Thursday, November 18, 2004

Mistaking quality for elitism

Disclaimer: I wrote this letter to DH in response to an editorial page article. This was written before the 2003 CET fiasco.

This is regarding P L Vishweshwar Rao’s article "Elitism in Higher Education" (DH, Nov 19). Rao mentions all the right things – how the benefits of higher education have been reaped by the middle class, how India has a paltry 280 universities for a billion people, and how India has only 3.6 technical personnel for every 1000 people. But, the conclusions he draws from these statistics are way off the mark.Rao seems to be caught in a socialist-era time warp when quality was mistaken for elitism. Private education, when correctly regulated, leads to quality education. Many of the top universities in the United States are private universities. These universities admit many poor students who are funded by the government. Why can't we come up with such a scheme? Karnataka itself provides an excellent model. Allow private education, regulate standards and admissions, and support students either directly (paying their tuition) or indirectly (providing land grants or by contributing to teachers' salaries); quality education will then follow.In his enthusiasm for decrying private education, Rao forgets a few facts. Given the current state of government finances, there is no way the Central government or the state governments can finance the expansion of higher education that is required. Primary education, any day, is prime – when the state spends a paltry 1.7 per cent of the GDP on primary education, how can we expect it to support higher education? Also, what about the quality of education provided by the government- run colleges and schools?What we need are innovative strategies – private-public partnerships in education. The government should support poor students by direct or indirect means, while leaving the nitty-gritty of higher education to the private sector. It is nobody's case that the existing universities be privatised. All that the bill suggests is that new private universities be allowed.

1 comment:

kattricker said...

Couldnt agree with you more on this article (didnt read the editorial however). To build a solid foundation for education, there is a need for higher quality institutions that are run independently and in a healthy competitive environment. Although Karnataka leads in some ways in the number of institutions, there are not many high quality ones. And politicians and their kin are eying this sector as opportunity to make money (education market is believed to be growing faster than even real estate which is another of babudom's favorite), rather than a genuine interest in fostering education.