Kindly elaborate the prevailing scenario of the overall education system in the country.
The physical development of higher education infrastructure is measured by the Gross Enrolment Ration (GER) which is the ratio of number of children attending college to the total number of children in the age group of 18 to 24 years.
The Central Government’s target for GER is 15% by 2015 and 30% by 2020. Government’s efforts have paid dividends and we have over 650 universities at present against 350 in 2005. Looking at the nearly 20 crore children in the age group of 18 to 24 years of which only about 2.5 crores are going to college, we are still way behind the target. We need nearly 3000 universities by the year 2020 to cater for a GER of 30%. The government is in a position to provide only 40% of the funds required every year to meet this target. The remaining resources have to be garnered from other sources, mainly private participation in higher education.
To what extent private players can contribute in educating rural population?
There are over 170 private universities in the country at present. Like the government universities, the private universities are also mostly located in or around major cities and towns. However, the private players in education are now realizing this and are trying to reach out to the rural population by establishing universities in rural areas. Mangalayatan University, located in a rural area between Mathura and Aligarh, is one such example. It caters to the rural youth and most of its students are first generation learners. They can easily cater to this need since the private universities are unitary and non-affiliating in nature. These universities can also cater to rural needs by designing courses suited to rural environment.
Earlier students from rural India had less interest in higher education and the rate of drop outs was high. What is the current situation now?
The dropout rate in schools in rural areas is still very alarming. Almost 50% children drop out before completing their 12th standard. Also, out of those rural children who successfully complete their schooling a very small percentage joins college. Against 20% GER in urban areas, it is around 7% in rural areas. Majority of the over 15 crore children, in 18 to 24 years age group, not going to college reside in rural areas. This is where establishing universities and colleges in rural areas can make a major difference in improving GER.
What, according to you, are the long-term solutions to challenges faced by the education sector?
Government universities are better placed in recruitment of faculty since the salaries are paid by the government and are generally better than those paid by private universities. Private universities have to manage with average level of faculty. They have to recruit whatever they get and work very hard to improve the quality of their faculty through aggressive faculty development programmes. Some universities have academic staff colleges for the purpose and others do it by organizing adhoc faculty development courses and by sending their faculty to other universities having regular development courses.
The solution probably lies in all the vice-chancellors of the nearly 700 universities in the country getting together and forcing the government to allow them the autonomy to run their universities and affect improvements in curricula and delivery methods to improve the standard of higher education in the country.
What are your views on the overall contribution of university in teaching rural people and in their development?
Mangalayatan University is doing a good job in teaching rural youth, including girls. Our students compete against the best, including students from the IITs, NITs and well-established old universities. The university has stolen a march against other universities in campus placements and industrial training. With many students from villages around the university campus graduating from the university and getting good employment opportunities, the economic and educational level of the villages is rising and is bound to lead to an overall development of the rural areas.