Although many people believe Indian institutions of higher education are some of the best in the world, university rankings from independent university ranking organisations such as The Times Higher Education (THE), Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) and Shanghai Ranking place Indian universities in much lower ranks than expected. As a result, for those students who can afford a foreign higher education, studying abroad becomes an increasingly attractive proposition.
Questions arise: Can this brain drain be reversed? Can Indian institutes of higher education take up the challenge to improve their standards and rise above the mediocrity that dogs its very essence? And most significantly, where would they start?
In an excellent article on the state of universities and higher education in India, titled Learning and intensity: the crisis of intellectual engagement in higher education, in The Telegraph newspaper from Kolkata, India, dated 4 September 2015, Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Emeritus, Centre for Economic Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, brings to surface one such essential element of Indian institutes of higher education. He says,
“There has been much lamentation in the country of late over the fact that no institution of higher learning figures in the list of top 100 prepared by The Times Higher Educational Supplement. But this is not the real problem, which consists rather, as already mentioned, in the absence of any intensity of intellectual engagement in Indian institutions of higher education.”
Later in the article, Professor Patnaik describes an obvious impediment in Indian higher education which fuels this mediocrity that dogs Indian higher education. He writes,
“The university now is seen increasingly as an extension of the higher secondary level where students are expected to learn, assiduously no doubt, the material available in some text-book, and regurgitate it as competently as possible in the examination hall. The emphasis is not on questioning, contesting, thinking for oneself, and thinking creatively, but rather on excelling in mastery over a “package”, which allegedly constitutes “knowledge”.”
Professor Patnaik goes even farther to address the ‘commodification of education in India’ with these words:
“The commodification of education presupposes the commodification of the products of education – that is, of those “buying” education; and, for them, education becomes a mere input that should aim to give them command over the largest possible sum of money. The proliferation of private profit-making universities on the one hand (which invariably claim, illicitly, that they are not profit-making because their profits are being ploughed back into the institution). And of students, on the other, who see education entirely as a means of commanding a larger income, are the twin features of a world where education is getting commodified – and this ethos affects public universities as well.”
[Citation: Learning and intensity: the crisis of intellectual engagement in higher education, Prabhat Patnaik , The Telegraph, Kolkata, India, 4 September 2015.]