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Digitizing economy and challenges in India’s higher Education

Digitizing economy and challenges in India’s higher Education

*Dr. Rajiv Khosla

In the ancient era, teaching-learning process was simple and  ‘Gurukuls’  performed the role which the modern schools play. But during the course of development of nations, educational systems too underwent transformation to churn out the workforce as required. With the advent of first industrial revolution (the 18th century in Britain) wherein factory system was born and the task of weaving of textiles by hand was entrusted to the textile mills through machines working with water and steam, educational system underwent change and started producing skilled workers ready to work on machines. Similarly, when the second industrial revolution took place (attributed to electricity generation and electric motor) in the early 20th century, which propped up mass production, educational sector started producing engineers and managers who could work as per the industrial requirements. When third industrial revolution brought in the electronic age (with the help of computers in 1970s), again the educational system catered to the industry by providing computer engineers and scientists who could work in tandem with the growing needs of industry. Having said that does not connote that synchronization between industry and academia is successful in all the countries equally. Primarily, the developed countries took a lead in bridging this gap whereas developing countries continued to confront the industry-academia gap. Now the fourth revolution (Internet of Things since 2000s) is under way and conditions are expected to deteriorate further for the developing countries.
Fourth industrial revolution is digitizing and integrating all the processes in the organizations. From the placing of an order for raw material to the manufacturing of finished products and identifying and categorizing the customer needs to market them the product, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and robotics are being roped in. In light of the intensified and liberated cross border use of automated technologies by the multinational companies of developed countries like Uber, Airbnb, Amazon etc. and the prospective use of robots like Sophia (which was recently given citizenship by Saudi Arabia), Siri (by Apple) and Alexa (by Amazon) in future, developing countries are further expected to go down. Deficiency of protectionist policies that can restrain such cross border advancement of artificial intelligence, may also lead to an erosion of the advantage of low labour cost manufacturing or servicing with which the developing countries like India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia are endowed today. Where on one hand, technological challenges are assuming dangerous dimensions, on the other; existing educational system is relentlessly unequipped to roll out the manpower to tame the monster.     
Categorically, the academic system in both the public and private sector colleges and universities need to be revamped as per the requirements. Both are grappling with inherent problems, direct reflection of which is casted on the poor skilling of students. To the extent public sector institutions are concerned, since these are largely funded by the state and central government and controlled and monitored by professional institutes recognized by the parliament and the agencies created by UGC, their interfere in day-to-day functioning can’t be ruled out. In majority of the cases, problems start with the appointment of vice-chancellor itself. Generally such a person is appointed as vice-chancellor who is either close to a particular political party or has greased the palm of bureaucrats. He further appoints a camaraderie of incompetent and power hungry representatives who are miles away from their primary duty i.e. academics, research and administrative errands of the general public. Apart from corruption, there are plenty of other serious concerns like adhoc running of system, non-payment of salaries in time, permanently appointed faculties paid equivalent to temporary faculties in initial years of their appointment etc. which shows devil may care attitude of the policymakers.   
For the scenario prevailing in private sector, the less said is better. Complete commercialization of education has shaped up in the private sector where degrees are being sold like a commodity. Thrust of private institutions is toward the quantity of students rather than the quality of education. Many of these institutes have established their admission offices in major cities and towns and keep liaisoning with local schools and tuition centers for admissions in their degree and diploma courses. Regular and learned faculty members are seldom appointed, leave aside the pay scales. Whatever research projects are gained, they are through the commission paid to the bureaucrats/selection machinery in Delhi. Parents and students are trapped through the stunts like impeccable placement record, rankings and ratings, infrastructure etc.. Innocent public fail to understand this vicious cycle wherein HR personnel of companies are bribed by these institutes to handover the offer letters (appointment letters are never given) at a hefty package to few students. Besides, the ranking and rating companies charge certain lakhs to accord a high ranking or rating. Furthermore, attractive infrastructure is raised with the loan money thereby drawing another fear of faltering in terms of return of loans in case the admission drop down. Thus, a complete game of sale and purchase of degrees through money comes into the picture.
Amid these deteriorating academic standards, to think of creating world class colleges and universities is only a distant dream. Recent Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2018 highlighted the degrading of premier higher educational Indian institutes due to a low research score and slow upgrading of campuses as per international standards. Indian Institute of Science which was hovering in the 201-250 band in the previous rankings has come down to 251-300 band. Similarly, IIT-Delhi and IIT-Kanpur have fallen from the 401-500 band to 501-600 band. IIT-Madras fell from the 401-500 band to the 601-800 band. Overall India’s performance has deteriorated with number of its universities in the top 1,000 declining from 31 to 30 in comparison to the previous rankings. At such a vital juncture, government cannot close its eyes by allocating peanuts to the higher educational institutions (in budget) and put the ball in court of the private sector.
Since the problem is persisting on sides of both the public and private sector, its treatment too should be undertaken at both the fronts. To the extent public sector is concerned, there is an emergent need to provide additional funding (as per the report of Kothari Commission) so that the problems like deficiency of equipments and manpower, 50% or delayed salaries to the educationists, working of permanent faculties for three years on basic pay etc. can be weeded out. Further, the screws on bureaucracy need to be tightened by keeping a strict vigil on the corruption at all the levels and positions. The spies so appointed should work on a principle that everyone is corrupt and try to lay down a trap to scare them at all the times.
In context of private sector, immediately a regulatory body (to be headed by a team of prominent educationists) need to be constituted which could actually determine the number of seats and fees to be charged in each course besides finalizing the vocational and technical subjects that are required to be taught mandatorily as per the industry requirement. This regulatory body should work in liaison with the corporate world and keep making changes in the curricula as per the existing trends. Further, if a private institute is found misleading in terms of conditions related to appointment and salaries of faculties, research undertaken or placements, its affiliation should be with-drawn immediately .
Only the refurbishment of educational standards alongwith stern actions can help us to churn out the much needed skills that can actually domesticate the digital monster.
* Prof. & Head, University School of Business, Chandigarh

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