Problems of Higher Education in India

If and when the fast growing crisis of higher education in India is recognized by government, business community, faculty, students, and the public, solutions to the problem would have to be devised from within. Outside solutions are unlikely to work, and will likely be rejected by a proud society.

Broadly speaking, solutions are needed for (1) attracting a significant number of top students from each year’s class to universities as teachers and researchers (i.e., get India’s Einsteins into universities instead of selling soap, trading securities, or writing computer code); (2) finding a way of financing higher education through a judicious combination of government grants, private philanthropy, student fees, and royalties from research–this will have to be accomplished without profit-seeking capital in higher education because nobody in the world has yet found a way of delivering quality education without significant subsidies; (3) persuading business and political communities and it is in their own best long-run interest to strengthen delivery of quality of higher education by abandoning their pursuit of profits from education in favor of donations; (4) improving the governance of colleges, universities and their regulators through training, legislation, and restructuring; (5) enforcement of Societies Act and transparent public financial reporting by all organizations and institutions of higher education; and (6) amendment of India’s Constitution to eliminate the special status granted therein to the teachers.

How these and other goals are to be achieved has to be worked out through discussion and debate in India. On problem No. 1 listed above (attracting more of the top talent from each year’s class into teaching and scholarship to do innovation in India) everyone in India seems to think that somehow the US and UK universities will solve India’s problem. They can’t and they won’t. India (like China) is too big. These two countries have to solve their talent-in-teaching-shortage by themselves. Simply trying attract more people from US universities (on sabbatical, or otherwise) will not work, because about 500 other universities in India, and a few thousand others around the world are trying to do exactly the same thing. Many efforts amount to adding more straws to the same glass without adding any water to drink.

Yet, we do not get many bright people from India applying to “free” PHD education in US universities because selling “soap” offers more attractive “packages.” And for Indian universities, PHD is a low priority, if they can attract bright students at all. Private universities have no interest in money losing propositions. So, most  everyone is chasing the revenue generating degree programs with little attention to the money-eating PhD programs, hoping that someone else will spend the money, solve the problem, and they can hire the PHD graduates to teach at their own institutions. For all universities in India, the number of PhDs getting science and engg. PhDs is no more than 7 thousand per year. There are some 3400 engineering schools alone.

Not surprisingly, I would like to see more attention to PhD programs, especially at government subsidized apex institutions. Further, revenue generation from alums and other benefactors to subsidize quality education should be a high priority. Quality faculty contributions are difficult to measure, and certainly not by the number of hours spent in the office. This calls for reconsideration of not only the culture of the Institute but also of the rules by which it is run. Civil service rulebook tends to kill off most innovation in Indian universities.

8 Responses to “Problems of Higher Education in India”

  • Dear Mr. Shyam,

    My name is Ajay from Bangalore. I am trying to do some research on the the hiring modes / methods of educational institutes in India.

    Would you have any info on this or if you can point me in the right direction that would be helpful.


  • hi…myself p.barman, asstt prof …like to study this topic..

  • Hi,

    Nice and informative blog concerned towards the educational system of India and it`s complexity.

  • ” we do not get many bright people from India applying to “free” PHD education in US universities because selling “soap” offers more attractive “packages.””

    – I am an IIM alumnus doing a PhD in the US. I can totally relate to this – it is indeed unfortunate that so many Indians give up the PhD option due to its lack of “cash flows” in the short term.

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