At the FICCI Higher Education Summit 2011 today. Had an interesting first day yesterday. The highlights for me were the talks by Montek Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, Mr Michael Russell, Member of the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Prof. David Naylor, President, University of Toronto, Canada and Dr Daniel C Levy, Distinguished Professor, University of Albany and Director, PROPHE. In particular, Prof. Naylor stood out by envisioning a future for India that is extremely diverse in terms of structures, strategies and outcomes for education. He talked about differentiation, system design and many other interesting things India should look out or while planning and executing its strategy for Higher Ed. Dr Daniel Levy also tabled his research at PROPHE – very interesting analysis of types of HE models across the world.
All talks so far have focused on the core challenges of an ordered traditional education system. There are the challenge of scale, attendant challenges of resourcing, financing, quality and innovation & research. It was also clear, from the international participation, that India is being taken extremely seriously as a higher education market and research venue.
The discussions on ranking (as also the overall discussions) ranged from people who cautioned against the use of ranking as a tool because of some very valid issues (accuracy, coverage, limitations of a single index) to others who questioned the concept of a “world class” university to yet others who have spent a significant part of their working lives trying to devise ranking methodologies.
Prof. Shailendra Mehta presented his study on how alumni were perhaps the most important determinant of an institution’s success. Dr. Nikhil Sinha, VC, Shiv Nadar University, provoked much needed thought by suggesting we focus on an institution’s curricular and pedagogical prowess as an important determinant of student choice rather than just placements and rankings. This, I believe, is extremely important because students’ choices in Higher Ed today are not really a function of pedagogy. To this end, Dr. Sinha pushed for curricular liberalization, something that institutions struggle with in India.
The discussion around the ambitious National Knowledge Functional Hubs, a parallel initiative by FICCI led by Dr. Barun Chakrabarti (JGM & Head (R&D), L&T) and Dr Rajan Saxena (Co-Chair FICCI Higher Education Committee and VC, NMIMS), was interesting. I think it will have great impact if the team is able to identify metrics that will allow it to assess performance and progress. The initiative essentially envisages setting up hubs that will be responsible for many things – including the upgradation of teaching skills, academic-industry linkages, documentation, learning material creation etc. The apparent overlap with the National Skill Development Council has been resolved by a split in focus – NKFH will focus on “degree” education and NSDC on the vocational stream. Of course, sector skills councils of NSDC will work closely with NKFH.
I missed the parallel session on the Unfair Practices Bill’s implementation challenges. The Indian education system is being massaged for change in terms of the regulatory frameworks and there are many such Bills that perhaps will see a transition to Law if approved by Parliament this year.
The next session was an open house on the 12th Five Year Plan approach. Dr. MK Sridhar (Karnataka Knowledge Commission) came up with an interesting analysis of student enrolment data. His major finding was that we are focusing on the wrong problem – it is not so much the rise in GER due to attracting more students than a problem of retaining students (high dropout rate triggered by financial (male), marriage (female) and career guidance reasons). This is an interesting, but predictable problem. The focus on the 12th plan seems to be on infrastructure, open content, capacity building and employment & entrepreneurship. The four pillars of the approach are:
- leading growth through higher demand for skills
- focus on unrepresented and under-represented sections of society
- significant focus on open and distance education
- focus on increased private HEI participation
The intention is to focus on not just expansion in terms of capacity, but also to think about equality in access and importantly, excellence. In fact, Montek pointed out that excellence perhaps needs to move beyond just improving quality to really creating high end research centres. Lokesh Mehra, Director, Education Advocacy, Microsoft talked about the A-G of education – Attract private sector, Balance liberal and professional focus, C – build a credit transfer mechanism, engender competitive funding across public and private sectors, build clusters of excellence; Distance Education focus, Efficiency, Faculty development focus and GDP alignment.
Nothing significantly different in terms of the shop talk. There is the same lack of research in education in general and the corresponding lack of influence/impact it can have on policy. As almost always, I am the lone tweeter (tag: #FICCIHES2011) and blogger which is never a comfortable thought because it shows the absence of an awareness in the education circles in India that there may be alternatives that may address the problems we face more adequately than simply replicating external experiences.