By Shailaja Neelakantan/NEW DELHI
India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said on Tuesday that the country's universities were falling behind their peers elsewhere in the world in terms of both personnel and infrastructure.
"There is a need to make India's institutions of high education and research world-class," said Mr. Singh, who was speaking at the first meeting of a Knowledge Commission that was created to advise him on promoting excellence in the education system.
Mr. Singh's surprisingly critical comments were a harsh wake-up call for India's higher-education system. Even though India has 5.3 million unemployed university graduates, growing sectors of the economy -- such as the news media, entertainment, fashion, advertising, investment banking, and tourism -- face personnel shortages (The Chronicle, June 3).
Academics and economists blame the problem on the country's antiquated higher-education system, which they say has failed to keep up with the needs of the economy. The country's public universities serve 9.3 million students, or about 7 percent of India's population of 18- to 24-year-olds.
The central government has said it wants to increase the college-going rate to 10 percent by 2007, which would mean four million more students in the university system and even more graduates looking for work.
Exacerbating the problem of declining quality, Mr. Singh said, are tight government budgets whose effects are being neutralized only in part by the private sector. "Together," said Mr. Singh, "the public and private sectors are not able to cope with the demand for higher and professional education."
The prime minister said he would like the commission to propose ways to attain excellence in research and teaching, especially in mathematics, science, and technology.
The seven-member commission, which includes academics, economists, industrialists, and technologists, is scheduled to present a plan by October and to finish its work by October 2008.
Copyright © 2005 by The Chronicle of Higher Education