In order to compete successfully in the knowledge based economy of 21st century, India needs enough universities that can support sophisticated research.
India is rushing towards the economic success and modernization, counting on high tech industries such as information technology and biotechnology to propel the nation to prosperity. India recently announced that it would no longer produce unlicensed inexpensive generic pharmaceuticals bowed to the realities of the world trade organization while at the same time challenging the domestic drug industry to compete with the multinational firms.
Unfortunately its weak higher education sector constitutes the Achilles Heel of this strategy. Its systematic disinvestment in the higher education in the recent years has yielded neither world class research nor vary may highly trained scholars,scientist or managers to sustain high tech development.
India one of the main competitors Singapore, Taiwan, south Korea especially china are investing large and differentiated higher education systems. They are providing access to large numbers of students at the bottom of the academic systems while at the same time building some research based universities that are able to compete with world's best institutions. The recent London Times Higher education Supplement ranking of the world's top 200 universities included three in china, three in Hong Kong, three in south Korea, one in Taiwan and one in India.These countries are positioning themselves for leadership positions in the knowledge based economics of the coming era.
There was a time when countries could achieve economic success with cheap labor and low tech manufacturing. Low wages still help, but the contemporary large scale development requires a sophiscate and at least partly knowledge based economy. India has chosen that path but will find a major stumbling block in its university system.
India has significant advantages in the 21st century knowledge race. It has a large higher education sector the third largest in the world in student numbers, after china and the United States. It uses English as a primary language of higher education and research.
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China in particular is heavily investing in improving its best universities with the aim of making a small group world class in the coming decade and making a larger number internationally competitive research universities.
Other Asian countries are also upgrading higher education with the aim of building world class universities.
Taiwan, being the major designer and producer of IT hardware, is considering merging several of its top technological universities to create an "Asian MIT".
To compete successfully in the knowledge based economy of the 21st centaury India needs enough universities that not only produce bright graduates for export but can also support sophisticated research in a number of scientific and scholarly fields and produce at least some of the knowledge and technology needed for an expanding economy. How can India build a higher education system that will permit it to join developed economics? The newly emerging private sector in higher education cannot spearhead academic growth.
Several of the well endowed and effectively managed private institutions maintain reasonably high standards although it is not clear that these institutions will be able to sustain themselves in the long run. They can help produce well qualified graduates in such fields as management, but they cannot form the basis for comprehensive research in the sciences. Nor can enough money be earned by providing instructions in the mainstream arts and sciences disciplines. Most of the private institutions do not focus on advanced training in the sciences.
Only public universities have the potential to be truly world class institutions. Institutions and programmes of national prominence. But these institutions have not been adequately or consistently supported. The top institutions require sustained funding from the public sources. Academic salaries must be high enough to attract excellent scientist and scholars. Fellowships and other grants should be available for bright students. An academic culture that is based on merit based norms and competitions for advancement and research funds is a necessary component as is a judicious mix of autonomy to do creative research and accountability to ensure productivity. World class universities require world class professors and students and a culture to sustain and stimulate them.
A clearly differentiated academic system has not been created in India -a system where are some clearly identified institutions that receive significantly greater resources than other universities. One of them reasons that the University of California at Berkeley is so good is that other California universities receive much less support. India’s best universities require sustained state support they require the recognitions that they are indeed top institutions and deserve commensurate and an ethos of an academic meritocracy. At present the structures are not in place to permit building and sustaining top quality programmes even if resources are provided.
A combination of specific conditions and resources are needed to create outstanding universities. Sustained financial support with an appropriate mix of accountability and autonomy.
The development of a clearly differentiated academic systems-including private institutions-in which academic institutions have different missions, resources and purposes.
Managerial reforms and the introduction of effective administrations truly merit based hiring and promotion policies for the academic profession and similarly regious and honest recruitment, selection and instructions of students.
Truly merit based hiring and promotion policies for the academic profession and similarly rigorous and honest recruitment, selections and instructions of the students.
India cannot build internationally recognized research orientated universities overnight, but the country has the key elements in place to begin and sustain the process. India will need to create a dozen or more universities that can compete internationally to fully participate in the new world economy. Without these universities, India is destined to remain a scientific backwater..
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