Regretting that none of the Indian universities figures among the top 200 in the world, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the focus henceforth would be on giving “over-riding emphasis on quality”.
“In recognition of the fact that expansion without quality improvement serves little purpose, we will now give over-riding emphasis on quality. We must recognise that too many of our higher educational institutions are simply not up to the mark,” he told a conference here of vice chancellors of central universities.
Singh said too many of them have simply not kept abreast with the rapid changes that have taken place in the world in recent years and were producing graduates in subjects that the job market no longer required.
“It is a sobering thought for us that not one Indian university figures in the top 200 universities of the world today,” he said at the meet being attended by 40 vice chancellors.
The conference is being hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee after a decade. The then President A P J Abdul Kalam had organised such a meet in 2003.
Noting that the higher education system is often criticised for being unnecessarily rigid both for the faculty and the students, the Prime Minister stressed on the need to introduce flexibility in these institutes to enable them to attract good faculty, raise teaching standards and encourage cutting edge research and nurture talent.
“Today, there are new challenges but also new opportunities. Our collective task ahead entails putting in place an educational system that would help build India into a modern, prosperous and progressive economy and society in the 21st century,” he said.
The 12th Plan, he said, has identified the task for the next five years building on the momentum generated in the last ten years and continuing the focus on expansion, equity and excellence.
Singh also said steps were needed to bring about reforms with the aim of enhancing quality in higher education.
The Prime Minister said the focus of the government during the 11th Plan on the higher education sector has led the actual enrolment going up from 16.6 crore to 25.9 crore.
The gross enrolment ratio for higher education in particular went up from 12.3 per cent in 2006-07 to 17.9 per cent in 2011-12 though, he noted, it was “still much below the world average of 26 per cent”.
The share of education in the total outlay also went up from 6.7 per cent in the 10th Plan to 19.4 per cent in the 11th Plan, Singh said.
During the period since 2004 when higher education witnessed unprecedented expansion, he said the government established 51 institutions during the 11th Plan period, the highest for any plan period.
These included central universities, Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Management and Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research.
The central universities also more than doubled in the period after 2004-05, increasing from 17 to 44. Each state now has at least one central university, he said and added that the government envisages a very important role for these varsities in setting standards for higher education across the country.
“We expect them to become role models and contribute to strengthening other institutions of higher learning in their vicinity. Some central universities located in far-flung areas can also contribute to reducing the academic imbalances in our country,” he said.
Singh also asked the VCs that apart from issues of quality and faculty development, they should also focus on extending the reach of education through extension work in contiguous areas.
“I urge you to come up with new ways in which you can benefit people in the area around your university, by disseminating knowledge, encouraging innovation, promoting environmental conservation, developing skills and so on,” he