A status report on Higher Education in India

or, The Deterioration of Standards in Indian Universities

by Prof. Jagdiswara Rao
I served as a university teacher for over 38 years. I held many 
administrative and academic assignments, and have a good knowledge of 
the general working of many universities. My conclusion is that there 
has been deterioration of educational standards in most of them. There 
are no doubt exceptions, which are due to the commitment by individual 
teachers and students particularly belonging to the professional courses 
such as engineering, medicine, agriculture, education, and management.

In the early years, the staff pattern used to be pyramidal with many 
lecturers, a few readers, and a single professor. The professor used to 
be the head of the department till retirement and was taking the full 
responsibility of the department. He was having the full powers in the 
admission of students, assessment of students' performance, recruitment 
of staff, generating grants, purchase of materials and books, etc. The 
salaries of teachers used to be much lower than those paid in other 
professions. The entry point of a teacher into the university was 
tutor/demonstrator with a salary just sufficient for bare living. Those 
who were committed to teaching and research alone remained in the 
university, while others used that position as a springboard to get into 
some lucrative position in or outside the country. There used to be 
however a few cases of victimization of students and staff by the 
professor. Despite this, the system worked well and the general 
educational and research standards used to be quite high.
 
After 13 years of schooling, the more meritorious students with aptitude 
for higher education alone used to join into the honors courses run by 
the university, while others were joining into the degree courses in 
other colleges. There used to be half-fee concession for economically 
poor students and a few scholarships for meritorious students. Jobs were 
waiting for most of the students even before completing studies. The 
stipulations for the award of doctoral degree were quite severe and the 
degree was awarded only when three foreign professors unanimously 
recommended for the award.

But things are now different. The headship of each department is on 
rotation for two or three years and no one is accountable for any wrong 
in the department. The entire purchase of equipment and books has been 
taken away by the non-teaching staff and many teachers are so much 
frustrated that they prefer not to apply for any research grant. Thanks 
to the University Grants Commission (UGC), the salaries of staff are as 
attractive as those paid in other professions. The entry point of a 
teacher into the university is lecturer, whose salary is same as that of 
a Class-1 officer in the government. Thanks to the UGC merit promotion 
scheme and further dilution of rules by many vice-chancellors, the staff 
pattern in most university departments is in the form of an inverted 
pyramid with very few lecturers, a few readers and many professors. 
Irrespective of performance, most lecturers become professors in course 
of time. The staff once recruited can remain at the same place without 
any transfer. Many of them indulge in politics or take up some part-time 
work. Some coach students for various competitive examinations for 
entrance into various professional courses and for getting into some 
job, which may range from IAS to clerk-grade. 

Recruitment of teachers now is based on the rules of reservation spelled 
out in various government orders (GO) from time to time. Some of the 
reservation categories recognized include scheduled castes (SC), 
scheduled tribes (ST), backward classes (BC) divided further into A, B, 
C, and D sub-categories, physically handicapped, women, etc. Efforts are 
being made to recognize four sub-categories among SCs. These GOs are 
often so poorly drafted that rules in one GO sometimes contradict with 
those in another GO. This gave scope for the university to implement the 
GOs to suit its convenience and fill up a vacancy by reserving it to the 
caste of a favored candidate. Several aggrieved parties then filed cases 
against the universities. The whole issue became so complicated that the 
Supreme Court evolved a formula where the reservation category of each 
vacancy should be determined by chance and not by selection by anybody. 
Thus if a particular post is reserved for a BC-A category, it cannot be 
filled up even with a meritorious SC candidate. In the whole process, 
real merit and the specialization requirements of the post are 
forgotten.

Admission of students into the university is now not based on the marks 
secured in the qualifying examination, but on the ranking obtained in a 
common entrance test and rules of reservation. Sometimes, SC and ST 
candidates who could not even qualify in the entrance test had to be 
given admission. Every year there are hundreds of writ petitions in the 
High Court particularly from those who could not get admission into the 
professional courses challenging the admissions on one ground or the 
other. 

Entry of students now into the university is after 15 years of schooling 
and the university education is limited to two years. Only those who 
failed to get admission into a professional course or a job opt for 
studies and research in the university. Scholarships are now granted for 
all categories of students including forward castes, whose parents 
monthly income is below Rs.1000-2000. The only students who are denied 
scholarship are those who cannot get such an income certificate. Merit 
ceased to be a basis for scholarship.

Many students who now seek admission into the university had their 
entire education in mother tongue, while English is the medium of 
education in the university. The students find it difficult to follow 
the subject in the English medium. The unwritten understanding is that 
the teachers can avoid teaching, but award a first class to all the 
students. 

After getting the degree, many students seek admission for research not 
out of interest in research but to remain somehow in the university 
hostels and try for some job or face some competitive examinations 
ranging from IAS to clerk-grade. Scholarships are also given to all 
those who got earlier such scholarships. Only those who failed to get 
any job finally carry out research. Quality of research is often very 
poor. Evaluation of the doctoral thesis is so diluted in some 
universities that degree is awarded if majority of three Indian 
examiners, of which one is the research supervisor, recommended for the 
award.

Most of the syllabi of courses other than the professional courses are 
so outdated that the students do not get any skill for getting into any 
useful job. The syllabi is not updated as the concerned teachers do not 
wish update their knowledge. The only hope for these post-graduates is 
to become lecturers to teach the very same subject to the students or 
face competitive examinations by choosing their course subject as an 
elective. The syllabus of these electives for IAS also is not updated.

Many universities have started job-oriented courses of relevance in 
recent years. But the necessary infrastructural facilities and necessary 
jobs could not be created owing to budgetary constraints. One way is to 
scrap the old courses having no demand or relevance. No university can 
hope to do it as there will be opposition from the staff.

Despite government incurring enormous expenditure on higher education, 
there is no hope of improving the quality of higher education. IPI also 
suggests for decreasing governmental expenditure on higher education. It 
is necessary for the universities to become self reliant by introducing 
dual fee structure, which is in vogue in the state universities in USA.  
 
There is therefore an urgent need to do something to revamp the 
university education in India on a priority basis.