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Excellence Blueprints

Making Excellence Work in India's Higher Education System

If we have to make excellence work, and that’s precisely what I am talking about, the first thing that we look for in the university system is incentivizing research. It appears to be very simple but actually in our university system there is absolutely no incentive for research. Little wonder then that even our top management and engineering institutes produce no research. The reason is that there is really no incentive for doing research in the university system in India. All of us professors, we know that if we perform well in class, we get reasonably well feedback and that is it. This also gets validated from the fact that no Indian institution finds a high place in any popular global ranking, not even the highly acclaimed IIMs and IITs.

The second problem preventing our higher education system from attaining an internationally high standard is the gross absence of an inter-disciplinary approach. I have been a part of a McKinsey study that has found that over the years the existence of interdisciplinary approach in this sector has come down. With due respect to the talented youth of our country, the sad truth is it is very difficult to hire a fresher in from any college in India for lack of industry knowledge. There is a huge spending on training by companies on training even their ‘well –qualified’ employees and this is the gap we need to plug.

Traditionally, universities are places for studying and doing research. But, globally, things have been changing. In the last 5-10 years, pressure on universities has increased in the sense that participation of universities to provide some real results for society are expected.

The third key area that Indian academia should focus on is the “high level of fees”. From a simple economic perspective, profits are not possible. They are only possible when things are regulated and that is the bane of policy making in India. It is only when you open-up sectors that prices will come down. Policy makers in India are unaware of the difference between fixed cost, variable cost and marginal costs incurred by educational institutions. When a private institution charges around INR 3 lakhs per student, everyone feels that the fee is too high. The sad part is that no one takes into account the INR 40 lakh spend by the University to acquire land or the initial expenditure to get the institution running.

This is big problem that Indian higher education has been facing. The root cause of the problem is the manner in which policymakers account for costs and prices as a result of which the Indian education industry is not as competitive as in China or other counterparts. The high-fee issue is a shortcoming that only competition will bring down.

The Author

Dr Amirullah Khan,
President, Glocal University and a Senior Policy Advisor with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The article is based on his speech at the international conference, ‘The Excellence Agenda–May 2013’ organised by Institutional Excellence Forum in The Grand, New Delhi.