Friday, October 28, 2011

VC's Article

Abolish affiliation system

J A K Tareen

A retrospective critique of our journey during the XI plan in higher education only edges us forward to reflect upon of our present position with concern. India aspires to create a ‘knowledge society’, a leader in education to produce human resource that is globally competitive. Will an introspection and self-appraisal drive us to reconsider the existing system for a major structural change that would ensure a new breeze of self-imposed discipline in high-quality teaching, research, minimise mediocrity and energise growth? Will this herald the renaissance of Takshilas and Nalandas into the country, attracting scholars and knowledge-seekers from across the globe? The concern of everyone is the absence of a world-class university in India worthy of its name on the international ranking?
A public debate comparing the major and conspicuous differences between Indian and well known world class universities could set a tone for bold structural changes in the XII plan for higher education. Three major differences emerge which may be the stumbling blocks to our attaining excellence: First, Indian universities and colleges totally lack in ‘critical mass’ of students; secondly, the undergraduate programmes are fragmented from the university campuses, and; thirdly, the existing affiliation system of colleges to universities is the bottleneck for their autonomy and freedom to grow with innovations.
These issues need to be addressed for our universities to attain global parity though other issues of faculty, infrastructure, laboratories, library and a conducive ambience are as important.
About 559 Indian universities have less than 2 million students, with an average enrolment of 3,500 students in contrast to 20,000 to 40,000 in any good public or private funded university in US, France, UK, China or Singapore. The 20 older central universities hold about 18,000 acres of land with 1,58,000 students amounting to about nine students per acre. Universities are even resistant to expansion and optimum use of our land and infrastructure. Talent search for world class research students in our universities is limited to the small sub-critical numbers. It is like fishing in a small pond which will fetch small fishes while out in the ocean one has chances of encountering sharks and whales. These large fishes are the ones who bring credit to universities and the country.
Over 31,900 colleges have less than 15 million students with an average strength of less than 490 students. Interestingly, 71 per cent of PG students are in colleges and only 29 per cent in universities where as 80 per cent of PhD students are in universities. Out of the 2 million university students, 90 per cent are in state and private universities. Optimum use of existing land and infrastructure, drastic increase in intake both at universities and colleges to reach the critical mass should be the main focus of the XII plan.
High quality university education will remain a dream as long as there is fragmentation of undergraduate programmes and it is kept out of main university campuses. Bringing in schools of undergraduate programmes on campuses and introducing integrated masters and PhD programmes has shown excellent results in universities like the Pondicherry University. Standalone colleges should be autonomous degree awarding colleges with both UG and PG programmes.
The system of affiliation of colleges to universities has jeopardised the growth, suppressed autonomy and innovation, freedom to grow and has become the cause for unfair practices in higher education system. Abolishing affiliation system, and creation of college cluster multiple campus-universities (CC-MCUs) by clustering around 5-20 colleges with a vice chancellor and administrative system is the only feasible model that is comparable to multiple campus universities in the US and France. Over 1,000 CC-MCU’s can be created during the XII plan; which is perfectly in tune with National Knowledge Commission and the Yashpal Committee recommendations, a model that will bring formidable strength through sharing of all resources. They can be created through state or central Acts and could be state-funded, partially Centre-funded or fully centrally funded universities.
The assessment of quality of a good institution begins with its tangibles like the ambience, appearance, quality of facilities, library, support system, student amenities and the like. This is followed by the reliability of the institution, relevance and the disciplined error-free timely delivery of the programmes, and finally the flexibility of learning, mobility of students and quality of teachers and the inflow if international faculty and students. Networking with national laboratories and industry, establishment of National Educational Resource Portal, ‘One-window information’ should be the priority. To provide sophisticated research and analytical facilities, Inter-university centres exclusively for university and college teachers will boost the quality of research publications. Stricter laws for plagiarism and research ethics committees should be mandatory in every university.
The national ranking mechanism, at least based on an online questionnaire, should be the first step for mandatory ranking of all Indian colleges and universities, to benefit students, employers, funding agencies and collaborators. School-wise and discipline-wise accreditation is more meaningful than the present system of university accreditation as a unit. For the past 15 years NAAC has accredited less than 5 per cent colleges and less than 15 per cent universities, as the rest have not volunteered or are said to be not up to the mark.
A ten-fold increase in allocation for higher education during the XI plan to `46,000 crore from `4,600 crore, establishment of 15 new universities, eight IITs, seven IIMs, 20 IIITs and five IISERs have all been great steps. The XII plan allocation could double the XI plan. It is obvious that it is not the dearth of funding but something more that is stumbling the desired growth in number (GER) and global quality. Ironically, only 35 per cent of plan allocation will be spent by the end of XI plan. State universities and state colleges contribute the maximum in terms of human resource but just 7,661 of the 31,900 colleges are eligible for some limited grant from the University Grants Commission and the rest are starving for funds. This imbalance, poor implementation and monitoring mechanisms has resulted in unsatisfactory performance and underutilisation of funds. A National Empowered Monitoring Committee under the HRM overlooking the performance of UGC can only ensure full utilisation of funds. The focus in the XII plan should shift to colleges and state universities and monitoring mechanisms strengthened.
J A K Tareen, a Padma Shri awardee, is vice chancellor, Pondicherry University.