It is quite perplexing that the government has secured all the premium schemes only for the top of the pyramid institutes that constitute only about 2% of student enrolment in higher education in the country.

agriculture, health, education, budgetary allocation, university education, quality of education, funds, premium schemes, student enrolment, higher education

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley must read the article, More from less for more (MLM), where eminent scientist and chairman of the National Innovation Foundation, Dr. R.A. Mashelkar, argues his case for the urgent need for India to adopt the models of ‘Gandhian engineering’ to achieve more (performance) by using less (resources) for more (people) to create inclusive growth. For, a closer look at the part where the Union Budget discusses university education in the country shows that the FM seems to have done exactly the opposite.

Though besides agriculture, the next most used words in his speech were health and education — a rare phenomenon in the last couple of fiscal years — the budgetary allocation of funds for university education continues to disappoint.

While school education has been allocated ₹50,000 crore, higher education has garnered only ₹35,010 crore. Although this may seem satisfactory given a low enrolment ratio in higher education, it is worth noting that only the funds allocated to Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) reach the state-run public universities. Higher education’s flagship scheme RUSA has seen a paltry increase of ₹100 crore, whereas funds to UGC have in fact been decreased to ₹4722.7 crore from last year’s revised estimate of ₹4,922.7 crore.


Though besides agriculture, the next most used words in his speech were health and education — a rare phenomenon in the last couple of fiscal years — the budgetary allocation of funds for university education continues to disappoint.


According to All India State of Higher Education (AISHE) 2016-17 data, India has 864 universities, 40,026 colleges, 11,669 standalone institutions and 3.5 crore students opting for higher education. Of these, about 79.4% of the students are enrolled in undergraduate level programmes. The AISHE data also reveals that the increase in enrolment in state public universities has been “quite high” over the past three years (2014-2017), and has reached an enormous figure of about 30 lakh in 2016-17. Whereas, the enrolment in centrally-funded institutes is a meagre seven lakh.

Therefore, it is quite perplexing that the government has secured all the premium schemes only for the top of the pyramid institutes that constitute only about 2% of student enrolment in higher education in the country.

The much-hyped and appreciated scheme Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE), funded by a restructured Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA), aims to strengthen and equip the infrastructure of “premier educational institutions”, according to a Cabinet note circulated in September, 2016.

HEFA was created to facilitate fiscal discipline among centrally-funded higher educational institutions by allowing them to borrow funds, raise money and pay back from their own income — by ways of tuition, research earnings, etc. The note says that “[HEFA]…would leverage the equity to raise up to Rs. 20,000 crore for funding projects for infrastructure and development of world class labs in IITs/IIMs/NITs and such other institutions.” In Budget 2018, HEFA has been granted an allocation of ₹2,750 crore.

To effectively target ‘quality’ of education, it was desirous that the government bestowed more funds to the state public universities that are in a pitiable condition — digitally handicapped, academically downtrodden and administratively straitjacketed. It is also desired that they get equal access to HEFA funds as other ‘elite’ institutes. Without a robust base of alumni and industry support, these institutes are much more in need of ‘low-cost’ funds to function and thrive.


To effectively target ‘quality’ of education, it was desirous that the government bestowed more funds to the state public universities that are in a pitiable condition — digitally handicapped, academically downtrodden and administratively straitjacketed.


While the creation of ‘PM Research Fellows’ for PhD students is a highly appreciated move and has the potential of increasing the number of quality researchers in the country, this too has been restricted only to elite public-funded institutions. Under this scheme, 1,000 best BTech students will be identified from premier institutions to pursue PhDs in IITs and IISc and be given a generous stipend of ₹75,000.

It would make more sense to open up this opportunity to PhD candidates from all institutes, instead of just BTechs from the IITs, without any discrimination and based purely on the merit and quality of the candidate. As the government expects that such candidates would voluntarily opt to teach at institutes of higher education, it needs to widen the scope of this fellowship to compensate for the lack of quality professors in our colleges.

Another ambitious initiative of this government is the ‘Institutes of Eminence’, which has seen a five-fold increase in fund allocation — from ₹50 crore last year to ₹250 crore this year. Proposed to be a disruptive programme that has the capability of transforming the future of Indian higher education, this too, rather unfortunately, favours only the well-off institutes. Under this scheme, the government has proposed to support 10 public and 10 private institutes and one can only imagine where our state public universities stand when competing for these 10 places. Almost in retraction to the global ranking lists, India formed its own National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) to rate institutes based on locally-favourable parameters. However, it was disheartening to see that our State Public Universities failed to make their mark even there.

In most countries around the world, cities grow around universities, economies thrive because of them, societies advance based on research conducted at campuses and academics are the most-consulted specialists for any policy-related issue of the government. Indian universities have failed to do any of these. Much of it is because of such unending government apathy that has left them aimlessly trying to unshackle from numerous stifling regulations and political conspiracies.

Most of our elite institutes are autonomous and are already enjoying benefits that come with autonomy. It is high time the government uplifts our state public universities to benefit lakhs of students who can shape an equitable, sustainable and economically developed India. The government must spread its oft-repeated promise of “Sab ka saath, Sab ka vikas” to the state-run universities which are the long-neglected victims of “Maximum Government, Minimum Governance” — another bureaucratic reality of India that the Modi government has pledged to reverse.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

Comments

avatar
wpDiscuz

Upcoming Events

Talk by Dr Happymon Jacob On Ceasefire Violations and current state of India-Pakistan Relations