The state of professional higher education in India is abysmal. Consider engineering. All told, there are 1.5 million engineering seats in the country. Almost a third of these are unfilled, so about a million engineers are produced every year. Yet, barely 10 per cent of them are readily employable. About a quarter don’t know enough English to make sense of the curriculum. The tab for this monumental inefficiency is picked up by the companies that draw from this pool. Every year, they end up spending thousands of crores of rupees to retrain the fresh graduates and make them job-worthy. The situation is no better in business schools. Unlike engineering colleges, the rot has not been measured here. But it can’t be vastly different. People are, naturally, disillusioned: the number of students who appear in the entrance examinations for business schools has fallen steadily for three years. There are as many as 300,000 seats on offer; about one-third of this capacity is vacant. As a result, close to a hundred business schools have shut down in the last couple of years. More are bound to follow.
All engineering colleges and stand-alone business schools are regulated by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). Business schools under universities are regulated by the University Grants Commission (UGC). The AICTE has thus far focused exclusively on fattening the supply pipe of engineers and MBAs. The logic is that India’s higher-education enrolment ratio is very low compared to other emerging countries; to improve that, the AICTE has been liberal with approvals. This strategy is turning counterproductive. The AICTE should now focus on the quality of education imparted.
Employers complain that the output of engineers and MBAs is poor because the teaching faculty is weak. Engineering colleges and business schools, in turn, say that’s because the salaries are regulated by the AICTE, which keeps them from hiring good teachers. While the norms for engineering colleges are fairly stringent (not less than 2.5 acres of land, at least one acre of land for every 300 students, working capital of at least Rs 1 crore and a student-teacher ratio of not more than 15), those for business schools are lax: 20,000 square feet of built-up area, seven faculty members, 20 computers, 2,000 books in the library and subscription to 30 journals. The lack of entry barriers has caused the glut and the consequent fall in quality. These are issues that the AICTE needs to address urgently.
The crucial reform this sector needs is more effective legislation. Legislative initiatives like the Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011, which seeks to replace the AICTE and the UGC with a commission responsible for ensuring quality, and the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, 2010, which will make it mandatory for all institutes of higher education to be accredited by an independent agency, have not made much headway. Unfortunately, in another craven surrender to its allies, the government reportedly withdrew the latter Bill – two years after its introduction – on Tuesday, because the Trinamool Congress had objections. Surely these objections were not new? If so, why has the human resource development ministry waited for so long to review the Bill? Such lack of seriousness in reform will only worsen the sector’s crisis.