I like to see private sector companies competing with each other and public sector in majority of business areas. In fact, government should open up more sectors (and remove the upper cap to foreign capital – both FDI and FII - as well) which are currently out of their limits. However, Universities shouldn’t be there – at least for time being.
According to a recent report in Business standard, "Establishment of private universities (self-financed universities) in Maharashtra will soon be a reality as the state government today issued government resolution (GR) in this regard". In order to facilitate this, "...April had already withdrawn the Maharashtra Self Financed Universities (Establishment & Regulation) Bill, 2011, passed by both the houses of legislature in August 2011."
My question is, do we really want to create a situation where private universities offering graduation certificates to students in India?
This is not an easy question to answer, before reaching a conclusion we need to look into various points. Indeed a lot of arguments favour private players’ entry at University level.
1. Private players will add more seats in educational sector; this will help more students to choose their favourite fields in graduation and post-graduation courses. If I can put this point in another way, current universities are not able to cope up with increasing demands from students.
2. Private players make tremendous improvements in terms of quality. They will bring better qualified people in to the system with higher packages and other incentives.
3. Private capital will add more resources for conducting research in basic and applied sciences.
4. There universities will work more efficiently as they are free from red tape.
5. Private universities, with collaboration from foreign universities will bring best minds to teaching sector.
6. Many well known universities across the world, for e.g. Ivy league institutions are ran by private funds.
Let’s look in to these arguments one by one,
1. Definitely, they will add more seats. But, will it go to the people who really deserve those? How many private players will come to the field with the aim of educating the nation? In fact, in order to increase capacity, one need not have to open a university. They can always create an excellent college and affiliate to existing universities.
2. Will they? If yes, how many of them will do that? What will be the amount students have to pay for that? If they are so eager to bring quality, why don’t they establish colleges and bring in the faculty? May be one or two players will enter the field with the aim of improving educational system. But many others primary focus will be making profits – if it can be achieved by cutting the corners, then so be it.
3. How many names you can remember from private field, who are investing heavily in basic research? Just take a look at the list of 50 companies who constitute S&P CNX Nifty (NSE) or 30 companies in BSE Sensex. How many important patents they have?
4. We need to face this scenario and make necessary changes in to the system. If this is the reason then, there may not be any area left with government to run.
5. Foreign universities can collaborate with existing universities as well.
6. All the eight Ivy League institutions, including Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Pennsylvania, Yale etc are private. But, there is little surety that private Indian university will live up to that spirit. Many existing private engineering and medical colleges are not sending out positive signal.
Now let’s take a look at some major problems with private universities.
If one allows private institutions to establish universities, India may soon have more universities than rest of the world combined. But who will regulate them? Does an explosion in number automatically mean an explosion in quality as well? I don’t think so.
What about the validity of certificates given by those numerous - many can be one room universities as well - universities? I don’t believe that, majority of private players will come to education field with an aim to educate the masses of India. Experiences in private and coop engineering and medical colleges are big examples for the same. The idea is profit. Education - awarding medical and engineering degrees - is one of the fields to make a quick profit.
In India, nothing stops private players in building one or more collages. Already there are many deemed universities and autonomous colleges as well. But I strongly believe that, giving certificates should be reserved for public universities for time being. At the same time, private players if they are really serious about education should invest in building more colleges under the guidance of UGC, NAAC, MoHRD, State Education departments etc.
PS: By the way, why everyone is interested in creating universities? Why not invest in building capacity in lower and upper primary? When we are already facing problems in primary educational sector, where a fifth class students can't read what he/ she studied in 2nd class, I strongly believe money should go there as well.
When we don't have enough teachers in primary educational sector, where there is no separate toilets for girls and boys, where teachers rarely comes to schools, where there is single primary school for many villages, where students go to school more to get mid day meal than to study, where hostels are deprived of cooks and basic facilities, I believe money should go there.