1. Prof. Andre Beteille has an article in the latest Current Science titled Indian Universities at crossroads (pdf). The main thesis of the piece is that Indian universities can and should be made more diverse and socially more inclusive without compromising on academic standards.The article starts with the history of university system; it goes on to explain how the Indian universities became open and secular autonomous institutions during the time of independence; it then traces the expansion and decline of Indian university system; it then proceeds to discuss the need for social inclusion in terms of gender and caste. The article ends with a discussion of the numerical quotas and affirmative action.So, what is the challenge that our universities are facing now?

    The challenge before our universities in the 21st century is to combine two distinct but important objectives. The first objective is to maintain and apply strict standards of academic discrimination, without fear or favour and without consideration of caste, creed and gender. The second is to make the universities socially more inclusive, in practice and not just in principle.

    Is it possible to achieve both these objectives without compromising one for the other? Prof. Beteille believes that that is possible.

    There is some interesting bit of history too in the article; to give a flavour, here is a quote:

    The British first introduced quotas in education and employment in the erstwhile State of Mysore and in Madras Presidency more than eighty years ago. But they were introduced on a small scale, and as a matter of policy and not of right.

    On the whole, a very nice article, which is a must read for anybody interested in knowing about the Indian university system and its state at the moment. The article also has some interesting, if controversial recommendations about numerical quotas and affirmative action. Take a look!

  2. In a not too different note, Ramachandra Guha argues in an article in the Economic and Political Weekly (pdf) that

    … the university in India needs to foster five kinds of pluralism: in the student body, in the teaching faculty, of disciplines, of approaches within a discipline and of funding sources.

    It is difficult to overstate the importance of such a pluralism since our very economic and social growth depends on a vibrant university system. To quote the conclusion of Guha’s article:

    It is commonly argued that the impressive growth rates of recent years will be stalled by ppor infrastructure: erratic power supply, potholed highways, inadequate public transport, and the like. My own view is that India’s economic and social development depends crucially on a renewal of its higher education system. As we enter the seventh decade of freedom, what we make of ourselves will depend, far more than we presently realise, on what we make of our universities.

    One couldn’t put it better than that!

  3. Finally, here is the first of a two part article in Economic and Political Weekly on higher education by Pawan Agarwal (pdf) (I guess the second part will appear in the next issue). Again, the conclusion of this piece is no surprise:

    In all, the short report submitted by Pitroda provides a good analysis of the deep crisis in higher education in India. It gives broad direction for reforms and has potential to become the base document for devising a policy for higher education with built-in flexibility that allows experimentation and innovation…

    Unfortunately, I could not get a copy of Pitroda’s report at the National Knowledge Commission home page. All I could get is the report submitted on 29 November, 2006 (pdf), while the report that this article talks about is supposed to have been submitted on January 12, 2007.

On the whole, three articles (with one more to appear) — all agree on one thing — namely, that we have to do some serious thinking about Indian higher education system; as is clear from the articles, the issue is complex and so are the solutions; and, our continued success will depend crucially on how we tackle this challenge!