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MINT COLUMN: Allow foreign varsities, but do your homework

MINT COLUMN: Allow foreign varsities, but do your homework
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First Published: Mon, Jul 02 2007. 12 46 AM IST
Updated: Mon, Jul 02 2007. 12 46 AM IST
About 93% of our youth in the age group of 18-24 years don’t go for higher education. As per the recommendation of the National Knowledge Commission, if 15% of our youth have to go for higher education, we need to increase the number of universities from the 367 that we have at present to 1,500 in the next eight years. Even for the 7% who seek higher education in India, there are not enough institutes.
Every year, over a lakh of our students seek admissions abroad, spending about $4 billion (Rs16,400 crore) annually. The rush for seats in metros is maddening. Even third-rate institutes are overwhelmed with students. ‘Donation’ of about Rs2 lakh is being collected even for a BBA seat.
There is an urgent need in our country to expand capacity of higher education. To bridge this huge supply-demand gap, one of the recommendations of the Knowledge Commission is to allow foreign universities in the country.
The government, it seems, is all set to follow this recommendation. This is a pragmatic move, but there are some concerns too.
There is a possibility that the craze for a foreign label and lack of information about these institutes can leave thousands of students duped by fly-by-night operators, especially the franchisees.
The government has to be selective in allowing entry to foreign universities. Only those institutions that are accredited by reputed organizations should be given permission to start campuses here.
In the field of management, only those which are accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) or the European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS) should be allowed. They should beasked to invest directly without any franchisee. Such accredited institutes have strong pedagogic systems and processes, and they are unlikely to cut corners for making a quick buck.
But once allowed, they should not be troubled with bureaucratic bottlenecks. They should be given freedom in students’ selection, curriculum development, fee structure and so on. Their high quality auditing of processes, pedagogy, global alumni and networking will elevate the quality of management education here.
Their best practices are likely to have a positive induction affect. Their presence will stir intense competition among business schools to attract their principal customers, that is, students and recruiters, and also their internal customers, the faculty, whose salaries will witness a new high. Many of our top brands, which are blinded by arrogance and complacency, will be forced to wake up. This will greatly benefit the relevant stakeholders of Indian business schools.
On the flip side, the inequity in access to quality education will become more pronounced as these foreign institutes with their high fees will cater to a small, uppersegment.
Our government can’t afford to be complacent by just opening the doors to foreign players. This move has to be accompanied by strong proactive measures to elevate the standards of local institutes. Otherwise, for the majority of our students, quality education will remain a distant dream.
Since independence, our spending on education has not exceeded 5% of our gross domestic product (GDP). This has to drastically increase. Most of our universities and colleges are on the verge of collapse. The Prime Minister has admitted this in his recent speech at the University of Mumbai.
Besides overhauling the existing infrastructure, new institutes have to be set up with a revolutionary zeal.Good institutes in the private sector should also be encouraged to increase capacity by scrapping bureaucratic hurdles.
The enrolment and general quality of higher education is to a great extent dependent on the quality of primary and secondary education.
Without strengthening the foundation, we can’t expect a great superstructure. One cause of the high dropout rate in our schools is the pedagogy. The dissemination process creates alienation and makes the child develop contempt for learning.
How to make the learning process more interesting so that a student becomes a lifelong learner is a big challenge for teachers.
Some practices like limiting class size to 25 for better individual attention, experiential learning, etc., have to be followed. Each student is unique in her or his own learning ability and the school’s job should be to stimulate and develop these to the individual’s highest potential.
We have much to learn from some foreign educational institutions in this regard. But the real challenge is to act and act fast.
Premchand Palety is director of Centre for Forecasting & Research (C-Fore) in New Delhi, from where he keeps a close eye on India’s business schools. Comments are welcome at businesscase@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Jul 02 2007. 12 46 AM IST