Mahatma Gandhi and higher education: Where are we today?

Mahatma Gandhi,higher education,Kiran Thakur

“There seems to be a mania for establishing new universities in the provinces,” Mahatma Gandhi said in an article in November, 1947, while writing on the topic of ‘New Universities’. India today has more than 850 universities across the country, comprising Central, State, Deemed and Private universities. Many more are on the anvil.

Is the “mania for establishing new universities” continuing today? What do our top educationists feel about the views expressed by Gandhiji? An HT Special on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi today.

Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts on education

India had only seven universities when the British quit India in 1947. These were in Serampore, Bombay (now Mumbai), Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Madras (Chennai), Aligarh Muslim University and Allahabad University. There was the Indian Institute of Technology in Roorkee, Uttarakhand. These institutions offered education in English as medium of education. The orientation was Western. The Poona (Pune) University was yet emerge on the scene.

However, the clamour to setting up new universities had already started. Educationists, freedom fighters, and politicians had begun pressing for the demand for new universities in the Indian subcontinent. It was mainly on the linguistic considerations.

He wrote in Harijan on New Universities on November 2, 1947 and said, “There seems to be a mania for establishing new universities in the provinces.”

He reasoned in the article that there should be a proper background for setting up new universities. They should have feeders in the shape of schools and colleges which would impart instruction through the medium of their respective provincial languages. Only then can there be a proper milieu. University is at the top. A majestic top can only be sustained if there is a sound foundation.

He said, ‘In my opinion, it is not for a democratic State to find money for founding universities. If the people want them they will supply the funds. Universities so founded will adorn the country which they represent.’

He espoused ‘Nai Talim’, a principle which states that knowledge and work are not separate. Gandhiji promoted an educational curriculum with the same name based on this pedagogical principle.

It can be translated as ‘basic education for all’.

However, the concept has several layers of meaning. It developed out of Gandhi’s experience with the English educational system and with colonialism in general. In that system, he saw that Indian children would be alienated and ‘career-based thinking’ would become dominant. In addition, it embodied a series of negative outcomes: the disdain for manual work, the development of a new elite class, and the increasing problems of industrialization and urbanization.

The three pillars of Gandhi’s pedagogy were its focus on the lifelong character of education, its social character and its form as a holistic process. For Gandhi, education is ‘the moral development of the person’, a process that is by definition ‘lifelong’. There’s quantity but no quality in education today. – Kiran Thakur, Adjunct Faculty, Flame School of Communication

Number of quality graduates in country not increased

The Indian higher education system, in the last few decades has undergone various metamorphic changes, at various stages. And, the changes are bound to come with the changing times. The mania to open new universities is also influenced by these changes. It is not the story of tomorrow or today, it’s has been there and will continue to be, to coincide with the rising population of the country.

The rise in the number of universities was seen majorly post-independence, majorly because India was getting prepared for establishing its independent global identity, which would be possible only through widespread education. However, a robust movement from the changing governments, to establish quality educational institutions was always lacking, although to a lesser extent today.

I agree with Gandhiji, when he points out the existence of such a mania, especially when the increasing quantity of these educational institutes is failing to cater to the masses with quality substance. The penetration of political corruption in the sector is one of the major reasons why despite the large number of universities and colleges, we have failed increase the number of quality graduates in the country.

Another point concerning the sector is ‘transparency’. Universities today have evolved from umbrella bodies, supervising the proceedings of educational institutions, to active educational centers and that requires a substantial level of transparency between the stakeholders, including the students and the professors. It is supposed to be the reflection of our democratic system in India. – Arun Nigavekar, former chairman, University Grants Commission

Profit-oriented privatisation of universities is destructive

The increasing number of universities is not a problem in India, but it can become a ‘mania’ when the objective is to transform the education sector into any other profit-centered business sector. As long as we are able to churn out quality education from the institutions, the number is of a lesser importance, mostly because, with the rate of population growth, we do need more universities to cater to the masses.

However, there are a few problems with the existing model which contributes to the lack of quality over quantity. The 2-tier system of universities in terms of central and state universities is an issue and has its shortcomings. These central universities hardly have a few thousand students, while it is the state universities that get the bulk of students, both from rural and urban areas. So, the government should rather dedicate maximum concentration to state universities than central ones.

Rampant privatization of education, is one of the major problems in the sector stifling the quality over quantity. Creating an university not just involves creating a monumental structure, but a platform which has up-to-date infrastructure, phenomenal professors, research scope, etc., to ensure that the education imparted is of the best quality.Unfortunately, for most private universities, it is mostly about the money and not the kind of education they provide. And, sadly the rise in the number of universities in India, has a lot to do with privatization.

Another factor very important while maintaining an university, is to observe absolute transparency with the major stakeholders, students and the faculty body. Few city institutes have shown the consequences of the lack of this transparency. After all the main objective should not be profit-making through money but through a well-educated human resource. – Nitin Karmalkar, vice-chancellor, Savitribai Phule Pune University

Private bodies must impart quality education

Education at any time is the oxygen for development and therefore it is of great importance for India to promote and propagate quality education at primary, secondary and tertiary level. When we talk about new universities, we are discussing tertiary education or higher education. In India, barring the two ancient universities, Takshashila University and Nalanda University, the concept of universities was rather not very popular. These two were also destroyed eventually. It was only after the Britishers established the three universities, Mumbai, Calcutta and Madras, that the concept of formal universities became more familiar in the mainstream. These were essentially affiliating universities and not for teaching, and they were responsible for affiliating colleges, frame syllabi, conduct examinations, deliver results and award degrees. In the following years leading up to 1947, there was hardly a consolidated effort from the government to bolster education in the country through the universities. It was only later after independence that the sector began to get its due.

So, I do not know in what context Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of a mania for universities, might have come. Because when I see the statistics, in 1947 India had 20 universities and almost 500 colleges catering to at least a lakh of students, in a total population of around 36 crore. Today the college student base in India has increased to exponentially to 3.66 crores in a total population of more than 1.34 billion, then isn’t there a need for enough universities to cater to their education?

In comparison to this, USA has a total population of 32.6 crores, of which 1.99 crores are college students, and there are more than 5,300 universities and colleges to cater to them. Even the Gross Enrollment ratio (GER) is much higher in the US (85%) than India, which has only 24% GER.

Hence, in such a scenario it is not possible for the government to single-handedly fill the gap in education in India. Private organisations dedicated to impart quality education need to come forward in this mission. However, it is also true that the multiplying breadth of universities in the country is always not imparting quality education, and that needs to be regulated and made sure by the government. One of the major places that Indian universities miss out to make their mark in the global scenario is the lack of original research.

Sadly, in India, there exists a dichotomy of research and teaching. Having separated these two in two different kinds of institutions, the potential of college and university students is remaining untapped. That gap needs to be filled very soon.

At the end of the day, in Mahatma Gandhi’s words again, “A university never needs a pile of majestic buildings and treasurers of gold and silver. What does it need most of all is the intelligent backing of public opinion. It should have a large reservoir of teachers to draw upon and its founders should be far-seeing.” It is correct vision after-all which serves the true purpose. – SB Mujumdar, founder & president, Symbiosis Society

Immediate priority is to raise standards of education

Latest demographic and population data indicates that India will become one of the youngest nations in the world by 2030 with around 140 million people in the college-going age group. As a result, India’s student population is and will be a force to reckon with in the next decade and beyond. Against this background, we definitely need a large number and most importantly high quality educational institutions that will impart education that is relevant and cutting-edge to ensure India’s future generation is equipped with the right skill sets.

Over the years, we have created students to become good managers by promoting only certain disciplines. It is high time we re-think about imparting education in silo – specialisations and brings back the spotlight on liberal arts, as it allows multi – disciplinary learning and prepares students for diverse career choices by opening up multiple career opportunities across sectors. In addition, strengthening the case for liberal arts in India will give our universities a greater chance to be ranked among top global universities.

The immediate priority for our educational institutes is to focus their attention on raising the standard of teaching by hiring good faculty and conducting research- which will bring value to classroom learning. Research, teaching and hiring high calibre faculty continue to be a challenge as they are expensive propositions. However, institutions must explore options of raising funds from philanthropic organisations, industry and HNIs to support their research and teaching strategies, instead of only depending on government funds. The present government too has embarked on an ambitious agenda to advance the standard of education in the country and I expect to see several growth-oriented changes happening in the Indian higher education system in the next few years. What will further help this agenda is a collaborative working model between the Government(s), industry and educational institutes. – Dishan Kamdar, vice-chancellor, Flame University

Increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio

The etymology of the word ‘university’ is Latin word Universitas (the whole, aggregate). The social responsibility and inclusiveness and all-encompassing approach is the essence of it. The qualitative education is in today’s knowledge economy needs to be nourished with inclusive and contextual innovation that includes bottom billions and appropriate handholding. This is the social responsibility of education system to prepare human resource in the context of societal needs and prepare students for life and livelihood.

In the context of India, it is necessary to establish universities since we need to match up with the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of developed countries. We definitely need more universities / educational facilities to increase GER. India aims to attain GER of 30 per cent by 2020 wherein present GER (2016-17) is 25.2 per cent.

As per the statistics available, it is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan. This is a massive latent intellectual capital that needs to be well groomed in the context of societal needs. To put it in a perspective, we should look at another parallel interesting happening. As per the World Economic Forum report [Engaging Tomorrow’s Consumer; World Economic Forum: January 2013], Asia pacific will have 54% of middle class of total world population by 2020 and is estimated to be 66% by 2030. Share of Asia Pacific in the middle-class spending will be 42% of the world’s share by 2020 and is estimated to be 59% by 2030. In addition, 37% of the world’s millennials live in India and China! Millennials are influential, have growing income and are receptive to global issues. Urban Asian millennials present the greatest opportunity. This all translates to greater consumer demand and thereby business opportunity in Asia Pacific region.

The businesses would need well-groomed human resource and here comes the role of educational institutes. Enable development of understanding, interpretation, logical reasoning capability, creativity and ability to apply what is learnt are some of the facets of effective learning, which should be incorporated in the university system.

Use of technology in teaching-learning process and capacity building of faculty members are other factors that will bridge the quality gap. With the advent of technology that enables individualization, keeping transparency has also become possible and easier with all the stakeholders that include parents, society, students, regulatory authorities and so on.

The current generation / millennials have come of age along with the internet. They are the digital natives. There is democratization of information owing to proliferation of mobile devices and access to information through internet. What all is needed is to spur the thinking ability and innovation spirit in the young minds and channelize the thinking and energy in the appropriate direction through an enabling environment creation- the University system! – Siddharth Jabade, vice-chancellor, Vishwakarma University

Universities in India today

Total universities in India: 868

State Universities : 390

Deemed to be Universities : 124

Central Universities : 47

Private Universities : 307

Year-wise data on Universities

1916-2008: 453

2008-2013 (5 years) : 685

2013-2018 (5 years): 868

Year with the highest number of new universities: 2008 with 67 universities