- Actually, what India is experiencing in higher education today is far worse than merely the production of studious but creativity-challenged youth.
- There is abetment of a toxic productivity whereby our universities churn out youth with a poor grasp of the subject matter that they are expected to know and an even poorer understanding of the challenges that India today faces, for which they alone can provide the solutions.
- This is particularly troubling as public expenditure on education in India favours higher education far more than elsewhere in the world when schooling is severely neglected by comparison.
Universities are embedded:
- Universities are embedded in society and cannot be expected to naturally rise above them.
- Creativity is unlikely to have been a part of it. However, it is precisely to ensure that there is no sectional capture of public institutions intended to serve a larger purpose that we have public regulators.
- While there is more than one regulator for the higher education sector in India, for sheer reach the University Grants Commission (UGC) is unmatched.
- To say that it has a major responsibility in the state of affairs that we are experiencing in higher education would be an understatement.
Academic Performance Indicator
The problem of predatory journals emerged after the UGC introduced a quantitative scoring system leading to an Academic Performance Indicator (API) in which publishing is a part.
- The activities approved for toting up a teacher’s API are many, extending beyond teaching and research. This has led to a form of academic entrepreneurship that has very likely demoralised the less entrepreneurial, who are often the more academic and therefore more deserving of being in the university to start with. For this reason, the contents of the API must be revised to include only teaching and research, thus also saving scarce administrative resources.
- Teaching input can be partly measured by the number of courses taught, but research assessment should avoid the quantitative metric. Instead it should be judged by committees that have reputed and recognisably independent subject experts on it. This is not foolproof but, in the context of the email discussion now on among India’s academics, superior to a discredited list of approved journals.
- Next, compulsory attendance, which goes against the spirit of learning, must be replaced by credit for classroom participation.
- Third, introduce student evaluation of courses to be made public. It needs emphasis that this is meant to be an ‘evaluation’ and not some ‘feedback’ to be contemplated upon by the lecturer at leisure. It can effectively check truancy among faculty but there should be vigilance against its misuse.
- Fourth, the UGC should remove all experience-related considerations to career advancement. The present system leaves the able to stagnate during their best years and the undeserving to believe that time served grants entitlement to promotion. There must be a drastic reduction in the number of hours faculty have to teach. While this may not be much in the research institutes and the Central universities, in India’s colleges the teaching load is not merely taxing to the point of lowering productivity but leaves teachers no time to address the burgeoning literature in their disciplines.
- Finally, once courses are evaluated by students, the classroom should revert to being the instructor’s castle. A pincer movement of corporate interest and political pressure combined with regulatory overdrive have cramped the autonomy of the teacher. The state of higher education in India today partly reflects this.