VCs' Blueprint For More & Better Campuses

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New Delhi, Oct 11 (UNI) More and better colleges and universities mindful of market striving to include and excel are on the cards as authorities prepare to throw open the doors to higher education for eight million more kids in five years.

That was an answer from some 400 vice chancellors to Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh's exhortation yesterday that Indian higher education is sick and needs to be nursed to health.

A summary of recommendations made by the VCs of central, state and deemed universities from across India was released at the end of their two-day in New Delhi on Development of Higher Education.

The meet was sponsored by the University Grants Commission.

Officials estimate India currently has 12 million students pursuing higher education in institutions which include a few oases of excellence surrounded by a sea of problems ranging from shortage of teachers to everything else.

This is some ten per cent of 18-to-23-year-old Indians which experts say is low compared with enrolments levels in developed nations.

The VCs meet echoed planners' hope to raise the gross enrolment ratio to 15 per cent by 2012, and 20 to 25 per cent thereafter.

The planned increase will bring in some eight million more students through portals of higher education.

Hints of raising students fees, given by UGC and Planning Commission officials at the opening yesterday, appeared to have been deferred for now.

''Cost recovery from students is already very high in the range of 40-50 per cent and the scope of raising fees may be limited,'' the official summary of their recommendations said.

Participants in the two-day meet reached a consensus that ''the triple objective of Expansion, Inclusion and Excellence are integral and complementary to one another.'' They ''must be seen as three dimensions of the same problem and issues related to them will have to be addressed simultaneously and with due deference to one another,'' the VCs agreed.

The conference repeatedly stressed that ''mere expansion'' in institutions and intake capacity would not ensure making higher education inclusive.

They suggested a ''proactive'' approach and strategies to remove regional and social imbalances, agreeing with suggestions made by the UGC and the four precursor regional conferences.

These included setting up new universities and colleges and strengthening existing ones in low-enrolment areas and special aid to institutions in ''under-privileged'' areas with higher proportion of scheduled castes and tribes, other backward classes, minorities, girls and physically challenged.

They suggested setting up an equal opportunity office in each university and capacity building centres for students from deprived social groups.

The participants stressed bearing in mind market relevance but cautioned at the same time against undermining studies of humanities and social sciences.

They agreed ''with the two-pronged strategy of establishment of new institutions and also capacity enhancement of existing institutions.

''They however emphasised that this should be done with due regard to the social and market relevance and changing preference of students and that the focus of expansion should be on inclusion and excellence and an approach that is expedient.

''Focus on professional, technical and market-oriented courses must not be at the cost of humanities and social sciences,'' the VCs cautioned.

The VCs declared that the ''UGC should be the sole regulatory authority for universities and that other regulatory authorities should respect the autonomy of these institutions and should play only an advisory role.'' The reference was presumably a rebuff to a Knowledge Commission which suggested replacing the UGC as a regulatory body of higher education.

The VCs held six technical sessions on Access and Expansion; Equity and Inclusion; Quality and Excellence; Private Participation in Higher Education and Internationalization; Academic and Administrative Reforms; and Financing and Funding Mechanism.

They cautioned against reliance on ''private sector alone,'' saying it will ''adversely impinge upon the goal of equity and inclusion'' and argued for substantially increasing public investment in higher education.

The VCs acknowledged that ''much depends upon the availability of quality teaching faculty'' and spoke of ''rigour in faculty selection, PhD admission on merit and through rigorous selection process.'' Stressing autonomy with accountability, the VCs asked higher education fraternity to work hard and excel in its pusuits ''to command respect,'' asserting the need to protect autonomy.

''In no circumstances the universities should allow the external forces to control the contents of higher education.'' UNI

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