Private universities: A healing agent to the forever sickest kid of the Government, ‘the Higher Education Sector’

By Dhanuraj & Deepthi Mary Mathew*

Even with its claim of 100% of literacy, the quality of higher education in the state is always under scrutiny. The Universities in the state are often characterised by their out modelled courses, outdated syllabus and their delay in publishing results. The Universities failed in moulding the students to compete in the global job market and also making Kerala as one of the hubs for attracting the best talents from around the world for research and innovation. The State has distanced itself from innovative ideas and emerging trends in the globalising world. Ever since its inception, any visible, innovative progress in these universities cannot be tracked. Even now we cannot expect any major restructuring in these universities, as they are highly dependent on the government and the decision-making processes are highly politicised. Each and every decision made by these universities, from the appointments to publishing results, should be in consent to the government. What is witnessing in the higher educational sector in Kerala is a phase of stagnation. We are still rowing in the same old boat, but the world has moved on a great deal.  The number of patents produced by the universities in the state is negligible. This proves the least importance assigned by the universities in the state for innovation and R&D. It is a heavy irony, even with a sizeable number of vacant seats in both government and private colleges, there is a continuous flow of students to other states and even abroad to pursue their higher studies. This throws light on the fact that the students are opting for new and emerging courses, so as to make them eligible for the competitive global market. Since 2008, student out-migrants has become the number one group among the out-migrants. There were 3.1 lakh students among the out-migrants from the state in 2011, which constitutes 30.5 % of the total out-migrants (Kerala Perspective Plan, Vision 2030). A large clump of students is also moving abroad for pursuing their higher studies. This can be attributed as the failure of state universities to cater the growing demands of the student community and also lower quality higher education provided by them. With its widening fiscal deficit, we cannot expect the government to invest heavily in the education sector to upgrade the quality of education in the state.

Granting autonomy to colleges was a welcoming step from the part of the government, as it will infuse competition into the system. But ‘Autonomy’, as stated by Cyriac Thomas, Chairman of the Committee on Private Universities, ‘seems to be having not much of a meaning in the State and Central Universities as the actual strings of control rest with the government’. It will be easy for the government to pop into the administrative matters of the colleges and regulate them according to its wish. Another significant step that should be taken by the government is to allow the private universities to enter the fray. It is astonishing, with a higher level of literacy in the state and more than 200 private universities in the country, none of them is operating in the state. The discouraging policies pursued by various Governments are preventing the private universities from entering the state. When the universities should focus more on the quality of the education and adapt to the changing trends, it is shocking that they are busy in fixing the criteria and quality of their own appointments at the highest level.Given the high literacy level in the state and with the adoption of sound policies, Kerala can be transformed as the ‘Silicon Valley’ for education. With its favourable climatic condition and peaceful atmosphere, Kerala will be able to attract both local and international students, if it can project itself as the educational destination in the country. The entry of private universities will facilitate competition, thereby ensuring the quality of education. Private universities will be free from both academic and administrative control of the government, which imparts more flexibility in its working.  This gives them much freedom to offer such courses and articulate syllabus according to the changing needs of the global market. The private universities in the country offer a wider range of interdisciplinary courses, mainly provided by the foreign universities. The private universities will ensure better infrastructure, good quality teachers, eminent speakers and much more to allure students to their institutions. The competitive market mechanism will ensure healthy results from these private universities, as it is based on the principle of ‘survival of the fittest’. The present day controversies surrounding the public universities in Kerala are not at all a welcome sign for the future of higher education in Kerala. Kerala is not able to attract sizeable investments in the industrial sector, for which the state came to be known as an industrially backward state. There are some factors that hinders the industrial development in the state. If we don’t have a comparative advantage in the industrial sector, then we should look for the next avenues where we can excel.  What Kerala can do in this stage, is to push reforms in the educational sector by encouraging private universities across the state. The government should be able to portray the state as the educational destination in the country. If the state is successful in doing so, the influx of students into the state will help the government in earning a considerable amount of revenue. Private universities can be the game changer in the educational sector of Kerala and even with its economy. If the Private universities could attract students from outside Kerala to their high-quality programs, it could act as a checkmate to the public universities in Kerala that could eventually help in cleansing the higher education in the long run.

The government should be able to withdraw itself from the political game over the private universities and should amend its legislation allowing smooth functioning of the private universities in the state. The government should thus act as a catalyst in reforming the higher educational sector in Kerala and make it the ‘ultimate destination for education’ for students from across the globe.

*D. Dhanuraj is Chairman and Deepthi Mary Mathew is Research Assistant with Centre for Public Policy Research. Views of the authors expressed are personal

This article is a reproduced version of the original article which was published in Pallikkuttam; a Rajagiri Educational Magazine

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