elite colleges). Despite economic constraints, these parents desire that their wards must secure a university degree, which they think is a gateway to gainful employment. The government provides affordable higher education in a large number of its colleges (including aided ones) located in semi-urban as well as rural areas. While accessibility and affordability are to be commended, the vital aspect of this general education is its quality and relevance, which appear to be lacking in good measure.

We cannot, and should not, impart poor education to poor people in a poor set up, because such a mediocre step will lead to intellectual bankruptcy, further jeopardising the future of youth already subjugated by socio-economic setbacks.

It has been observed that employability among fresh general graduates is not more than 20%. Parallelly, there also exists the problem of under-employment. If students from weaker and poorer sections have to be made employable, they need excellent education to meet the challenges of the competitive job market, where employers, largely from the private sector, are aggressively looking for competent graduates. Hundreds of our colleges functioning in tier II and III cities and small towns severely suffer from many deficiencies, of which the lack of modern infrastructure and talented faculty are formidable.

Reviving colleges

If only our degree colleges are elevated as providers of productive knowledge and requisite skills for performance, they would render yeoman service to society by supplying the much-needed manpower to fill the millions of vacancies in sectors such as retail trade, healthcare, tourism, hospitality, manufacturing, technology, real estate, construction, media and entertainment, small businesses, transport, banking, insurance, food processing, financial services, pharmaceuticals, stocks and mutual funds, animation, e-commerce and a host of other domains. To put it in a nutshell, there exists today a plethora of jobs, if only the graduates coming out of degree colleges can grasp them successfully.

Our degree colleges need facilities for learning, on-campus living (hostels for students and quarters for faculty), funds for infrastructure, autonomy for self-governance and guidance on ‘how to attain and retain quality and excellence’.

The departments of Collegiate and Higher Education should be progressive and proactive to formulate new schemes and policies in order to lift our colleges from the status of ‘tutorial centres’ still encouraging rote learning mainly to pass an examination. In particular, our colleges need to adopt the following best practices:

i) Put in place state-of-the-art infrastructure and qualified and competent core faculty, ii) strive for good ranking and accreditation grades, iii) facilitate alumni participation in development projects, iv) access institutional funding schemes of the Central government such as DST (department of science & technology), DBT (department of biotechnology), UGC, RUSA (Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan), HEFA (Higher Education Financing Agency), RISE (Rejuvenation of infrastructure for strengthening education) and nationalised banks, v) obtain financial benefit from the scheme of CSR [corporate social responsibility], vi) mobilising resources through philanthropy, ‘self-financing’ schemes and fund-raising projects, vii) focus on soft/life skills, such as personality development, leadership qualities, team spirit, analytical mind, problem-solving and decision-making capacity, communicative skills, innovative thinking, risk-taking, entrepreneurship and computer applications, viii) introduction of BVoc courses and add-on programmes leading to additional certificate and diploma, ix) set up finishing schools and internship programmes in collaboration with industries to enhance employability and x) take full advantage of MOOC (massive open online courses) facility available on ‘Swayam’ platform of AICTE.

Colleges can certainly transform their students to become job-worthy. Reformation and rejuvenation of our higher education system cannot be accomplished unless and until we revitalise our degree colleges, which turn out a signification proportion of our invaluable workforce. In fact, this will be one of the challenges of the New Education Policy, whenever it sees the light of day.

(The writer is a former vice chancellor, University of Mysore, and president, Forum of Former Vice Chancellors of Karnataka, Bengaluru)