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Quality Universities and Colleges: A New and Forward-looking Vision for India’s Higher Education System

Quality Universities and Colleges: A New and Forward-looking Vision for India’s Higher Education System-GK PDF

As India moves towards becoming a true knowledge society and economy - and in view of the forthcoming fourth industrial revolution, where India aims to lead and an increasing proportion of employment opportunities will consist of skilled jobs of a creative and multidisciplinary nature - more and more young Indians will aspire to higher education. Accordingly, the higher educational system in India must, at the earliest, be re-adjusted, re-vamped, and re-energised to fulfill these important and noble aspirations of the people.

In view of these requirements of the 21st century, the aim of a quality university or college education must be to develop good, well-rounded, and creative individuals. It must enable an individual to study one or more specialised areas of interest at a deeper level, while at the same time build character, ethical and constitutional values, intellectual curiosity, scientific temper, creativity, spirit of service, and 21st century capabilities across a range of disciplines including the sciences, social sciences, arts, humanities, languages, as well as professional, technical, and vocational crafts. A quality higher education must enable personal accomplishment and enlightenment, constructive public engagement, and productive contribution to society. It must prepare students for more meaningful and satisfying lives and work roles, and enable economic independence. Quality university college education must therefore aim to be both a joy and an opportunity, to which all citizens must have access if they so desire.

At the level of society, the aim of higher education must be to enable the development of an enlightened, socially-conscious, knowledgeable, and skilled nation that can uplift its people and construct and implement robust solutions to its own problems. Higher education must thus form the basis for knowledge creation and innovation in the nation and thereby contribute deeply to a growing national economy. The purpose of quality higher education is therefore more than simply the creation of greater opportunities for individual employment; it represents the key to more vibrant, socially-engaged, and cooperative communities and a happier, cohesive, cultured, productive, innovative, progressive, and prosperous nation.

Some of the major problems currently plaguing the higher education system in India include: i) a severely fragmented higher educational ecosystem, with more than 50,000 higher education institutions (HEIs), a large proportion of which offer only a single programme and have fewer than 100 students and a large proportion of which are commercial enterprises in which little or no education is taking place; ii) there is a rigid separation of disciplines, with too much early specialisation and streaming of students into narrow areas of study; iii) a lack of access to higher education, especially in socio-economically disadvantaged areas; iv) a lack of teacher and institutional autonomy to innovate and excel; v) inadequate mechanisms for merit-based career management and progression of faculty and institutional leaders; vi) a lack of research at most universities and colleges, and of transparent and competitive peer-reviewed research funding across disciplines; vii) suboptimal governance and leadership of HEIs; and viii) a regulatory system that is not empowered to close down fake colleges, while constraining excellent and innovative institutions.

This policy envisions a complete overhaul and re-energising of the higher education sys- tem to overcome the aforementioned eight challenges and thereby deliver high-quality higher education, with equity and inclusion, to all young people who aspire to it. The policy’s vision includes the following key changes to the current system: 

(a) moving towards a higher educational system consisting of large, multidisciplinary universities and colleges, with at least one in or near every district; 
(b) moving towards a more liberal, multidisciplinary undergraduate education; 
(c) moving towards faculty and institutional autonomy; 
(d) re-vamping curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, and student support for enhanced student experiences; 
(e) reaffirming the integrity of faculty and institutional leadership positions through merit-appointments and career progression based on teaching, research, and service; 
(f) establishment of a National Research Foundation to fund outstanding peer-reviewed research and to actively seed research in universities and colleges; 
(g) governance of HEIs by highly-qualified independent boards having academic and administrative autonomy; 
(h) “light but tight” regulation by a single regulator for all of higher education, including professional education; and 
(i) increased access, equity, and inclusion through a range of measures, including open schooling and ODL, greater opportunities for outstanding public education, all infrastructure and learning materials accessible to learners with special needs, and substantial increases in scholarships at private/philanthropic universities for disadvantaged and underprivileged students.

Institutional Restructuring and Consolidation

The main thrust of this policy regarding higher education is the ending of the fragmentation of higher education by moving higher education into large multidisciplinary universities, colleges, and HEI clusters, each of which will aim to have upwards of 3,000 or more students. This would help build vibrant communities of scholars and peers, break down harmful silos, enable students to become well-rounded across disciplines (including artistic, creative, and analytic subjects as well as sports), develop active research communities across disciplines (including cross-disciplinary research), and increase resource efficiency, both material and human, across higher education.

Moving to large multidisciplinary universities and HEI clusters is thus the highest recommendation of this policy regarding the structure of higher education. The ancient Indian universities Takshashila and Nalanda, which had thousands of students from India and the world studying in vibrant multidisciplinary environments, and modern universities such as the Ivy League Universities/Stanford/MIT in the United States today, amply demonstrate the type of great success that such large multidisciplinary research universities can bring. It is time that India bring back this great Indian tradition which is needed more today than ever to create well-rounded and innovative individuals, and which is already transforming other countries educationally and economically.

This vision of higher education will require, in particular, a new vision for what constitutes a higher education institution (HEI), i.e., a university or a college. A university should mean a multidisciplinary institution of higher learning that offers undergraduate and graduate programmes, with high quality teaching, research, and service. Whereas premier universities should be ‘research intensive’, other universities shall, while placing greater emphasis on teaching should conduct significant research. All colleges shall eventually become Autonomous Colleges, which are large multidisciplinary institutions of higher learning primarily focused on undergraduate teaching. A college should therefore either be an autonomous degree granting institution, or a constituent college of a university - in the latter case it would be fully a part of the university.

All higher education institutions (HEIs) shall be multidisciplinary and shall aim to have student enrolments in the thousands, for optimal use of infrastructure and resources, and to attain the multidisciplinary ecosystem of teaching, research, and service that is being envisioned for the higher education of the future. It is understood that this process will take time; the first move for all HEIs will be to become multidisciplinary - they may then become larger over time as space permits.

These three ‘types’ of institutions are not in any natural way a sharp, exclusionary categorisation, but are along a continuum. HEIs will have the autonomy and freedom to move from one type to another, on the basis of their plans, actions, and effectiveness. The most salient marker for the three types of institutions will be the focus of their goals and work. The Accreditation System will develop and use appropriately different and relevant norms for the three types of HEIs. However, the expectations of high quality of education, and therefore of teaching-learning, across all types and all HEIs will be the same.

In addition to teaching and research, HEIs will also have other crucial responsibilities, which they will discharge through appropriate resourcing and structures. This includes sup- porting other HEIs in their development, community engagement and service, contribution to various fields of practice, faculty development for the higher education system, and contribution to school education.

In the long term (by 2040), the Indian Higher Education system will consolidate into a smaller number of institutions, across the three types of HEIs and HEI clusters, but the average enrolment of these institutions will be much larger than the average enrolment today; this will help increase resource efficiency, multidisciplinary capacity and quality, as well as GER.

A suitable number of institutions of each type will be developed in order to ensure geo- graphical diversity with full access, equity, and inclusion. The goal for GER over the next 10 years will be 50%, commensurate with the aspirations of the people and comparable with other rapidly developing nations (such as, e.g., China and Brazil, which have GERs in higher education of 44% and 50%, respectively). While a number of new institutions may be developed in order to attain these goals, a large part of the capacity creation will happen by consolidating, expanding, and improving existing HEIs.

Growth will be in both public and private institutions, with a strong emphasis on developing a large number of outstanding public institutions of each type. There will be a fair and transparent system for determining (increased) levels of public funding support for public HEIs. This system will give equitable opportunity for public institutions to grow and develop, and will be based on transparent, pre-announced criteria from within the accreditation norms of the Accreditation System. Access to high-quality institutions in disadvantaged geographies will be a priority. This consolidation, expansion, and improvement shall ensure equitable and high-quality higher education across the country.

All types of institutions will have the option to run Open Distance Learning (ODL) programmes, provided they are specifically accredited to do so (see 20), in order to enhance their offerings, improve access, increase GER, and provide increased opportunities for lifelong learning. All ODL programmes (and their components) leading to any diploma or degree will be of standards and quality equivalent to the highest quality programmes run by the HEIs on their campuses.

Single-stream HEIs will be phased out, and all single-stream HEIs will move towards becoming vibrant multidisciplinary institutions and HEI clusters. HEIs will gradually move towards full autonomy - academic, administrative, and eventually financial - in order to enable this vibrant culture. The autonomy of public institutions will be backed by adequate public financial support and stability. Private institutions with public-spirited commitment to high- quality equitable education will be encouraged and treated on par. The new regulatory system envisioned by this policy (see 20) will foster this overall culture of empowerment and autonomy to innovate, including by gradually phasing out the system of ‘affiliated colleges’, in order to enable and encourage local innovation and excellence.

Admission to all undergraduate programmes of HEIs will be preferably through assessments of the National Testing Agency, to eliminate the burden of numerous overlapping entrance exams developed separately by each HEI. Performance in national competitions such as Olympiads, Topic-centred summer programmes (including sports programmes or teams), etc., as described in §4.10, will also be permissible as a part of the objective admissions criteria developed and set by each HEI, especially the IITs and NITs.

The overall higher education sector will be integrated into one higher education system -including professional and vocational education. This Policy and its approach will be equally applicable to all HEIs across all current streams, which would eventually merge into one coherent ecosystem of higher education.

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