The time has come to spread our wings from “Make in India” to “Educate in India.” Lakhs of Students go abroad to study every year, many of whose parents sell assets or incur debt to manage the higher cost of living in the developed countries. Some are forced to go abroad because they can’t find admission in a university or college of quality suitable for their level of intelligence & motivation. Outdated ideology prevents us from reforming the system to provide better education at a fraction of the cost incurred abroad. The Jungle of Laws, Rules, regulations, bureaucratic controls, procedures and process puts a pall of gloom over every economic activity, be it manufacturing, agriculture or services, keeping many from sprouting, blooming and spreading. The focus must therefore expand from “Ease of Doing Business” in India to “Ease of Educating” in India.
Though the education sector has been growing fairly rapidly, it is still inadequate to the needs and demands of society and its average quality has been deteriorating. With reforms the rate of growth of the sector could be doubled and its quality improved manifold without an excessive strain on limited government revenues. The education sector in India can be transformed within half a decade given the right mix of policy, regulation and reorientation of government expenditure. This in turn can have a profound impact on the quality of output in all sectors of the economy and the competitiveness of Indian industry, services and agriculture. What we need is constitutionally and legally sanctioned competition in tertiary and secondary education, replacement of bureaucratic controls by professional regulations along with private-public partnership to ensure universal primary education within 3-5 years.
Policy & Regulatory Framework
The key to success is removal of current bureaucratic controls and interference with aggressively promoted competition by professionally empowered regulators (not controllers). A policy framework for the competitive supply of education by non-government organization will have the following elements:
a) Rating Agencies: University Grants Commission /All India Council for Technical Education / National Accreditation Council / Medical Council of India/ Professional Councils, would Register / License rating agencies in their area of authority / expertise. Alternatively a completely new organization could be set up for the purpose of accrediting & monitoring rating agencies. Some of these rating agencies will specialize in specific subjects, but others could cover multiple topics or broad areas. These rating agencies would devise a system for rating the quality of educational institutions and offer their services to all education service providers (private & public).
b) Private Entry: Free entry of registered societies (non-profit) and publicly listed (education) Companies in all fields of education, subject to the following pre-specified conditions:
i) Quality Rating: Compulsory rating by accredited agency (prior to accepting any fees from students). Ratings must be renewed every year at least for the first 3-5 years. Periodicity of compulsory rating can be reduced thereafter.
ii) Transparent Fees & Accounts: Fees must be published and known in advance. Accounts must be audited by CA and results made public if revenues/fees received exceed Rs. 10 lakhs. Un-audited institutions must publish their basic/ minimum accounts (revenues, expenditure, profits, capital investment, no of students, average fee per student) in prescribed format.
c) Subsidy Accounting: Any education society that gets below market-price land or other assistance must give means-cum merit scholarships to needy students equal in value to the effective subsidy.
d) Government Grants/Scholarship: An impartial system for determination of what would be a fair and affordable contribution of parents to children’s education based on family income/ wealth. This system would also calculate eligibility for education loans and grants. All those wanting scholarship grants would have to provide the required information so that their requirements of scholarship grants and loans can be evaluated.
Such and integrated system can be modeled on the government run online system that exists in the US, but modified to suit Indian circumstances. The system would ensure that the poor and lower middle class children get the grants and the middle class the loans that they need to educate children to the level of their capabilities and interest.
e) Removal/minimization of controls and restrictions: For instance specification of particular infrastructure and/or number of teachers etc. would be redundant, as rating agencies would evaluate institutions based on output, peer evaluation and other relevant aspects.
The reform could be phased in gradually if political/administrative risk aversion makes it necessary. They could start with Tertiary education and extend to Secondary education within 3 years and to Primary education thereafter. We could also start by freeing entry of Non-profit organizations (domestic and foreign) registered under the societies act, trusts and co-operatives and follow it up with entry for registered education companies(within three years).
We could immediately allow free entry of A grade global universities (the top 500-1000 universities/colleges in the World, which have been identified by various studies/agencies) into India. 100% ownership of the local unit by the international unit would ensure 100% commitment to quality as they would like to maintain their brand equity.
B grade global universities would have to register and get local grading like the domestic ones. The entry of C grade global universities/colleges/ institutions should require prior approval and tight regulation.
As per ASER surveys, in 2010 nationally, 46.3% of all children in Std. V could not read a Std. II level text. This proportion increased to 51.8% in 2011 and further to 53.2% in 2012. For Std. V children enrolled in government schools, the percentage of children unable to read Std. II level text has increased from 49.3% (2010) to 56.2% (2011) to 58.3% (2012).
The State governments should focus their attention and resources on ensuring genuine universal primary education. For this purpose all types of public-partnerships must be explored (e.g. management contracts, capital subsidies to NGOs). Government school teachers must be made accountable to user associations consisting of parents and grand parents of school age children and/or local government. This can be done by giving authority to these associations (progressively) to (a) Grade teachers (negative marking for class absence), (b) determine a part of their salary (10% say) and finally (c) to dismiss them depending on the grade teachers receive over 3 to 5 years.
The Central Government’s higher education funds should be focussed on promoting science education, generation of PhD s & good college/university teachers and financing of R&D in all subjects. They should also be used to set a comprehensive E-education platform that can be accessed by all NGOs, teachers and students.
The availability and quality of education in India can be transformed by introducing modern regulations and promoting competition. This requires an objective rating system an free entry of highly rated educational institutions. Government can then focus on those areas that only it can do best and where private education systems are known to be inadequate.
A version of this article appeared on the OpEd page of the Economic Times on June 11, 2015 under the banner, “India Needs Higher Learning Excellence.”