Sunday, January 24, 2010

Higher Education and Profit

Chidambaram spoke at the convocation of St Xavier’s College, Calcutta, on January 17.

He began by demolishing the general view that Indians are fans of higher education. He pointed out that less than 12 per cent of school-going children were able to find place in colleges or universities. The world average is 45 per cent. Given that there is a shortage of places in higher education institutions, how do we fill the gap? Chidambaram claimed that “Higher education — or what passes as higher education in India — is, save a few shining examples, either a money-spinning business or a moth-eaten system.
He said that higher educational institutions fell into three categories. There were government-run universities. He was scathing about them: “They are no different from any government office. As a matter of tiresome duty, they produce graduates and post-graduates every year, the vast majority of whom are no more ‘educated’ at the end of their terms than they were when they first enrolled in the college or university.”
A second group consists of elitist institutions, run with the support of the government. He conceded that these were often well-run but attacked them on the grounds of elitism.It was the third set of institutions that drew most of his ire: “For them, education is commerce. Since demand for seats and colleges far exceeded the supply through legitimate sources there was a huge business opportunity that was grabbed with both hands by shrewd business persons. The bulk of these self-financing colleges and self-styled universities are no more than money-spinning businesses that exploit the demand-supply gap.
While I agree that the higher education system should be based on philanthropy of the person who sets it up, the number of universities that need to be set up are far too many that can be set up with such motives. Even the second group of elitist institutions, that Chidambaram refers to, are too slow to expand. For example, though IITs were setup more than fifty years back, the total number of undergraduate students admitted to all IITs is lesser than the total number of undergraduate students admitted to VIT, for example. When governments have insufficient funds to provide the population with the necessary education and when elitist institutions are unwilling to expand, it is not unwise to let private businesses cater to the education needs of those who can pay. When private institutions come in, they should be allowed to make a profit. Why can't check and balances on the output be implemented?.

On the other hand, basic education (upto XII standard) should not be for profit. That would imply that the vast majority of the students will be educated well, compared to now when good quality education at the primary level is often provided only in private schools, which make a huge profit.

As Sanghvi says,

If we are to drive out the profiteers and we are to raise our percentages of college-going youth, then we cannot do so by depending solely on the government whose institutions Chidambaram so eloquently damned in the same speech. We need to evolve a new model of higher education that may well use government financing but which functions without governmental corruption and inertia. As of now, no model exists that fits the bill.


Ashwin Rao said...

It would be nice if we could have figures indicating the fraction of GDP being devoted to education vs the fraction of population being educated (at least till higher education) for the G-7, Scandinavian countries, India, and China. I believe that China will have a nice story to tell in this regard.

Rainbow Scientist said...

This is an interesting debate. If you don't allow to make profit, why would any businessman be interested in investing money and time. and since government can not provide education for all, we need private institutions. Not-for-profit institutes can only be run by big business groups (which should be very much encouraged as well).

Instead, I am all for ranking of institutes and schools yearly by an independent body. Ranks could be based on infrastructure, quality of education, quality of labs, playgrounds, library, placement of students etc etc. and it should be highly publicized in all national and local papers. This will automatically insure that schools will try to improve their ranking thereby improving the quality.

Also, even the most expensive schools should admit certain percentage of students from low economic section based on merit.

we need better regulations for higher education instead of stopping of all players.