Flnancing higher education has taken a central stage thanks to the ongoing national and international economic reforms. This paper takes a look at the qualitative aspects of fniancing higher education in India. It stresses the need for setting up research parks to enable a smooth flow of the fruits of research from universities and institutions to the industry, and also to provide opportunities for industrial exposure to the teachers so as to strengthen and qualitatively improve the educational inputs.
In the wake of recent changes in the national and global arena, State/public financing of higher education vs self-generation of resources has become a subject of renewed interest. The reasons for this are several: the ideological--political preferences, especially after the change of government at the Centre in 199 1, the continuing precarious situation of the State budget vis-a-vis other public responsibilities, shift in the priority within the education system itself, specially higher priority to primary education, compared to higher education, etc. Financing education was considered primarily a State responsibility both at the Central as well as the State governments level. Though theoretically University Grants Commission (UGC) was created to help improve and maintain the quality of academic standards through financial grants, however, over the years, it became, by and large, a funding agency due to various internal and external constraints imposed on the universities as well as the UGC.
The structure of education in India, as is well-known, was based on the British model which was designed for different times and for different circumstances. However, in the changing scenario, the system of higher education needs to be more responsive to industry and the wider community. The failure of the present system can be traced to the following possible reasons: (1) Fragmentation of the system into various unconnected sectors which often do not recognise the achievements and contribution that each has to offer; (2) insufficient courses that are in demand; (3) general complexity of rules and regulations which frustrate institutions, industry, and other clients, and a wider community of students and teachers, (4) the vulnerability of the central decision-making which succumb to pressure, group politics, with a subsequent lack of focus on the purposes of education and training; (5) sectoral infighting and lack of overall priorities; (6) lack of accountability in many areas of operation, especially in research; (7) very few incentives to manage effectively; and (8) slowness of the system in responding to changing technological requirements. These are only indicative and may not always apply to all the institutions. But they point to a system in need of change.
Funding of Higher Education
Moreover, greater employer contribution to the funding of higher education and training could be further explored by constituting a bipartite working group consisting of the government officials and representatives from the Employers' Federation and even trade unions, if necessary. This group can look into the desirability and feasibility of employer levies as a way of both encouraging training and ensuring that the cost of the system are fairly distributed among the beneficiaries. Employers clearly benefit from higher education and training, and hence the challenge is to ensure an increase in their contribution.
Another way to enhance the private contribution to funding is through an increase in students' contribution. This may be determined by the need for equity. Part payment of cost by students should not be allowed as it will create a financial obstacle to participation. Moreover, the students' contribution could be deployed in increasing the post-school education and training centres. It would ensure more number of seats for those who are currently excluded because of shortage of space. In addition, part government funding, liberal fellowships and scholarships, and even long-term loans from banks may be considered.
Quality of Education
The UGC should be primarily a policy making body and not merely an operational department, and should be able to provide comprehensive policy advice on higher education. Though the UGC has been doing a good job of disbursing funds for various projects, there is a need to develop and further streamline its structure, making UGC itself accountable. The criteria need not necessarily be based on disbursement of funds for various projects but also on .soft" and 'hard" indicators, such as examination reforms, number of qualitative original research and publications which have made an impact, nationally and internationally, and ultimately, the quality of students produced.
It may be desirable to create an academic review office under the aegis of UGC to operationalise these indicators so that ultimately, the UGC can develop certain criteria for financing higher education. Of course, universities and colleges will have to be involved at every stage while developing these criteria. A system has to be evolved to pass strictures against poor performance, as well as give incentives for good performance for the universities and colleges. While financial penalties may be appropriate as the ultimate sanctions against poor performance, there could be a provision for effecting mid-terin corrections through further negotiations even when the grant is approved, to achieve the goals. This may include tagging of funds for certain specific remedial actions, compulsory re-negotiation for further release of funds or even withholding of funding.
Bulk Grant Funding Mechanism
Funding mechanisms should also take into account part-time courses, sports, etc. Unlike at present, any savings that occur in the running of courses be retained by the institutions; and any extra cost incurred be absorbed by them. A proportion of their bulk grant be earmarked by the UGC to be used for specific purposes, such as some special courses which the UGC or the government wishes the institutions to start.
The UGC may also provide additional targeted funding in order to achieve equity objectives for instance, to encourage enrolments from those who have not traditionally participated much in the university education (SCs, STs, adult education, etc.). The UGC may also give special grants for capital costs where it is satisfied of the need. In due course, the UGC should work out a formula of grants for different types of universities and colleges, ( apart from Central universities) so that there is more uniformity and equity in the disbursement of funds.
The bulk grant system would give the universities/institutions more freedom to make decisions and allow them to actually preserve the academic freedom and institutional autonomy. The UGC and the government objectives will be advanced largely through corporate plan negotiations but with the possibility of some special tagged funding when necessary. The main advantages of such a funding system is that the institutions/universities will be seen to be responsible and accountable for the use of their resources. It will be more receptive to community needs. The universities will exercise their choices about expenditure, instead of being locked into a pre-determined allocation. New patterns of expenditure may also emerge when decisions are made by those very close to the action, and enable to take new initiatives within the resources available. It will also help develop their own areas of specialisation.
By being responsible for their own capital development, the institution/universities will be encouraged to make judicious use of their existing resources and help plan development within an agreed framework of time and money. The institutions will weigh capital expenditure against all other possible uses of money, and will no longer keep capital and operational expenditure artificially separate. A system of block funding based on a specific formula and common unit of equivalent full-time students, grouped within categories of subjects would easily enable universities/ institutions to compare their own management performance with that of others. It has to be ensured that the universities/ institutions are free to manage their own resources without unnecessary interventions, while at the same time clearly accountable for their decisions and actions. They should be encouraged to set their own priorities, and develop their strengths; to accredit their own courses; to develop a broader base of funding support; and to introduce more flexible staff arrangements. Unnecessary restrictions should be lifted in areas, such as course approval, salary determination of all kinds of academic, and other staff, and other such restrictions on day-to-day matters, including the timings of lecture sessions, their duration, etc. The developmental grants could be only for priority areas determined by the government policy, every five years.
Interface Through Research
This problem could be sorted out only through more meaningful, continuous, and long-term contacts between the two. At present, it is a vicious circle in which the industry considers the academicians are out of touch with the industry, and as such there is little use in giving them industrial projects; and the academicians feel that they are out of touch because the industry does not provide them the opportunity to understand and study its problems.
A long-term attachment of the academicians to the industry would be worthwhile. Working on short-term or brief visits to the industry without any specific responsibility do not bring any meaningful benefit. It may be useful for teaching institutions to arrange sabbaticals for teachers every 5 to 7 years, for around 2 to 3 years to spend in an industry. It should not be merely a consulting arrangement, but the academicians should be asked to work as full-fledged engineers/managers with specific responsibility of running a section or department. Such an attachment will enable the teachers to grasp the day-to-day operational problems of the plant, and help understand the technical, managerial, and other problems in running a plant, and make them more practice oriented. Later, on their return, it will help them replicate the real life problems as case studies in their teachings.
However, this exchange will require detailed planning and reciprocal understanding on the part of teaching institutions and the industry. Teaching institutions should work out their staff requirements in such a manner that a certain percentage of teachers will always be away for industrial attachment. For example, in West Germany, some of the technical institutions provide for 7 to 10 per cent of the excess staff for industrial assignment. Once the percentage is fixed, the institutions can work out a long-term faculty development plan for industrial exposure.
On its part, the industry will have to realign its organisational structure so as to earmark some positions for a period of 2-3 years for engineers/managers from academic institutions. As far as possible, they will have to be non-redundant positions and should form part of the Organisation structure, with some specific responsibility. At the initial stages, it may be necessary to assign some competent deputy to help the new incumbent from teaching institution to give guidance. This is the only purposive way through which long-term contacts between academic institutions and the industry could be established, and the gap between the two narrowed.
Besides such long-term arrangements, the academicians shall have to continue to work on short-term assignments of the industry as is being done now. However, the utility of such exposures to the industry seems marginal. There are instances in which the teachers are detailed to the industry for two to six months without any specific project or responsibility. They just spend the first few days in having brief discussions with various executives and engineers, and after that they have little to do, except occasional observations on the shop-floor. The industry also does not favour such visits as it is a waste of time. Therefore, it is important that such visits are based on specific projects with appropriate responsibility being given to the teachers.
Though the Working Group on Technical Education had recommended that there should be exchange of university professors and engineers, there are some practical problems which need to be tackled
These research parks should be exclusively meant for applied research projects and should have no commercial objectives. These projects should have some relationship with the capabilities and potential of the concerned institutions. The projects should utilise directly or otherwise the faculties, libraries, equipment, and other infrastructure in the institution. Some equipment and instruments for research should be made in the research parks. Industries and enterprises could have full rights to the end-products of such projects. However, the methodology involved for research may be used by academicians for teaching and publication. Methodology and data collection could be shared with other institutions. Such research parks have been established in the US in as many as 80 institutions. In India, some initial steps could be taken at the joint initiative of the industry, academic institutions, and the government.
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