Higher education, pro-rich phenomenon in India, says report

Monday, 29 May 2006

Panel finds participation of SCs/STs “abysmally low”

# Universities should step up efforts to supplement funds from the Government
# Fee hike should be considered only if it is “unavoidable”

NEW DELHI: At a time when higher education has come into sharp focus in the wake of the controversy over reservation, a Parliamentary Standing Committee has found higher education a “pro-rich and urban phenomenon.” And, the participation of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes in higher education is “abysmally low,” compared to their percentage in the population.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development said the enrolment of the SCs in higher education ranged from 8.6 per cent in 1990-91 to 11.3 per cent in 2002-03 while that of the STs was from 2.1 per cent to 3.6 per cent.

With access to higher education being cause for concern, the committee, in its report tabled in Parliament earlier this week, said universities should step up efforts to supplement funds from the Government, generating their own resources. One of the measures explored by the committee was fee hike. But after examination, members said it should be considered only if it was “unavoidable,” that, too, after examining other options and the social and economic implications of an increase in fees.

However, in view of the shrinking budget for higher education, the committee favoured a differential fee structure to suit the paying capacity of every student. Though “fully aware” of the implications of a fee hike, it said it was not “prudent to charge the same fees from all students irrespective of their socio-economic status.”

The report, however, comes with a dissenting note from member Brinda Karat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). She is opposed to a fee hike “in the name of cost recovery” since it will further limit access.

On the “imbalance” in the urban and rural scenario, the members said: “Most of the colleges and universities are located in urban or semi-urban areas. Whatever colleges are in rural areas, the less said the better about their quality and output. While only 16 out of every 1,000 are college graduates in rural areas, 111 out of every 1,000 belong to this category in urban areas.”
Faculty crunch in varsities

New Delhi, May 27, 2006 (Agencies):
The Centre is looking at raising the number of seats to absorb the impact of increased quotas, but a parliamentary committee has said there is a serious shortage of faculty in central universities.

In the 16 such universities, there were 1,988 vacancies as on March last year, with Banaras Hindu University and Delhi University having as many as 687 and 396 vacancies, respectively, the parliamentary standing committee on human resource development said in its report.

The “situation is also far from satisfactory in JNU, Visva-Bharati and Mizoram University”, it said, noting that out of the 1,988 vacant posts, 1,056 were of the lecturer category.

Expressing surprise over such a large number of lecturers’ posts lying vacant, the committee feared that the situation might be worse in state universities.

To attract and retain qualified and motivated teachers, the committee felt, there was a need to supplement their salaries with an attractive package of perquisites as well as support academic activities and recognise outstanding achievement.

“Our higher education system is faced with many challenges today. The pressure on it is going to increase further due to a large number of additional students expected to join higher education institutions in the coming years, particularly due to an upward pull generated by popular interventions like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the mid-day meal scheme,” the committee said.

The panel also noted the “tremendous imbalance” in access to higher education between urban and rural areas, and said higher education in the country was largely a “pro-rich and urban phenomenon”.

It said the University Grants Commission had introduced the scheme of establishing SC/ST cells in universities in 1983 to provide information regarding facilities available for them in educational institutions.

But these attempts have not helped much, it said, adding that enrolment of Scheduled Caste students in higher education has ranged between 8.6 per cent in 1990-91 and 11.3 per cent in 2002-03, and between 2.1 per cent in 1990-91 and 3.6 per cent in 2003-04 for Scheduled Tribes.

The panel recommended special programmes to encourage students from backward and minority communities as their participation in higher education was “abysmally low”.

93% of Indians never progress beyond secondary school

By Jill McGivering, BBC News, Delhi

It was a glamorous evening in one of Delhi’s most exclusive venues.As the music played, the rich and fashionable gossiped and waiters moved through the crowd with silver trays of drinks and canapés.

Before dinner was served, the main lights dimmed and the master of ceremonies announced the star of the show, businessman Lovy Khosla.
Standing in a cascade of glitter, he launched his latest venture, Elvy – described as India’s first lifestyle catalogue.

After the presentation, I asked Mr Khosla what kind of people he hoped would buy the bone china, platinum-stemmed wine glasses and other luxury catalogue items.

“Aspiring Indians”, he said, “the new emerging middle-class”.

He admitted the divide at the moment between rich and poor was huge – but eventually, he said, everyone in India would prosper.

‘Brain industry’

At times, optimism like Mr Khosla’s does seem justified.

More and more people nowadays have the means to buy the international goods now available in India’s cities.

The IT shops I visited in Delhi, for example, were buzzing with all the latest technology.

The IT sector itself is still small but clearly booming, a key part of India’s new wealth.

But there’s a clear mismatch between the hinterland of rural unemployed and the IT sector’s demand for educated workers.

Kiran Karnik, the President of India’s National Association of Software and Service Companies, told me one of their biggest problems is finding enough suitable recruits, people with the right education and skills.

“You have a lot of people with minimal or sometimes no education,” he said.

“And the industry we work in requires at least a certain minimum level of knowledge. It’s not a brawn industry, it’s a brain industry. That means we’re looking for people who are by and large graduates.”

But why, in a country of more than a billion people, are graduates relatively hard to find?

Why do about some 93% of Indians never progress beyond secondary school?

Poor education

I travelled by train into rural Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s biggest and poorest states to see the education available for children in villages there.

I was taken to a small village by Sandeep Pandey, one of the founders of the educational charity Asha (Hope).

There I came across about 50 children, of all ages from about three to 15 years, sitting under the trees chanting their lessons.

They have to learn together like this because there is only one teacher.

There was also a government school nearby but some parents in the village complained that they did not send their children there because the standard was so low.

When I asked the children what they would like to do as adults, they crowded round, faces beaming.

“Teacher!” cried one. “Doctor,” said another. They were full of enthusiasm. But privately Sandeep was pessimistic about their chances.

“The children saying they want to be doctors or teachers or engineers, they’d never be able to make it,” he said. “In the end they’d end up being unemployed or underemployed.”

Most of the children, he said, dropped out before they finished primary school.

Their parents knew they would eventually work on the land so more than a basic education seemed a waste of resources.

“The only hope,” he said, “is that by learning to read or write, they will check corruption. We don’t have any hope beyond that.”

‘Living hell’

Those who do leave the countryside without higher education, in the hope of finding greater opportunities in the cities, often end up living in slums.
I visited Banwal Nagar, a sprawling slum on the outskirts of Delhi, a labyrinth of narrow lanes with no running water, stinking open drains and massive overcrowding.

There I met Babloo, a shy 18-year-old who came here from a village in Uttar Pradesh a year ago.

He told me he came with his brother who is earning just enough as a tailor to feed them both.

Babloo said they were always hungry in the village, there was no work there. Now Babloo is helping out – unpaid – in a mechanic’s shop, trying to learn the trade.

Sitting with us, listening to Babloo’s hesitant story, was an old-timer in Banwal Nagar, Anrud Mandel, who came here 25 years ago.

I asked him if he thought Babloo and his brother had done the right thing in coming to Delhi.

His answer was emphatic: “No. Like all of us, he had to leave his village because there wasn’t work there.”

“But we’d all be better off in our villages if we could earn enough there to feed and clothe our children and ourselves.”

He gestured to the conditions all around us, the air thick with flies. “This place is a living hell.”

There is no doubt India’s impressive economic growth is providing new opportunities.

But the challenge is finding ways to put them within the reach of the children in India’s poorest villages.