New Delhi: Stating that the private providers in higher education have largely grown in a policy vacuum, Vice President Mohammed Hamid Ansari today said a bill to regulate the establishment of private universities, introduced in Parliament in 2005, was shelved after opposition from various political parties and private players.
The Vice President, who was addressing after releasing and presenting to President Pranab Mukherjee, the first copy of book titled 'The Education President', compiled and brought out by International Institute for Higher Education Research and Capacity Building of the O.P. Jindal Global University, here, said the country's higher education sector has witnessed tremendous growth since independence.
"From 20 universities in 1950, we now have 677 universities of which 45 are central universities and 51 are deemed institutions of national importance. A feature of this expansion, especially in the last 25 years, has been the increasing participation of the private sector in higher education and, according to the UGC, there are presently 239 recognized, private institutions established under various regulations," said Vice President Ansari.
"It is generally accepted that higher education is an effective investment, both for individual mobility and for social development. Higher education institutions today have the role of imparting knowledge, training the minds of a new generation, and equipping them with intellectual and practical tools to respond to the economic and social demands of society," he added.
The Vice President said the book looks at the catalyzing role the President of India has played in his capacity as the visitor of 116 central institutes.
"The architects of our polity had deliberately crafted this role in the governance structure of institutions of higher learning for the highest Constitutional office of the land; a similar role has been given to the Governors in their respective states. This indicates the importance assigned to higher education in the development of the nation. This book is intended to rekindle a debate on the governance of institutes of higher learning in India. High quality institutions and a healthy higher education sector is an essential dimension in our quest to becoming a knowledge society," he added.
Vice President Ansari said that the President, who has taken great interest in matters relating to higher education, had occasion earlier this year to express concern over this state of affairs, adding correctives are piecemeal, inadequately implemented and insufficiently funded.
The Vice President also expressed concern over skewed sectoral and regional growth of private institutions, the lack of research orientation and the growing financial burden in form of educational loans.
"The cost of higher education in private institutions constitutes a substantial financial burden, thereby making it increasingly more difficult for economically weaker segments to use education as an opportunity equalizer. This becomes a cause of concern since opportunities for gainful employment are not getting enhanced proportionately. Available data from Department of Financial Services, Ministry of Finance shows that by December 2014, some 30 lakh students had availed educational loans amounting to Rs. 70,475 crore," Vice President Ansari said.
"The skewed growth of private providers towards professional courses is another issue of concern. Most private self-financing institutions offer education in only a few disciplines - engineering, medicine and management - are considered most desired. They account for around 80 per cent of engineering and over 50 per cent of medical 'seats' available to students. It is, with a few exceptions, not much concerned about social sciences, fine arts etc essential for all round development of citizens in our society with a multitude of problems relating to accommodation of diversity. The private institutions as a whole lack research orientation in higher education and have yet to demonstrate capacity to create knowledge on a sufficient scale," he added.
Given these limitations and keeping in mind the egalitarian objectives of our polity, Vice President Ansari said there is a need for an effective and transparent regulatory mechanism that can encourage private investment in improving the quality of state universities, starting skills development courses and capacity development of faculty.
"These regulations need to be strong to ensure that private universities are well governed and provide quality education," he added.