Indian university education in tatters! But who cares?

Indian university education in tatters!

But who cares?


-Dr. Abdul Ruff



Pathetically, the knowledge and expertise the university post graduates and researchers obtain as end products is not much different from college students. That is not a good trend any modern society can be really proud of.   The situation is universal – not just made in India!

As Jawaharlal Nehru, the first premier of newly independent India, wanted Indian universities to excel in academic quality and promote liberation of human minds.  He could only dream, like Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam did later as President of India, the best for his country. However, universities in India, like elsewhere, have become happy spots for certain powerful coterie very close to the ruling dispensation, both at the centre and in states,  promoting  deterioration of quality education, especially at higher level.

Many top universities train the entrants for higher studies for competitive exams, while others just exist to spend the allocations made by the governments before the academic year ends.  Quality of research has suffered worst, though in science and  technology the situation  maybe slightly better.

Today, universities have stagnated to become a mere degree awarding institutions without any regard for standards in educational processes.  The private institutions being promoted by the corporatist regime could even sell degrees at very high prices so that those who can afford could purchase them.

When the elite universities have abandoned the vital goal of enlightenment to focus instead on facilitating students’ careers, especially in finance and consulting, other universities also follow the suit forcing standards in higher education a meek causality.

Mushrooming of private universities in every major city around the world makes higher education even irrelevant, except for paper degrees meant for procuring jobs and promotion in the fast emerging competitive world.

As education has increasingly become   business to mint money, colleges and universities and their system today depend not on quality education they impart but on power of authority of Vice chancellor, registrar and security forces and even police wherever necessary.

A university stands for high values in education, for ever higher universal goals. But for this to happen highly experienced and trained teachers are a must. Motivated and committed faculty alone can save faculties form decay. However, even that is not enough.

Any deviation from the standard or quality higher education leaves the share holders in educational system in unbearable frustrations as deviations generally seek short cuts and weaken educational guidance.

University or institute is the place where one discovers an allegiance to something larger than oneself: service to a community or a cause, the practice of art or science or scholarship. The problem is not merely pedagogic but political as the elites are dedicated to something larger than themselves.


A university has to further update knowledge of students who passed out of colleges alongside promoting values and stir its students’ souls as well as enhance their career prospects. Unfortunately, now- a-days university produces the youth with PG degrees just for jobs.

Persons without enough grounding in sound value system may not be able to solve the problems out society faces today. Higher degrees obtained by immoral means make the society corrupt and valueless.

The negative trend of the deterioration of higher education is witnessed globally including in the United States and United Kingdom. American universities have replaced the traditional quest for liberal enlightenment with the goals and demands of late capitalism: consumer sovereignty, labor-market flexibility, debt financing, scientific management and marketing, and technologically driven increases in productivity. Universities have gone from nourishing their students’ spirits to facilitating their careers—especially careers in finance and consulting.


Every society tends to retain protected or neglected spaces where not-yet-rationalized traditions and communities flourish. Still, although the mills of rationalization turn slowly, they grind exceedingly fine. Max Weber believed, every practice or institution in a modern society, regardless of its original purpose, experiences an irresistible pressure to adapt to the society’s fundamental organizing principle.
 Focusing on purposive rationality, Max Weber argued that once the youth  obtain some principle of ideological organization for market competition they also achieve dominance in the spheres of production and governance, while the rest of a society’s institutions find themselves gradually but inexorably adopting the same principle. In an ideology-dominant society, everything fluid turns to stone; in a market-dominant society, everything solid melts into air. A mid path could be ideal order to be able to serve the society purposefully.

The deterioration of higher education in India, including research,  should be a serious cause of worry as quality has been sidelined by  the very system that is supposed to promote and ensure  quality in education.

The failing higher educational system is due to the fact that the 
 academicians have little guiding contact with students.

Schools have relegated the task of instructing undergraduates to meagerly compensated adjuncts while entering intense bidding wars over Health, security, and custodial services have been outsourced. Support staffs have shrunk, and benefits for university employees have been reduced while top administrators’ salaries have soared. Development offices have expanded and, like marketing departments elsewhere, have inserted themselves into policymaking.

The university, always an institution in the ancient guild sense, is now a corporation in every sense.
Intellectual property, in the form of patents and technology licensing fees, has become a major source of income for US universities, and businesses increasingly fund and hence shape academic research.  Universities, like business markets, now see students as customers for “finished products”.  Achieving customer satisfaction has meant building expensive social centers and athletic facilities even while cutting library and research budgets.

A college education is now an investment and it no longer is a rite of passage, frivolous or solemn according to the sensibility and temperament of the student.  The investment in college starts long before a young person takes out a student loan or makes a single tuition payment. The universities focus on grades, scores, the trophies. That is what you are praised for; that is what you are rewarded for. Knowledge in the process falls an unwanted victim.

One reason is that many elite universities seem to no longer care very much about what undergraduates actually experience in the classroom and outside it.  The most prestigious institutions generally form part of research universities with huge investments, which means that academic departments hire and promote senior faculty primarily on the basis of their scholarly or scientific output. Undergraduate teaching and mentoring, if any,  are secondary responsibilities.

As a result, although elite universities offer enviably low teacher-student ratios, superb facilities, and every conceivable kind of counseling service and extracurricular activity, they increasingly do not foster the essential experience of a liberal arts education as it has been traditionally understood: engaging with small groups of peers under the supervision of a skilled and devoted teacher and discussing ideas and works of art that force each student to consider the purpose of his or her life and the validity of his or her fundamental assumptions.

Humanities have lost importance in university system as technology, business administration, engineering and computer sciences  are being promoted as  the only “profitable” education. Of course, it would be nearly impossible to measure with any precision the decline of a particular kind of education. But there is objective evidence for the trends. First, during the past five decades, the proportion of undergraduates majoring in humanities decreased from approximately 14 percent to just seven percent. During roughly the same period, the proportion of business majors increased from 14 percent to 22 percent. These same decades also witnessed an upsurge in the number of students majoring in economics, which is now the most popular concentration at two-thirds of the 40 top-ranked universities. The mass migration of elite university/college graduates to careers in finance and consulting has occurred not because students find economics, finance, and business intellectually or morally fulfilling but because they fear that holding out for more interesting work would be too risky, or because they must pay off student loans, or simply because, in a winner-take-all society, who wouldn’t want to be one of the just “winners” even without enough knowledge?

A primary goal of universities and colleges is to help making souls. To acquire a soul one must sometimes quietly sit alone, at other times, preferably in one’s youth, one must sit with small groups of others, perhaps with great books open in front of them, arguing passionately about the good, the true, and the beautiful. That’s the kind of learning, untethered to practical achievements or career goals, is in danger of disappearing from campuses.

Philosopher Allan Bloom once said every educational system wants to produce a certain type of human being, and it appears that the twenty-first-century educational system wanted to produce bright, healthy, knowledgeable, hard-working, well-behaved young adults with undeveloped moral imaginations and a disinclination to question authority.  The system grew over centuries become more and more complicated as standards gave  way to  just  crude rules crippling  creativity, thereby acquiring   power outside educational goals.

It is the rich and the sons-daughters of corporate lords and government people who somehow manage to get fellowships from universities as well. The needy people do not get any financial help from universities or governments

By rewarding already-privileged young people and then adding to the advantages they enjoy as adults, higher education has become the primary mechanism of class stratification in India. Parents with the means to do so shell out money for tutors, music and dance lessons, enrichment programs, summer travel, and college application coaches; there are even outfits that provide high school students with “essay-ready” summer experiences. Well-off parents can also give large gifts to the universities/colleges of their children’s choice.

Cultivating and massaging donors is a near obsession on most campuses, and the children of sufficiently generous donors enjoy an enormous advantage in the admissions process. No one believes that such preferences are justifiable, but no university can afford to forgo them. Individual resistance and small-scale reforms cannot address such fundamental problems.

High tuition costs, massive student debt in private university system, bureaucratization, an ethos of hyper competition, and the gradual extinction of playfulness (the wellspring of creativity, in education as elsewhere) have not emerged from a vacuum. Rather, they have resulted inexorably from some of the same deep shifts in the high societies that have produced levels of economic inequality unseen hitherto.  The rise of capitalist finance, the growing power of organized money, and the widespread embrace of an ideology of endless economic growth at the cost of common masses has further complicated the educational path of common people.

True, technological innovation has made education reach the common people who can afford.

The online education may be a commercial bonanza, but it is a pedagogic dead end unless supported by regular contact sessions for getting a feel of learning.

Just by doubling the number of professors and reward them for teaching and mentorship would not automatically ensure the research prowess of institutions. Cutting-edge research is invaluable, of course, but it does little to confer a liberal education on an undergraduate who, if he or she is lucky, might get to spend two or three hours a week for three months in the presence of a brilliant researcher, in the company of dozens or even hundreds of other students.

UGC guidance and teacher training programs cannot succeed unless the system is committed to quality education at higher level.

Syllabus/curriculum plays crucial role in higher education as well. Regular revision of  syllabus (every alternative academic year)  is of paramount importance for  effective conduct of higher education.  But universities and their departments have got no time for revision of syllabus and  they just continue the same syllabus for years.

All universities have to base affirmative action on class rather than ethnicity, limit or discontinue the practice of favoring applications from athletes and the children of donors, etc. The socioeconomic factors need to be tackled at another level and poor should be given additional training. And he calls on universities to stop cooperating with the regrettably influential rankings, which measure market position rather than educational quality.

It is necessary to liquidate the student loan industry as backbone of private university system , which has been a catastrophe for everyone except the lenders. Transferring the expense of education from public funding to private debt is an example of what the political scientist Jacob Hacker has dubbed “the Great Risk Shift,” which has taken place over the past four decades: “a massive transfer of economic risk from broad structures of insurance, including those sponsored by the corporate sector as well as by government, onto the fragile balance sheets of American families.” And because “for kids to have an equal chance in college, they need to have an equal chance before they get there,” this means profound reform at the elementary and secondary levels of education as well.

USA should eliminate the practice of funding public schools through property taxes and then equalize funding, at least at the state level, as many other developed countries do. But that is their business – not India’s. Unfortunately, because the United States is far more tolerant of socioeconomic inequality than most other developed countries, this is the one reform that almost no one in authority wants to see enacted.

The political consequences of inequality in education are  more than their effects on pedagogy.
Above all, there is the need for systemic changes to make more public funding available for higher education and quality research: measures such as radically reducing defense spending, ending the criminal justice system’s reliance on mass incarceration, and raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

No doubt he understands that there is very little chance that any of these things will happen. But telling apparently impractical truths is sometimes the responsibility of intellectuals.  After all, if India wishes to be a nation of reflective, argumentative, self-governing individuals rather than insecure, uninformed, apathetic sheep, drastic measures must be taken.

Not all students are sheep, of course, and those who do fit that description should not be blamed for the ways in which they were “socialized” or for the incentives that shape their behavior in universities. Nor are parents at fault for wanting to pass on their elite status to their children; It is even possible to exonerate the universities themselves, which can hardly avoid reflecting larger social plus political trends and responding to financial pressures created by the evaporation of state and federal funding for higher education.

Research suffers the worst in quality measurement. With a view to help ensure quality in higher education, the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry has now unveiled a first-of-its-kind indigenous ranking framework for higher education institutions, in response to global rankings in which Indian universities and colleges usually do not fare too well. Indian HRD minister Smriti Irani said a new ranking framework has been drafted to provide “an Indian context to educational aspirations and needs”. The framework is different from global rankings in that it will judge institutions based on country-specific parameters.

The framework is primarily divided into two categories: Category A will cover institutions with academic autonomy and greater focus on research and category B will comprise colleges and centres affiliated to a university and more focused on teaching. Smriti Irani said the new ranking framework has been drafted to provide “an Indian context to educational aspirations and needs”. This may help institutions that conduct research in languages other than English and are focused on inclusive education.

The Indian government says it aims to come out with the first round of ranking before the next academic year. The initiative is open to both private and public institutions across all disciplines and is not mandatory. However, secretary of higher education said that all 122 centrally-funded institutions — including all central universities, IITs and IIMs —will participate in the first round of ranking which will be unveiled by April next year.

This is perhaps just a meager step by India, though taken, albeit too late, seemingly in the right direction but the universities now lobby for status through improper means.

The vital questions are: who will undertake the quality testing and what tools would be used to ascertain standards or quality of higher education and research.

A free, high-quality public education at all levels by excellent teachers and best possible methodologies is indispensable if India is to be a nation of individuals, of a welfare state with commitment to academic  excellence.

Meanwhile, students, parents, and educators who read this book might find themselves questioning conventional measures of educational quality. In considering their options when it comes to higher education, they might become more likely to ask whether a particular college is likely to stir its students’ souls as well as enhance their career prospects.

When a Vice Chancellor or Head of institution signs the certificates of those who have   passed out of institution they should be sure that the candidates have acquired knowledge and skills that are defined as academic excellence.  It is not just the responsibility of teachers alone to ensure that. If, however, they continue to just do the signing of such important documents as a casual, routine matter without their conscience playing the central role, university education and its excellence falls a helpless causality.

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