Sunday, July 5, 2009

Higher Education....A Royal Mess

In the previous two posts I recounted my nephew's experiences in trying to get through various hurdles so that he could pursue higher education in the engineering stream.

I have been interacting with many friends, parents of teens in similar age group, a few teachers and students who have just completed their engineering studies. The emerging picture is very confusing. I was aghast at the state of affairs and it will take more than a Kapil Sibal to even guage the extent of the problem before he can attempt to set it right.

Entire focus of the system is to eliminate and choose just a few with the requisite marks. The argument that is often made is the sheer number of students who aspire to be engineers. It is believed that neither can educational facilities be created to provide engineering education to say a million students nor are there adequate opportunities for so many engineers.

On reflection, many questions keep cropping up in my mind. I have no immediate answers but it is important that we collectively as a nation find the answers.

  1. Expansion of top class education facilities to increase student intake by a multiple,
  2. Facilitating the creation of professional faculty and sustained upgradation of the existing one,
  3. Constantly updating syllabus and teaching methods,
  4. Increasing industry - academia interaction (Probably happening in a few post-graduate streams),
  5. Increasing focus on "frugal engineering" and "relevant low cost technologies"
  6. Facilitate setting up of advanced engineering industries in India such that adequate opportunities are available for these students. A case in point is ISRO is facing an acute manpower crunch and we have not been able to create a steady supply line of engineers for this institution. Further, most IIT students seek opportunities outside India or take up consulting jobs.

It is not difficult to do this but we always seem to offer the same excuse that "resources are scarce. Just as we seem to find money for defence and other important areas, why can we not accord the same priority to education. After all this investment pays off by ensuring all round development in the country.

We have let matters remain unattended till the "dam has burst" and now resort to adhoc knee jerk reactions by setting up new IITs (which was prompted more as an answer to the reservation controversy) all of a sudden or trying to rush through the "Foreign Universities" bill facilitating their entry into India.

I believe this is a subject that needs serious and constant attention and resources. It is important that the chronic problems affecting higher education are identified and a clear roadmap set as to how these will be tackled. Only then will we have a vibrant education sector that will serve the requirements of the country.


Sraboney said...

The other problem with higher education is that it is not focussed on research...Neither the IITs or the other universities do much...It's sad...In the US, all professors have to do research/write papers if they want tenure...Private funds help research...Now you know why they have progressed and we haven't...I know university professors who haven't published a single research paper nor are they interested in doing so...

Vinod_Sharma said...

Education has, surprisingly, never be the focus whereas it should have there right at the top from 1947. The knee-jerk reactions like the one you have mentioned have little to with education; they have everything to do with petty politics. And that is a real shame.

As Bones says, there is zero focus on research and on establishing new frontiers of technology and knowledge. That is one reason why - in addition to indadequate opportunities - that the best rush abroad. Unless everything is addressed holistically, thingsa re not going to improve much.

Sibal seems to be on the right path. Let us see how much he can deliver. But who is accountable for keeping Arjun Singh on earlier for five years when it was clear that he was just playing havoc?

Solilo said...

The spoon feeding method is what needs to be checked. As Bones mentioned there should be emphasis on research. Even at school level, we are allowed to copy-paste stuff or get the work done by someone else where as in US students are required to come up with their own analysis on the situations and no two answers should be same. Plagiarism is a serious issue.

We have potential but our education focuses on us being followers. I have seen the same at work place too.

Gopinath's "Artickles" said...

Education is a sector which needs a leap and not a step forward. Unfortunately, it is trudging along slowly and quietly much like the students overburdened with a vast portion to cover and heavy books to carry. Higher education in India means more mugging and fatter books. Period.

Kislay said...

Wholeheartedly agree Sir , being fresh out of college . Points 2,3 and 4 are an absolute must . Most of what I studied as a CS Major is not of use to me . The only useful thing I got was the degree and the stamp of the University .

manju said...

Having two children currently studying at the post-graduate level, I can state with confidence that the Indian education system is in a shambles.

You have considered some important points that need to be focussed on. Upgrading syllabus constantly is certainly imperative today when technologies change from minute to minute!

Measures also need to be taken to ensure that faculty is dedicated as well as well qualified- not just biding time till they secure teaching positions in educational institutions abroad or consulting jobs.

BK Chowla said...

Education has never ever been the priority of any Govt in the last 60 yrs.Though,Sibal,seems to have some direction but I do not know as to how far can he go ,politically.I do not know if the lack of resources would ever be an excuse.If it is,let us remove the commando security of one VIP and you will have enough resources.

Mavin said...


You have hit the nail on its head. We also have the problem of plagiarism.

Of the many scientific papers published it is also important to know how many are original.

Mavin said...


Arjun Singh was a complete disaster. It appears all that he did was out of vindictiveness for being relegated to a seemingly "less important" ministry.

We have to start some where and be realistic about time schedules for achieving any change.

This is not just a bruise where a band aid would suffice.

Mavin said...


Our system does not encourage experimentation and generally students become risk averse.

The systems rewards inefficiency as long as the process and rules have been followed.

This does not foster independent thinking and a spirit of enquiry.

Mavin said...


Our systems and rules are archaic and rigid. This itself stifles interest in studying.

Primary and secondary school education is pathetic. Students passing out of supposedly English medium schools cannot speak one sentence properly.

A total revamp is necessary.

Mavin said...

Hi Kislay,

You have been through this very recently and your experience is fresh and very contextual.

I look forward to reading your personal experiences.

Mavin said...


We need to restore education back to that important pedestal it once occupied.

Teachers need to be paid well and should also be a respected profession in society. This will prompt intelligent people take this as a career and not just a "no-choice" job.

Mavin said...


You have a point. Wasteful expenditure can be trimmed and judiciously used in education.

Anrosh said...

those new iit's to produce engineers ? ! are you sure ?

if one conducts a study on how many engineer still continue with the profession, one will be alarmed.

of course education means giving one the choice to do what they want.

setting up new IIT's is one of the biggest mistakes that the government can make. it is like saying harvard and MIT have only so many seats -- let's drum up the business.

in fact curriculums in india should be revamped.

analysis, than "mugga maro" should be the motto.
practical applications than putting forth a few problems.
expression of concepts , the art of marketing a project than doing it and keeping it under the wraps should be the goal.
i hear kindergarten kids have too much work.
eduction in india ROBS kids of who they are as children.
fine arts and music, what is that? creativity --no no. read it and write what you have read. thinking is a exercise in futile in the indian education system.
politics is meant for the guy on the street and no political imperatives of the decisions taken by the government are constructively evaluated in the classroom. the school is a world in faux pas. Everything is kept for when she graduates out and no one understands what they are doing - the result is IAS officers who has no idea what they are doing with ancient policies and framework running the country.

. MBA's at the age of 23-- do they even know what they are doing ? the unlearning that i had to do was way too much -- time and energy wasted ...

mavin, i am not being negative, i am just calling a spade a spade and that is not very good to hear.

Mavin said...


You have said it. Education seems to have become dysfunctional.

You have been candid and that is what makes reading your posts / comments such a pleasure.