Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Quality poverty in Indian higher education

Came across an interesting essay by Ashok Jhunjhunwala, championing quality in Indian higher education.

Here is his paper:

He argues that quality is lacking in higher education primarily because of underpaid teaching staff, thus making the vocation unattractive for the best and brightest. He claims that teachers can only be better paid (salaries tripled) through increasing fees since government budget for higher education cannot be doubled overnight. Then, he does a lot of analysis for building the case of increasing fees while keeping access open, through financial instruments and strong regulation to prevent profiteering institutions.

An interesting aspect, that he touches upon but does not elaborate, is the fundamental conflict of interest between primary/secondary education and higher education! Improving the quality of primary eduation will increase the demand for higher education, because lower drop-out rate and better exposure will mean that more teenagers are college ready. This would triple the current levels of 3 million new college entrants and put a strain on supply or quality of higher education.

I agree with him about how underpaid university lecturers are, and how difficult it is for academics in the west to even consider a return to Indian institutions. But it seems to me that he misses out on three potential pieces to the puzzle, that can shift the burden from the end user (i.e. fee paying students) to some other intermediary parties.

First, enabling third parties to enter the training and educational content domain can decrease the teacher:student ratio (e.g. 1:20 --> 1:40), enabling more students to pay for fewer teachers' wages.

Second, allowing lecturers to supplement their income through consulting gigs made easier through stronger industry-university relations can decrease the strain on the institutional wage bill. It will also offer short-term rather than long-term return for indian industries, making more companies willing to participate. Lecturers can also be given sufficient freedoms to be intrapreneurs in this regard, by identifying and creating partnerships in their field of expertise.

Third, western universities that depend to a large extent on their supply of graduate students from India, might be incentivized to fund entry-level university education in India. In this context too, university lecturers can be paid to create formal programs of student/researcher exchange, creating an alternate income stream.

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