We pride ourselves to be number one, if not number two, in the field of Information Technology in the world, an increasingly as the Tatas, the Birlas, the Mittals and the rest seek to by out foreign industries, we are beginning to feel that we are on top. It is a nice feeling, one must admit, of being recognised and acknowledged as a power in our own right, capable of taking on the white industrial world which, for so long, has dominated the international commercial and financial scene.
Days were when our ministers were going begging to such pocket-sized nations as Belgium and the Netherlands for economic aid, sometimes to be rebuffed. Surely the time has now come to show what we as a people and a nation are capable of, even while we remind ourselves that we have a long, long way to go. But are we all that great? Is our educational system comparable to the best elsewhere? The facts, as provided by The Times Higher Education Supplement are shockingly disturbing.
According to the world university rankings supplied by that document, India has barely three universities among the world'stop 200. Canada has seven, Japan has 11, the United Kingdom has 30 and the United States has 55. Even China has six. China, in fact, has one among the top twenty and two among the top 50. India can count only three in the top 100. That is a disgrace. We pride ourselves on our IITs and IIMs but forget that even these have a long way to go to be recognised as being on par with the best in the world. China has recognised its place and seems to be hell bent on competing with the best universities in the western world. Taken for example, Tsinghua University in Beijing. It is the one in the top fifty best universities in the world, the other being Beijing University which ranks at Number 14.
According to an Indian educationist, ysinghua, ranked 28th, has set up an international advisory board that keeps a sharp eye on the university and how it functions. The Board'sadvice is highly appreciated and its suggestion for improvement are taken seriously. Writing in The Hindu (December 9, 2006) the educationist, Ramesh Thakur, noted that while there are still a few pockets of excellence in the Indian educational world, the average quality of higher education in the country has been steadily falling behind the world average. It is a most disturbing thought. Writes Shri Thakur: ?We may be outsourcing our brains, but we are far from educating them to maximum potential. There is something rotten in the state of higher education and research sector when overseas Indians can hold almost 30,000 patents for every one held by an Indian.? That is a painful revelation.
Tsinghua University has 4,600 faculty for 26,500 students (of whom, apparently, about 5,000 are Ph.D candidates)?which is unbelievable. What this shows is that our colleges are over-regulated and under-funded with fewer professors being burdened with more students than they could attend to, in the normal course of circumstances. The more the number of students one has to be attentive to, the less attention one gets, which is a foregone conclusion. And it affects teaching. Even twenty is too high a figure for a professor to handle in a class, as any educationist will tell. Indeed, it is high even for any class, at whatever level whether primary, secondary or pre-university.
Surely, if China can set up or upgrade existing universities to world class, so can India? What this country obviously lacks is motivation. According to the Times study, the first Indian universities to appear on the top lists are the IITs at Number 57 followed by the IIMs at Number 68. The Jawaharlal Nehru University comes in at Number 183 which is not much to talk about. And yet some of our universities like those in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata were established almost 150 years ago. They have had all the time to rise to the top, but rise they haven?t.
Our Education Ministries have some explanation to give. We cannot accept any excuses. According to one estimate over 1,30,000 Indian students go abroad for higher education. One may well wonder how much that costs the national exchequer. Can'tthe amount they spend be more usefully utilised to upgrade our universities?
The National Knowledge Commission has suggested that the Union Government establish 50 new Land Grant Universities on the US model. The idea, obviously, is to provide enough scope for all those who want to acquire a degree at low cost, no matter how poorly they fare. Our Government, it would seem, is interested more in quantity than in quality, obviously with an eye for the citizens? votes.
There are two ways to handle the situation: One is to let foreign universities to establish their presence in India and force our existing universities?some 150 of them?to enter into competition. The other?even from the vote point of view?is to set up not universities, but technical schools which teach every thing from spinning and weaving, glass making, vehicle repairs, instrument making and a wide range of other subjects that could quickly provide the graduates with opportunities for self-employment at minimal costs. And there is no reason why students in non-academic fields should not get their degrees, if only to give them a measure of self-respect.
The point is that our existing universities must be enabled to improve themselves not only by hiring the best teachers they could find anywhere at competitive salaries but to provide the necessary infra-structure that alone can make teaching relevant and commercially meaningful. Salaries have to be raised.
According to the National Knowledge Commission, even as things stand, salaries consume 75 per cent of university budgets and other administrative expenses, another 15 per cent that hardly leaves a bare 10 per cent for research and cognate objectives. No wonder our universities show little by way of knowledge-addition.
It will, of course, be argued that our colleges should be open to all classes of people irrespective of their desire to learn or their capacity to contribute to research and development, even if this means that standards are lowered and teaching is reduced to learning by rote and professors look down with disdain on the taught. That is turning democracy into a farce. Giving the go-by to talent in pursuit of populism may be clever politics but it is self-destructive for a nation that aims to become a world super power.
What this calls for is self-introspection among our political leader and the courage to take painful remedial measures to assure that India could once again come up to the high standards that once were the envy of lesser lands. Remember Nalanda. There is nothing that we cannot achieve given the will. Our rich past proclaims possibilities for a richer future.