The multiple crises in Indian universities

What are some indications of the worsening state of India’s universities?

Spending on higher education (as a % of government expenditure) has stagnated at 1.3-1.5% since 2012.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education continues to push higher education institutions to increase their intake capacity by 25% (in a push to implement the 10% quota for economically weaker sections),

The Ministry of Finance has sought to ban the creation of new teaching posts.

At the central level, student financial aid was cut to ₹2,078 crore in FY 2022-23 from ₹2,482 crore in FY 2021-22; allocations for research and innovation were down by 8%, reaching ₹218 crore.

What are the challenges being faced by the Universities?

Universities are plagued by multiple crises –

Financial crunch: Investments in university infrastructure have shrunk. Most Indian universities and colleges have overcrowded classrooms, poor ventilation and sanitation, and unsatisfactory hostel accommodation.

The Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA), which provides funding for all infrastructure loans to institutions, saw its budget reduced from ₹2,000 crore in FY 20-21 to ₹1 crore in FY 21-22.

Stifled cash flow has led to delays in salary payments for deemed/central universities. Hence, most universities are running on a deficit — Madras University saw an accumulated deficit of over ₹100 crore, forcing it to seek a ₹88 crore grant from the State government (Raman A. Ragu, March 2022)

Faculty members have faced salary delays for months, with salaries coming in weeks later.

This has led to cuts in discretionary spending – many colleges in Delhi are unable to afford subscriptions to basic databases and journals.

Grants under the UGC’s minor and major research project schemes have declined from ₹42.7 crore in FY 2016-17 to ₹38 lakh in FY 2020-21. India has over 1,040 universities, but just 2.7% offer PhD programmes, given paltry funding and poor infrastructure. The National Research Foundation (NRF), to improve research infrastructure in universities, has not yet been approved, and may have a limited budget ($5-6 billion spread over five years).

Fall in standards: Academic standards and processes are not being maintained.

– Examination paper leaks have become common – the Hindi examination of the National Eligibility Test of the UGC, which enables post-graduate students who pass to teach in State and Central colleges, was leaked in June 2021.

Repression: Universities have played a crucial role in strengthening democracy and civil society. For instance:

The Central Hindu College (Delhi), inaugurated by Madan Mohan Malaviya, was a centre for political debate during the freedom struggle, with students and teachers joining the Quit India movement, and involved in the defence of Rash Behari Bose and Lala Har Dayal in 1915

And yet, of late, institutional apathy has given way to repression. Police action against students of select universities (JNU, Jamia Millia, for instance) for campus protests, along with arrests and incarceration, have cast a shadow over free expression in campuses.

What measure are required to be taken?

There is an urgent need for increased funding, along with establishing dedicated funding streams for infrastructure grants/loans and financial aid. Universities can also be freed up to utilise other revenue streams such as start-up royalties and advertising.

Funding for research needs to rise significantly, with institutions like the NRF supplementing (and not replacing) existing schemes (including those from the Ministry of Science). Funding should also be allocated to enable course-based research experiences for undergraduates.

Improving the sanctity of the examination process will require a decentralised approach, with universities allowed to take decisions on academic programmes, promotions, cohort size, etc.

We need to embrace tolerance for a diversity of views in our campuses – our students have formative experiences there and must have the space to define themselves as individuals.

Source: This post is based on the article “The multiple crises in Indian universities” published in The Hindu on 9th May 22.

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