In Support of Quality Higher Education in Northeast -Dr Uma Kanta Sharma

No doubt, it is a matter of pride for us but it is further observed that socio-economic progress in India is not directly proportional to the vast educated and trained manpower. There is lack of value-based education in the higher institutions. Add to this fact that rural sectors are given less priority for socio-economic development. As a matter of fact, the proportion of our population in the relevant age group (17-21) that enters the world of higher education is only about 7 per cent.
Some critical reviews were conducted by the New Education Policy in 1986 and this has assumed importance in view of the adoption of new economic policy in terms of free import of technologies for various types of industries in India.
The present academic sector is under great stress because of the reluctance of the students in attending the non-productive institutions and lack of value-added and job-oriented education. As such, there is an urgent need for the reorientation of the education system.
Technical education is an innovative and enterprising practice in the 21st century, encompassing value-oriented education as an integral part of general education. But we lack honest implementation of the policy/planning exercises since it involves a large sum of money. The need of the hour is the creation of a technology base in India. Unless we innovate, we will have to pay more and more for our next generation of technology in order to qualify our products for the global market.
Nobody can deny that higher education has made a significant contribution to economic development, social progress and political democracy in independent India. Sam Pitroda, Chairman, the National Knowledge Commission (NKC), a high-level advisory body to the Prime Minister of India, has rightly stated that the opportunities for higher education in terms of the number of universities are simply not adequate in relation to our needs. An overhaul of the education system is essential because the transformation of economy in the 21st century would depend significantly on the quality of education among our people, particularly in the sphere of higher education.
We have seen that economic policies are prepared for different developmental aspects, mainly for infrastructure development, but now time has come to frame new economic policy for knowledge development; and in this new policy the main role will be played by the information and technological institutions.
President APJ Abdul Kalam keeps emphasizing that if India is to keep pace with other developed countries it has to create a knowledge society where each and everyone would be the member of such society. He is optimistic that India would be a force to reckon with in the fields of science and technology by 2020. Keeping this end in view, government support for higher education should increase to at least 1.5 per cent of GDP out of the total 6 percent of GDP allotted for education.
It cannot be denied that our universities as a whole are new, and are facing a financial crunch. The consequent cuts imposed on the annual grants by the University Grants Commission (UGC), State government and other State funding agencies are also unsettling. To tide over this situation and mobilize sufficient resources for the universities, is a formidable task. It is revealed that India spends $307 per pupil as compared to $9340 and $7418 in case of USA and Australia respectively. Even developing countries like Pakistan, Kenya and Ghana are far ahead of us (Statistical Year Book, Paris, UNESCO, 1990).
Many education commissions have urged the Government of India to start institute-cum-industry so that a student learns theory from the teacher in the classroom and performs practicals in the industry. This will not only enhance the economy of the country but also solve the ‘‘brain drain’’ problems.
India is a vast country and the Government of India should deal equally with all the States. But some sort of disparity has been witnessed in case of the northeastern States, especially if one compares the number of technical institutions in the region to that of other parts of the country. This is in spite of the fact that Dr Bijoy P Bhatkar, the renowned super computer scientist of India, had pointed out the ample scope for setting up new value-based technical institutions in Assam.
In the last Assam Assembly session, the Education Minister admitted that the State was facing a ‘‘brain drain’’ problem possibly because of the lack of competent institutes of higher education. On the other hand, lack of quality higher education has led to the burgeoning of unemployment problem among the youths of the northeastern region. But the most unfortunate situation is when official red tape and haggling over site selection (as in the case of the setting up an engineering college at Dhemaji) thwarts the cause of higher education in the region time and again. There is just no reason why an engineering college should not come up at Dhemaji. I shall talk about this issue in detail next week in this column.

(The Sentinel,10.06.2007)
In Support of Quality Higher Education in Northeast-Dr Uma Kanta Sharma