Matters of concern
The Government has taken a decision to invite foreign
universities to open campuses in the country. Beside, the
private sector will also get a chance to establish and run
tertiary education centres including universities.
In the background of hundreds of thousands of qualified
students failing to get admission to the universities due to
lack of vacancies this is a welcome move. Already several
institutions are running degree awarding courses in association
with foreign universities. There is also a heavy demand for more
In the meantime, several political parties and groups as well
as the University students have expressed their opposition to
the move. Some of them are moved perhaps by insecurity of their
future or a fear that State universities may get step-motherly
treatment and their rankings would go down further.
Given the low standards in the university system and the
deficiencies in capital and human resources these apprehensions
are understandable. Yet there is no rational basis for the
opposition to the private sector universities.
However, there are two matters of concern. First is the lack
of a regulatory body and minimum academic standards that these
new private universities should follow. Now that there is no
such body. It is impossible for the students to assess their
suitability before applying for admission. There are also no
criteria to decide upon the course contents.
Either the University Grants Commission should be empowered
to act as a regulator or a separate statutory regulatory body
should be constituted.
A second matter of concern is the lack of resource personnel
in the country to undertake teaching and research activities of
a large number of universities that would come up as a result of
the opening of the education sector.
Already the present universities are short of qualified
academic staff. This is largely due to the low salaries and lack
of research facilities at the universities. It is well known
that some of the GCE qualified in the mercantile sector earn
much more than university professors. It is this situation that
has led to many academics leaving the country for greener
pastures abroad. Further, the academics are less recognized by
the State and even the society than cricketers and the like.
Their commitment and dedication is not recognized. In this
context, one should really appreciate the few who stay whatever
hardships they face.
The poor conditions of service of the academia in the
universities pose another danger. That is the danger of at least
some of them being lured to the private sector to the detriment
of the State universities.
It is often said the opening of the higher education sector
would pose a challenge to the State universities as they would
have to compete with foreign or private universities. Whether
they would have the resources to do so is a moot point. If they
do not have them, wouldn’t they decline in academic standards
further? If it happens students from low income families, who
constitute the majority now, would be at a distinct
Therefore, the Government would have to ensure that there
would be equity in the allocation of resources to the
universities. Just as the lack of competent teachers proficient
in English and in the subjects taught handicapped many schools
with the introduction of the English Language stream in AL
classes, the same problem may arise in a much greater scale with
the establishment of private universities.
It is easy for the private sector to put up physical
infrastructure but the provision of the social infrastructure
will be problematic. Hence, the need for concerned pre-planned
measures to address this problem as soon as possible.
If the State universities are to endure there is an urgent
need to reform the system. There should be better academic
freedom, less interruptions due to trade union action or student
agitation, modernized and up-to-date course content and greater
choice for students to choose disciplines, coordination of
academic teaching and research programs, pooling of resources
among universities , establishment of industry-university links
and much more to develop them as centres of excellence. As they
are already established, they have certain advantages which
should be used to maximum advantage.