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Reclaiming higher education
Politics has begun to permeate our higher education fundamentals in every possible way that was inconceivable to even think about till recently. In just the past two years, India's plan to increase the number of high-quality, research-oriented universities failed to take off partly because of the newer political priorities of fixing syllabuses and making the curriculum more regressive.

Institutions have continued to come up, but the quality of them, particularly in technical institutions remains suspect. Of course they were set up to make profits as a business venture and not really to impart any education and were controlled by well-connected politicians.

How to reverse this trend? The solution is unpretentious but the execution looks like being impossible - eliminate direct political sway over key academic and administrative decisions. Is another Engineering College really needed? Should a new university be set up in a place which is already saturated with colleges? Having set them up, what should be the role of the ministry of Human Resources Development in respect to Central universities?

The answer to all the above questions of course can be debated but at the least a cogent planning procedure could be set up, which would objectively look at every major proposal to set up a new university before their execution.

Of course in order to ensure rational planning, many changes are required. One of the main requirements is a pledge to end the intrusion of politics and narrow-minded primacies on higher education policies that we see today - an enormous job given the many decades in which such undesirable influence has flourished unrestrained.

The other is perhaps less obvious. India has a notable lack of expertise in regard to higher education. There is very little competition between the various universities and colleges that we have here. The stark competition among go-getting, clever young people allows establishments themselves to flourish and make money with no pressure to maintain or improve standards. Regulatory mechanisms are weak as is evident by the recent Supreme Court decision to supersede the scam ridden Medical Council of India.

The truth is that there are relatively few universities in India that can really be called excellent and the measure is that in the global educational rankings, only a handful of Indian institutions make it to the lists and usually they are at the bottom of the pile there. The huge population and the deluge of applicants that follows the declaration of every Board examination result ensures that every seat is filled and that there's no urgency to improve their standards.

India needs a commitment to rational higher education planning and decision making, and this will require "thinking capacity" and data. Most important, higher education cannot continue to be a political football. There is a need to reclaim higher education from the clutches of the degree mafia, before it can retain its past credibility.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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