Adding three lakh seats in education institutions alone will not help the poor

Government’s decision to add three lakh seats in central universities including IITs, IIMs and NITs is a huge step forward in providing opportunities to students within the country.

Especially for those poor students that cannot afford to take admissions in private universities within the country or abroad, it’s a big opening for them to pursue higher education.

With education costs going up exponentially, the decision to increase three lakh seats in graduation, post-graduation, medical, engineering and engineering steams is a milestone in itself.

Making available additional seats in higher education is logical extension of the Narendra Modi government’s decision to allow 10 percent additional quota for economically weaker sections in jobs and educational institutions through a constitutional amendment ratified by both houses of Parliament.

Given that quotas hitherto available to scheduled castes, tribes and other backward classes were not to be interfered with, increasing the number of seats has been necessitated.

While a broad political consensus exists on providing jobs and education related reservations, a clutch of petitions is under consideration of Supreme Court challenging the Parliament’s decision enacted by the President of India.

There’s no reason why three lakh additional seats in higher institutions of learning cannot be carved out over next two years with the existing infrastructure.

One way of doing it could be running the institutions in two shifts till new facilities are added. Teaching staff and support personnel may also have to work overtime till fresh appointments are done. Further, the government will have to provide huge resources support to ensure that there’s no let up in the educational standards prevailing in the country’s top institutions. Simultaneously, the government will have to make a realistic assessment of grossly unutilized or under-utilized infrastructure, personnel and other paraphernalia.

Given that it’s a decisive move to add three lakh seats, the government will have to initiate education reforms immediately. If central universities and institutions of higher learning have to work seamlessly, both centre and states will have to collaborate in partnership with a new education framework. Several studies and commissions have pointed to falling standards in most institutions, be it at schools, colleges or universities. Biggest challenge could be to restore credibility and relevance of Indian education. Also, ensuring employability or utility of students that pass out of these institutions is a larger issue if India were to positively reap dividends from demographic advantage it enjoys as of now.

For that to happen, reforms should aim at designing unique Indian system of education that would target wholesome personality development with academics, sports, art, culture as four major aspects in institutes of learning.

While Indian values continue to be nourished and embellished, the new system may have to churn out youth that could be immediately absorbed in new era industry and services based on artificial intelligence, cloud computing and inter-connected ecosystems. In fact, expansion in education opportunities should serve as right juncture for the newly elected government in May this year to ready the blueprint for next decade.

Indian intellectuals will have to first accept that Thomas Babington Macalay induced pre-British era education system has outlived its utility. This reconciliation should serve as the starting point for education reforms that may be unleashed with all stakeholders on board. As future employers, industry, agriculture, services and trade captains may have to be roped in to provide vital inputs on their expectations from the youth that these educational institutions churn out.

Expanded opportunities will have to essentially make education inclusive with the intention of taking famed India growth story to a new level in medium term.