J&K Higher Education Needs a Stimulus

J&K Higher Education Needs a Stimulus

This is not about the debate of making government educational institutes better than the private ones. No disagreements about it. That, however, remains a long-term goal. Until that happens, generations could bear its brunt. Much is being said about the school education, but what’s been skipping our minds, is our higher education sector.

This is not to belittle the good intentions that some of its leaders possess, but they are limited by the bottlenecks that our bureaucracy or government imposes on them; one of them being rigid and uniform UGC statutes/regulations that mars our growth at times. The ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution is antithetical to the idea of diversity and dynamism of students, regions, and circumstances.

The government needs to tweak its rigid policy

This is not about the debate of making government educational institutes better than the private ones. No disagreements about it. That, however, remains a long-term goal. Until that happens, generations could bear its brunt. Much is being said about the school education, but what’s been skipping our minds, is our higher education sector.

This is not to belittle the good intentions that some of its leaders possess, but they are limited by the bottlenecks that our bureaucracy or government imposes on them; one of them being rigid and uniform UGC statutes/regulations that mars our growth at times. The ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution is antithetical to the idea of diversity and dynamism of students, regions, and circumstances.

As far as J&K is concerned, our school education (read private schools) is, by and large, at par with the standards with mainland India. Were it not for the private sector, especially post 1990, the schooling scenario in the state would have been pathetic. Once our students graduate from their higher secondary school, the government higher education institutes become their natural choice. Why this paradigm-shift in their perception? How does the government perform so dismally at the school level and then all of a sudden become elite education providers at the higher education level? Apart from the fact that the administration and faculty are highly qualified at the University/College level, I don’t think there is much for the students there. This is why thousands of our students go outside the state for higher education. In reality, it is the absence of a vibrant private sector that leaves students- who want to stay home, with no other choice. The private sector in higher education- until recently- has only been B.Ed program, so that they make money out of it. It was a degree-mill that capitalized on the fact that the duration of the said program was a year less than what it was in other states. For most of them, it was only about making some quick bucks from non-local students, and quality was an unheard term. Besides, there are handfuls of private colleges, which again, with all their sincerity and vigor, aren’t able to make a big name in the sector. This is because they need to cruise through multilayered regulatory and accreditation authorities, who decide everything for them. The fee is decided by them. Why can’t the market decide it?

I’m aware that education in India is not-for-profit, even though all the private schools/colleges would be shut tomorrow if it’s implemented in letter and spirit. They are anyways making profits through the back door, so why this hypocrisy? The for-profit organizations should also be allowed in the education sector and taxed like other businesses. The government sector may follow the mantra of ‘Vidya not being for sale’, but private players would never be interested. That issue can be left for another time. Today, the point I am trying to drive across is that schools enjoy impunity to a great extent but higher education is micromanaged by the government when it comes to the private sector. That’s why it’s non-existent, and hundreds of crores of our money go outside the J&K.

Forget about profits, if an institute wants to provide superlative facilities to its students, and is ready to spend on it, how can it charge the same fee that any other private institute- following the basic minimum requirements- charge? Until the public sector improves, the private players need to be entertained. There’s nothing for the private players in higher education in J&K. This is the reason that there’s investment in every possible area, from nursing homes to schools, admission consultancies to stationery, from Creches to coaching centers, but not in the field of formal higher education. How on earth can a college be asked to pay UGC scale salary to its faculty while a professional program like BBA’s fees is 22,000 per annum? How can world-class facilities be provided to the students, if that be the vision of the college leadership? In fact, this would result in either the underpayment of their staff or ridiculously substandard education. Then, even the Principal and the permanent faculty are also to be recruited by the affiliating University, and the curriculum is no exception.  Where’s the scope for somebody’s innovation, vision or independent thinking? It’s creating small replicas of the University, rather than facilitating others to realize their full potential. Yes, a minimum standard to be met for the recognition is understandable, but autonomy thereafter is a must for any organization to be dynamic.

The government policy should not be confined to increasing the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER), which has just crossed 25% nationally. The focus should also be on alleviating the quality of existing student experience, and that is where autonomy to a great extent will help. In the case of J&K, the situation is worse. There are thousands of private colleges in other states. There are hundreds of Private Universities in mainland India. In J&K, there is not even a single private University. Something is specifically wrong in our handling of private higher education in the state. The main recommendation is to ensure private colleges meet minimum requirements. Their functioning must be overseen. However, they should be allowed to hire their manpower as per their vision. They should be allowed to charge the fees, in accordance with the facilities they provide. Once private players jump in, the competition will result in higher quality of education, and students will be the beneficiaries. Once such top-class institutes are established where the market decides the fees, the government can mandate it to reserve a quota for poor students, so that even they get to attend elite institutes. Why kill it by unnecessary regulations?

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