Prof Renu Vig
College education is on the threshold of a new era as silos of disciplines are disintegrating fast. Students should now be looking at more cross-disciplinary courses and institutions that promote this approach to stay relevant in the job market five years from now
The mandate of higher educational institutions has been to create knowledge, besides teaching and learning processes. However, today universities are expected to contribute towards technology development by engaging in research and promoting innovation.
India as a nation is spending billions of dollars to import equipment and products for healthcare, defence etc. To realise the dream of Atmanirbhar Bharat, there is a need for inter-disciplinary research, collaboration and an ecosystem where multidisciplinary student teams work on innovative ideas to provide solutions that are made in India. There is a need to break down silos between disciplines and encourage more cross-disciplinary collaborations.
Under NEP 2020, internship, apprenticeship, project work and research component are being included in the curriculum and it is expected that teaching will be practice-based so as to develop analytical and critical thinking ability of students.
Integration of humanities and arts with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will result in positive learning outcomes, increased creativity and innovation, critical thinking, higher order thinking capacities, problem solving abilities, team-work and moral awareness, etc.
Moreover, flexible and innovative curricula will also include projects in the area of community engagement and service, environment education and value-based education.
The quality of teachers in colleges and universities is a mixed bag. While there are many dedicated and competent teachers, there are also significant challenges that limit the quality of teaching, i.e. shortage of qualified staff and lack of resources for research and innovation.
On the other hand, professors in top global institutes are not only top academicians/researchers, but also great teachers in terms of student engagement, helping build curiosity in the learner. This helps promote a culture of innovation and critical thinking.
Research and innovation
Overall, Indian institutions need to focus on providing quality education and promoting a culture of research and innovation to compete with Western universities.
By focusing on updating their curriculum, embracing technology, investing in digital infrastructure and recruiting and retaining diverse qualified teachers, Indian institutes can build a strong reputation and compete on a global level.
Many Indian universities lack the necessary infrastructure and resources to provide students with quality education. Classrooms in most of foreign universities are digitally enabled and architecturally designed in a manner that creates a positive environment, ensuring that students can retain a singular focus on learning.
While Indian HEIs have increased focus and budgets for infrastructure, there is still further scope of improvement in this area to be able to catch up with global institutes.
Besides infrastructure, in many Indian colleges and universities, there is an overemphasis on theory rather than practical applications and hands-on experience. Labs are already a step in the right direction as that is where you get practically trained for the industry.
Top global universities have moved away from standard textbook-based teaching to more case and application-based teaching, which keeps students interested in attending classes and enhances learning. This enables students to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real world situations and makes them well equipped for the job market.
Ranking vs quality
The National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) has been drafted to rank institutions of higher education in India. It was launched on September 29, 2015. Apart from motivating higher education institutes to enhance their quality of education, NIRF ranking benefits students too. It helps them identify the suitable institutes as per the defined parameters viz. teaching, learning and resources, graduation outcomes, research and professional practice, outreach and inclusivity, and peer perception. There is an overall ranking given to an institute based on these parameters.
The NIRF ranking is an authentic indicator of an institute’s quality and excellence. It provides students with clarity on the standard of education in an institute based on various aspects. including discipline/category wise ranking. Different metrics are used to compare different disciplines such as engineering, management, pharmacy, architecture, etc.
The improvement in quality of education in HEIs brought about by NIRF, results in improving their international ranking, thus providing better career opportunities to students globally as well. Since the NIRF ranking is done annually, students can evaluate the trend in the growth of the institute on a year-on-year basis. Students and parents/guardians can peruse these reports to get clarity on the institute’s performance.
The future of universities is likely to be shaped by ongoing technological and societal changes, as well as by the evolving needs of students and the job market. HEIs must adapt to these changes to be positioned for success.
Within India there is a perception that South Indian universities and colleges are better than those in North India. It is difficult to make a sweeping generalisation as North India has some of the top colleges in the country, but yes, the options become limited if one starts looking outside of Delhi.
However, South Indian states such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala have a long history of prioritising education and investing in it. Tamil Nadu was the first state to start mid-day meals for schoolchildren. Kerala always had a high literacy rate. Karnataka government was the first state to come up with an IT Policy in the mid 1990s. Andhra Pradhesh government was the first state to attract Microsoft Development Centre outside of the US.
South Indian universities have a strong focus on science and technology, which are seen as key drivers of economic growth.
This has helped them produce more graduates in these fields, which, in turn, has led to the establishment of more research institutions and tech companies in this region.
They have strong research programmes, and several of them have been successful in securing funding from government agencies and private organisations.
While North Indian Universities are already scaling well with support from the state governments, they can further accelerate their growth
To enable Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) in our country to become world-class teaching and research institutes, the government has introduced different schemes from time to time.
The UGC notified the Institution of Eminence (IoE) scheme in 2017. Under this scheme institutions are granted more autonomy academically as well as administratively and IoEs enjoy better global opportunities with foreign universities.
Public institutions have also been granted up to Rs 1,000 crore. Ten public and private institutes each have been selected as IoEs and have the freedom to hire faculty from across the world.
These institutes are expected to have world-class infrastructure to undertake cutting edge scientific research in key areas using the latest methodologies.
Some other schemes for strengthening infrastructure, research collaborations and innovation in HEIs are:
- Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA)
- Global Initiative for Academic Network (GIAN)
- Impacting Research Innovation and Technology (IMPRINT)
- Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme(TEQIP)
- Design Innovation Center (DIC)
However, the number of HEIs that have been able to take advantage of these schemes has been limited.
The employability conundrum
In spite of the rapid progress made in improving the quality of higher education in the country, there is a huge question mark on the job readiness of students graduating from Indian institutions. With almost 50% of the country’s population below the age of 25, the lack of employability skills is a serious concern.
According to the World Economic Forum, of the 130 lakh persons joining India’s workforce each year, only one in four management professionals, one in five engineers, and one in 10 graduates are employable.
While these figures on the one hand emphasise upon the need for immediate remedial action, on the other also highlight the glaring gap in what is being taught in schools and colleges and what the employers need for different job roles.
Caught in the middle of this chasm are millions of students who enter colleges and pay hefty fee for top-notch courses in the hope of landing high-paying jobs, only to get the rude shocck of being rejected by prospective employers after getting the degrees.
Add to this the fact that the jobscape is changing rapidly in a digitally advancing world. With a majority of current job roles likely to be redundant, the students need to be trained in skills that will be needed in the job market five to ten years from now. Producing a future-ready workforce is one of the major challenges staring at higher education institutions now.
According to a 2020 World Economic Forum Report, futuristic skills include programming, data science, big data, machine learning, AI, web development, etc. And colleges and universities have to work overtime to align their curricula with these if the country has to utilise its demographic dividend.
Institutions that have more industry collaborations, hands-on trainings, internship opportunities, live projects add more value to the degrees being offered to students.
The National Education Policy released in 2020 took into account this skill gap and recommended training students in vocational skills right from Class VI onwards. Post-Covid, the implementation of the NEP has gained momentum. But change will be visible when the mindset of preferring ‘white collar jobs’ gets a complete overhaul and vocational courses/training are given their due.
Total Universities – 49
Deemed Universities – 6
Private Universities – 22
Central University – 1
State Universities – 20
Total Universities – 23
State Universities – 5
Private Universities – 17
Central University – 1
Jammu & Kashmir
Total Universities – 12
Deemed University – 1
State Universities – 9
Central Universities – 2
Punjab Universities Under UGC
Total Universities – 28
Deemed Universities – 2
Private Universities – 15
Central University – 1
State Universities – 10
States with maximum colleges
Top 6 states in student enrolment
61.39% Colleges are located in Rural Area
10.51% Colleges are exclusively for Girls
Higher education Enrolment 41.4 million
MALE 21.2 million
FEMALE 20.2 million
- BA (104 lakh) degree has been awarded to maximum number of students. BSc. (49.12 lakh) is the second highest followed by BCom. (43.22 lakh)
- Enrolment in higher education increases to 4.14 crore, crossing the 4 crore mark for first time; increase of 7.5% from 2019-20 and 21% from 2014-15
Out of 41,600 responding colleges
Private (unaided) 65%
Private (aided) 13.3%
Government Colleges 21.4%
Data reference: AISHE 2020-2021 report
The writer is Vice-Chancellor, Panjab University, Chandigarh
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