Indian Rope Trick: Where Is Higher Education Headed?
IIT Delhi, not really a university... but one of the series of small technologically-focused institutions that show up in the rankings.
"Indian Higher Education: Envisioning the Future" is bureaucrat Pawan Agarwal's 488-page tome on the topic, recently out from Sage (India). I must confess being more than a bit intimidated by the detail in this book's nine chapters (plus epilogue, notes, references, index and about the author).
Check this: it has three pages of "list of tables", and one page each of "list of figures" and "list of boxes".
But in its two-page foreword, Monan University professor and director for the Centre for International Higher Education at Boston College Philip G. Altbach makes so many interesting and valuable points in understanding the field.
I liked the way he highlights the facts:
• Till today, very little is known internationally about Indian higher education — and "what is known is not particularly favourable."
• Surprisingly, India still does not have any major higher education research centre. No group of researchers focussing on this key subject.
• Higher education is not being taught in Indian universities as an academic subject.
• The large cadre of administrators in India's sprawling higher education system have no training about how universities function, their role in society, or their finances or academe.
• How does this compare with the situation in other countries? China, for instance, has an extensive network of higher education training programmes attached to universities, several excellent higher education research centres, and a general understanding that policy and management of higher education is "a matter of considerable national importance."
Talk about getting to the meat of the issue in no time?
India, we are told, have several competitive advantages — widespread use of English, some innovative high tech, and companies that can absorb well trained graduates. Also, a "large population of bright and energetic students".
But, it continues to compare poorly with countries "with which it is competing globally" — China, Korea, Singapore and other countries growing economically. It has no universities "anywhere near" the top of any international rankings. Only its IITs, the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (not universities, but small technologically-focussed institutions) show up in the rankings.
For anyone who wants the details, check the book. Agarwal, the author, is a "civil servant" — the term used to describe bureaucrats and officials here — from the Indian Administrative Service. This could be a useful contribution to the debate, given the patience to go through it!