By Rajiv Khosla
Dr Rajiv Khosla is Professor and Head, University School of Business, Chandigarh University
In the ancient era, the teaching-learning process was simple and ‘Gurukuls’ performed the role of modern schools today. However, during the course of development of nations, educational systems too underwent transformation to churn out the workforce as required. With the advent of the first industrial revolution, (the 18th century in Britain) wherein factory system was born, the educational system underwent changes and started producing skilled workers ready to work on machines. Similarly, when the second industrial revolution took place (electricity generation and electric motor) in the early 20th century, which propped up mass production, the educational sector started producing engineers and managers who could work as per the industrial requirements. When the third industrial revolution brought in the electronic age (with the help of computers), 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, it does not connote that synchronisation between industry and academia is successful in all the countries equally. Primarily, the developed countries took a lead in bridging this gap whereas developing nations continued to confront the industry-academia gap. Now the fourth revolution (Internet of Things) is underway, and conditions are expected to deteriorate further for the developing countries.
Industrial revolution 4.0 can erode the competitive advantage
The fourth industrial revolution is digitising and integrating all processes in the organisations. From the placing of an order for the raw material to the manufacturing of finished products and identifying and categorising 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 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 service 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.
Need to recover from the rot
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, a direct reflection of which is cast on the poor skilling of students. To an extent, public sector institutions are more concerned since these are largely funded by the state and central government and controlled and monitored by professional institutes recognised by the parliament and the agencies created by University Grants Commission (UGC). Their interference in day-to-day functioning can’t be ruled out. In a majority of cases, problems start with the appointment of the vice-chancellor itself. Apart from corruption, there are plenty of other pressing concerns like the ad-hoc running of the system, non-payment of salaries in time, permanently appointed faculties paid equivalent to temporary faculties in initial years of their appointment, and so on, which shows the detrimental attitude of the policymakers.
For the current scenario of the private sector, the less said is better. The complete commercialisation of education has emerged in the private sector where degrees are being sold like commodities. The thrust of private institutions is toward the number 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 centres for admissions in their degree and diploma courses. Regular and learned faculty members are seldom appointed. Whatever research projects are gained, they are through the commission paid to the bureaucrats or selection machinery in Delhi. Parents and students are trapped through the stunts like impeccable placement record, rankings and ratings, infrastructure, and so on. The innocent public fails 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. Thinking of creating world-class colleges and universities amid these deteriorating academic standards 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 a 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, the Government cannot close its eyes to allocation peanuts to the higher educational institutions (in the budget) and put the ball in the court of the private sector.
What needs to be done?
Since the problem persists on both sides, the public and the 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 equipment and manpower, 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 changing trends. Further, if a private institute is found misleading in terms of conditions related to appointment and salaries of faculties, research undertaken or placements, immediately its affiliation should be withdrawn.
Only the refurbishment of educational standards along with stern actions can help us churn out the much-needed skills that can actually domesticate the digital monster.
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