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Grading Indian education

Some sort of a global ranking of universities has come out, and it seems that Indian universities have done rather badly. The highest ranked Indian institution is Bombay IIT at 187th in the list and IIT Delhi at the 202nd place.

Among Asian universities alone, the picture is not much better — IIT Bombay is at the 36th place, followed by the IITs. The regular universities are further behind — the University of Calcutta coming at the 99th place.

To those of us making a living out of education, this does not come as a surprise. Politicians have long controlled all aspects of higher education, with mainly two goals in mind. One is the goal of creating influence, which is perhaps the primary goal of politicians. Universities provide a fertile breeding ground for their lieutenants — colleges provide the foot soldiers. So the students’ union elections get the big parties involved. Often government machinery, including the police, is brought out to influence the students’ election.The university administration, appointed by the government, often takes sides in these elections. The result is an atmosphere of distrust and fear,  and a sense in the campus that the administration exists only for a part of the university population.

The goal of creating influence and following is also behind various laws regarding reservations in the student and faculty populations. Reservations ensure that a large section of the students often do not meet the same criteria for admission as others. And perhaps more importantly, many of the faculty are downright incompetent. This last is not only a result of official reservation policies, but also because `unofficial quotas’ lead to hiring/promotion of incompetent people simply because they are close to some politician, either by birth, or by stated political affiliation.

The other goal for the politicians is of course money. Education has a lot of money in it,  both government and private. Nearly all private colleges and universities, mushrooming around the country, have the sole aim of making money for their `owners’ who usually double as principals or rectors. The promise of a degree, usually not much better than a vocational diploma, nets a huge `capitation fee’ in addition to the usual admission and tuition fees. Since the supreme court put a cap on such fees, these are taken in cash, usually without a receipt. This leads to several million rupees of unaccounted money for a small college, to much more for the `universities’. The big owners are themselves politicians, but many more colleges simply provide a cut to the politician who arranged for the land and necessary permits. This of course does not directly affect the IITs or the government  universities, unlike the other kind of interference, but this does create an overall atmosphere of corruption and a lack of faith in the education system. Anyone with a lot of money can  get into one of those private colleges even if they qualify for the government colleges, and once they are in, they must be granted a degree, since the colleges have taken much more money for their admission than they are legally allowed to take, and much more than is really required for a good education.

Everyone suffers as a result, as we can see from the university rankings.Is there a way out? Sure, but it requires political will, judicial action (or perhaps judicial activism) and perhaps a lot more activism from the people.

Perhaps I will compile a short list of people in the faculty of various universities who have close relationships with political parties or politicians. Interested readers can then supply more names and/or submit RTI queries to the universities in question regarding educational qualifications of such people. And of course there are other reasons for the decline of education in India, in particular in the IITs, some of which I can also discuss. All in another post.

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