The most eloquent comment on the crisis in Indian higher education comes in the form of the long lines of anxious students outside colleges at this time of year. Students, who have worked hard to get marks in the nineties, fear they may not get admission to the colleges of their choice because there are ‘cut-off’ rates that can even be 100 per cent. The very idea of ‘cut-offs’ is peculiar to India, as are these queues outside colleges. But this is so normal for us that the media paid more attention to the ugly spat between the UGC (University Grants Commission) and the Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University.
The UGC should not have interfered in the university’s right to devise its own courses, but the academics, activists and political commentators who supported the Vice-Chancellor failed to ask why there should not be autonomy all the way down the line. They never asked why the licence quota raj that controls the building of more colleges and universities should not be ended. It is because nobody asks the right questions that standards of higher education are so low today that Indian universities and colleges never rank among the best in the world.
Another question we do not ask is why no former Minister of Human Resource Development has ever managed to end the licence raj. Why has it been allowed to breed corruption, poor standards of learning and education mafias? Since new colleges and universities are built by quota under the licence raj, it is usually senior political leaders who end up getting the licences. This enables them to grab expensive urban land in the name of building a college or an institute of technical training.
It was this licence raj that prevented Kapil Sibal from allowing 1,500 new universities to be built. The former HRD Minister told me in 2009 that India needed 1,500 new universities to be built urgently to cope with the rapidly increasing numbers of students who now choose to go to college. Ironically, those who do not manage to find admission in Indian colleges find it quite easy to find a place in foreign universities.
So it is not the lack of ability that cuts short their learning, but lack of opportunity. All this has happened in the name of making college education affordable for students from financially backward communities. In fact, what the leftist thinkers who control academia did was restrict learning and lower standards. The only solution now is to disband the UGC and its technical cousin, the AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education). People who run private technical colleges say that the powers of the AICTE to micromanage technical education continued…