Monday, July 09, 2012

Give away priz(c)es of Higher education in Kerala

By D.Dhanuraj

Kerala's recent history dealing with higher education (?) courses and colleges is not so praiseworthy. Everyone looks at the development with suspicion and no one wants to discuss and collectively learn from the experiences.  While we have a history of revolutionizing school education which has helped us to attain 100 percent literacy, it seems that we lost track with the developments in higher education field.

Everyone in Kerala was forced to believe for a quite long time that it is the responsibility of the Government to run education institutions of excellence.  This was happening while private aided schools were serving the majority of population for many decades. At last, the Government took a decision to open up higher education to private players.

Here, I am not going into the merits of the stated policies of the then Government on this regard. I want to explore the remedial measures to fix the problems that the higher education sector in Kerala faces today. 

I am of the opinion that the Education sector should be given the Industry status.

One of the core issues that had plagued Kerala's higher education these days is that it has failed in achieving the desired results in terms of quality and content. If we look at the kind of institutional management mechanisms that many of these colleges have, it is obvious that its high time for improvement. To many of these managements its more of a highly rewarding investment than 'knowledge disseminating centers of excellence'. Majority of the managements do not have any clue about the standards and values of the education system and the quality to be imparted. As a service provider, I don't expect everyone investing in a market to have the necessary knowledge and necessary skill sets to guide and win the game. That is the difference between an investor and entrepreneur.

Unfortunately, in Kerala, no one (among the College Managements) meets any of these two criteria as the definition and attributes attached to the legal framework do not permit one to enjoy these roles. S/He is neither an entrepreneur nor an investor.

Almost all of the colleges are formed as a non-profit trust and that does not command bringing more investments or expertise to the operations.

If the owner of the college is purely an investor, he will make sure that in the best market conditions, he has to reap the profit. In education sector, ultimately it is the results of the outgoing batches that matters a lot. In addition, how many are placed in reputed companies or what is the rating given by these reputed companies to the students and the college management also counts. I don't think any one can bribe Infosys or TCS to give them higher rating in terms of the quality and skill sets of the students they recruit. Since the legal framework does not allow the investor to do that, he usurps the role of the entrepreneur also in mean time. An entrepreneur is a market savvy knowledgeable person trying to trade off the risks with the futuristic market forces. Under the current conditions in Kerala its very difficult for finding such a person. Since he is not knowledgeable and he is there only to make money, he can only aspire but cannot succeed in the process of imparting higher education. So what is the end result?

Less quality of education and widespread allegations of connivance between the political leadership and the so called 'social agents' in the education sector. The state itself traded off the quality and values of the higher education as it has the larger say being the custodian of approvals and sanctions to start an educational institution. Universities and syndicates are again vitiated by the over representation of political war games. So who is there to regulate and evaluate the schemes of things in these institutions? How will we ensure that the decisions are unbiased and meritorious.

I do find five possible solutions;

1. Appoint a regulator like SEBI in higher education and de-link the process of the giving sanctions and  permission from the political leadership.

2. Conduct single entrance examination for the respective streams rather than allowing the different managements to conduct their own entrance examinations

3.  Publish the results and campus placements of  each college with all details in the public domain and add in the brochures of the entrance examinations.

4. Promote agencies to rank and rate these educational institutions. These agencies can be rated by the regulator based on the techniques and tools used for the ranking exercises. 

5. More importantly, give the industry status to the colleges so that there is no more clashes between the characters of investor, promoter and entrepreneur.

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